Also by this author: Don't Look Back, White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements, #1), From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash, #1), A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash, #2), The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash, #3)
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 17th 2016
Pages: 474 •Goodreads
For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.
Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.
It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard.
This was the most different book by Jennifer L. Arementrout that I’ve read. Having read all of her Lux series and her stand along thriller Don’t Look Back, I enjoyed her books but I thought her writing voice, and formulas, could be a bit predictable at times. Going into The Problem with Forever, I was a little skeptical because I wasn’t sure Armentrout’s trademark sarcastic humor and hot guy formula were going to work with the topics at hand. I was pleasantly surprised to find The Problem with Forever a book with a quiet yet intense romance that had a sincerity and sweetness to it despite the heavier topics and setting.
The Problem with Forever is a book with a foundation in broken family systems. Mallory and Rider were both raised for several years in an extremely abusive foster home, and for years the only true social interactions they had were with each other. After a dangerous incident that is revealed throughout the book, Mallory and Rider are separated and taken out of the home.
The story picks up with Mallory at age 17, having been taken in by an extremely caring and wealthy couple (both doctors/surgeons). Mallory suffers from severe PTSD from the abusive home she grew up in, and she’s trying to adapt to a new, safe lifestyle and finally encounters Rider again when she makes the decision to forgo homeschooling and enter the public world by attending high school. Once they inevitably run into each other at school, the story picks up and more ugly truths about their past are revealed, along with the strengthening of the emotions between them.
While this book definitely has a very sweet, genuine, and swoon-worthy romance, it was overshadowed for me by how it served as a platform to show how different people handle the same circumstances so differently. It was so interesting seeing how Rider and Mallory grew up in the same environment but were impacted so differently by it, and how their PTSD manifested in each of them. Mallory is rendered almost mute in many social situations, clinging to her invisibility and finds it a painful process to integrate herself into her peer group or to express a dissenting opinion. Rider, on the other hand, has several close friends and is fairly well known, at ease in social situations, but channels his inner guilt and grief through his artwork, occasional bad choices, and through the complete dismissal of his own potential for a meaningful future and life. Mallory and Rider’s relationship served as a platform for them to have to confront the damage that had been done to them in that foster home, which they had both been burying in the past to an extent.
The Problem with Forever also includes a lot of diversity within its cast of characters without it feeling forced. Rider is of partial Latino descent, his current foster family is Puerto Rican, and Carl and Rosa, Mallory’s adoptive parents, are most likely of Latino descent too. There are more nuanced depictions of diversity as well, such as one character becoming partially disabled,View Spoiler »as she finds out she is going blind « Hide Spoiler and Mallory herself deals with mental illness in the form of her PTSD. Every character in this novel had their flaws, and was often a more well-rounded character for it.
I also appreciated the way that this story integrated parental figures. There were obviously examples of truly heinous foster parents, but also examples of genuinely caring foster parents such as Mrs. Luna, Carl, and Rosa. Carl and Rosa were flawed and by no means perfect, but their earnestness and genuine concern for Mallory was evident, even when you wanted to yell at them for being so closed minded about somewhat snobbish toward Rider. They make the mistakes of trying to coddle Mallory too much, but readers are also shown the concern they have about Rider being a trigger for the traumatic elements from Mallory’s past that she’s worked so hard to put behind her. Perhaps as I get older I’m just able to empathize more with parents in novels, but I thought Armentrout did a great job giving parents, both good and bad, a presence in this story, and showing how integral they are to a teenager’s experience growing up.
It’s impossible to ignore that at its core, this story is largely a romance. I really loved the portrayal and growth of the romance, because it showed two people who were, realistically, at very different places in terms of the levels of physical and emotional intimacy that they are ready for. Rider was so sincere and earnest in defining the boundaries that Mallory was comfortable with, and vocalizing his questions and intentions when he did want to be close to her. It made me fall in love with him as a love interest 10,000x more than I usually would in a YA book like this because he’s almost a YA anomaly: attractive, artistic, swoon-worthy, but also responsible, considerate, and empathetic.
Overall: The Problem with Forever is truly a novel that felt different from any other Jennifer L. Aremntrout book I’ve read before. While I feel that the book at times dragged and could have benefited from being about 100 pages shorter, I applaud her for dealing with tougher topics such as foster homes, abuse, and grief, and still managing to bring a levity, kindness, and joy to her characters. At times the book did feel a bit heavy handed with its “lessons” View Spoiler »such as Jayden getting killed in a drive by shooting, which was unfortunately not surprising, but also did not have enough nuance and context behind it aside from wanting to make a statement. « Hide Spoiler The Problem with Forever also depicts a very sweet and genuine romance that didn’t feel cheesy or cliché, but that navigated different boundaries and communication styles. If you’re looking for a read that’s firmly within the YA genre but that deals with some heavier themes without getting too dark, this story is a great choice.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge 2016