I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon
Also by this author: Done Dirt Cheap
Published by Amulet Books on May 8th, 2018
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 336 •Format: E-ARC •Source: NetGalley
When 17-year-old Rilla is busted for partying 24 hours into arriving in Yosemite National Park to live with her park ranger sister, it’s a come-to-Jesus moment.
Determined to make up for her screw-up and create a stable new home for herself, Rilla charms her way into a tight-knit group of climbers. But Rilla can’t help but be seduced by experiences she couldn’t have imagined back home. She sets her sights on climbing El Capitan, one of the most challenging routes in Yosemite, and her summer becomes one harrowing and ecstatic experience after another: first climb, first fall two thousand feet in the air, first love. But becoming the person Rilla feels she was meant to be jeopardizes the reasons why she came to Yosemite—a bright new future and a second chance at sisterhood. When her family and her future are at odds, what will Rilla choose?
*Many thanks to Amulet Books and NetGalley for providing an ARC for review!*
I loved loved loved Sarah Nicole Lemon’s debut Done Dirt Cheap, which I picked up on a whim, knowing not much about but loving the girl power vibe of the cover and unorthodox name. I loved her ability to write resilient, strong female characters and went into her sophomore novel, Valley Girls, with similar expectations. What I encountered was a story that was much, much different than her debut, and that unfortunately failed to compel me the way Done Dirt Cheap did. While Valley Girls has a stunning setting and is no doubt a book that was dearly and thoroughly researched, it unfortunately missed the mark for me.
Valley Girls focuses on Rilla, who’s been sent to live with her sister, a summer park ranger of sorts, in Yosemite Valley. She’s left behind a troubled and tainted past in West Virginia and this summer in Yosemite is a bit of a last chance situation for her. Rilla unfortunately was the main issue for me in this book. As the protagonist, readers spend all of their time in her head, and she’s quite frankly irritating and self absorbed and honestly doesn’t start showing much growth until the very end of the book. She constantly and consistently makes poor decisions and holds herself back with them, and is insecure beyond belief. Now I know insecurities are a huge part of the teenage experience, but she would lament over the tiniest of mistakes she’d made in social situations for pages upon pages, which was such a change from Lemon’s previous protagonists. While the novel is obviously focused on the tale of her growth, I wish I could have seen more progress than I did.
While an unlikable protagonist doesn’t completely make or break a novel (sometimes the best novels can have the worst protagonists), I failed to connect with Rilla at all, as I feel I never really got a clear vision of her backstory. There’s a lot of really heavy, formative experiences and issues that are hinted at (parents who are polyamorous and in and out of jail, excessive partying, domestic abuse, etc.) which are huge themes but only ever get mentioned in passing. I really wish I had a chance to get to know exactly WHAT happened to get Rilla sent to Yosemite, as then I feel like I could have connected more with her on her journey (I know this is obviously a tale of the protagonist leaving her past behind but I felt let down by the mention of these huge issues that were never addressed fully).
The other element that had me struggling through the book was the rock climbing. Now, this is completely just my personal taste, but I am not an athletic minded person at all, so as soon as a book starts getting too technical for me I tend to get bored. I found this book was super technical and descriptive about the rock climbing process (which is a great thing if you’re interested in it! It’s evident a lot of care and research went into writing those scenes and I definitely know way more about rock climbing than I ever thought I would- including some of the wild stuff like how climbers literally sleep suspended in midair off of a mountain on a port-a-ledge). However, I did find myself eventually skimming many of the climbing portions.
While many of the main focuses of the book didn’t work for me, there were a lot of secondary elements that I liked that I wish had been featured more. I really liked Rilla’s sister Thea who had completely turned her life around from her West Virginia upbringing. There were a ton of female rock climber characters who all had their strengths and flaws but who were all incredibly independent, from Caroline, a sponsored, Instagram famous climber to Adeena, a climber from Pakistan who scaled Everest when she was even younger than Rilla, and who used climbing as a way to help finance her education. I wish I had gotten to know these women’s backstories even better as well, and I wish their presence had been more motivating to Rilla rather than discouraging.
Overall: Valley Girls is an book that’s obviously written with incredible research and care regarding rock climbing, and has a very vivid portrayal of life in Yosemite Valley. However, Rilla’s behavior and lack of growth coupled with my disinterest in the technical rock climbing scenes made this one a miss for me.