Published by Kids Can Press on September 4, 2018
Genres: young adult
Format: eBook, ARC
Just when Grace is beginning to get used to being an orphan, her estranged uncle suddenly comes forward to claim her. That might have been okay if he'd spoken to her even once since her father died. Or if moving in with Uncle Rusty didn't mean returning to New Harbor.
Grace once spent the best summers of her life in New Harbor. Now the place just reminds her of all she's lost: her best friend, her boyfriend and any memory of the night that changed her forever.
People say the truth will set you free, but Grace isn't sure about that. Once she starts looking for it, the truth about that night is hard to find --- and what happens when her healing hurts the people she cares about the most?
I knew that coming here would unearth all sorts of nasty memories. And just standing here, I’m hit with a multilayered emotion that’s heartache and shame and panic, my past so close I can sense it brushing against the fine hairs on the back of my neck.
I think I originally requested this title to read and review because of a few things: a) that gorgeous cover, b) I want to stretch myself out of my reading comfort zone a bit and read more contemporaries, and c) this part of its blurb: “an honest and emotional story that will resonate with the wide range of readers impacted by sexual assault.”
Before this review really gets going, here’s some content warnings for this novel (and mentions of these topics in the review): rape (including flashbacks and discussions), death of a parent, PTSD, panic attacks, foster care experiences (non-abusive).
To be kind of personal here (sorry), I am one of those “readers impacted by sexual assault.” It’s years in my past now, but while I’m in a far better place now that I was before, being a survivor will forever mark me, at least in some way. I’m not saying that it’s my whole identity, because it’s not. But it’s a big scar in my memories, even if it’s healed. So. While every reading experience is inherently shaped by one’s own experiences and perception of the world, this book felt extra-personal to me.
Now that we have that established, what’s this novel about?
The Leading Edge of Now is a contemporary novel set in small-town, coastal Florida. The protagonist, Grace, is being taken into her uncle Rusty’s custody after spending two years in the foster care system. An orphan who copes through a very selective pattern of sticky-fingers pickpocketing and through ferociously practicing the violin, Grace has a wry, prickly personality coupled with loads of grief from the death of her beloved father.
The novel’s plot is set in motion by Grace coming back into contact with Owen, her former boyfriend who she is believes betrayed her; Owen’s sister and Grace’s frozen-out ex-bestie, Janna; and other people she used to know in beachy New Harbor. Did Owen breach her trust? Can she find a way to seek justice? Did her uncle know about what happened two years ago? How can Grace find a home in a place holding so many heavy memories? Those questions and more are posed to Grace as she unravels what happened to her and finds a support system.
I want to step back a bit from the plot to mention that the setting was very well-realized. (I have a thing for settings, okay? I always have to mention the setting.) I lived in Florida a while back (okay, maybe 10 years), and while I never lived in small-town Gulf-coast Florida, the depiction of New Harbor felt real and alive. I could easily envision her uncle’s house, the local diner, and other locations.
Now to discuss the characters.
There’s no way he had time to think about it, no way his reply is anything but a canned response. I’m not looking for canned. I need honesty. Or else, a well-crafted lie. Anything that shows me he cares, at least a little.
Grace has major trust issues, and rightly so. Her experiences in the two years prior to the novel’s first scene would make a cynic out of even the most optimistic of people. My heart absolutely ached for her, and I cheered along with her in righteous (or even indignant) anger. But her sense of humor also clicked with me. It’s the kind of humor I use sometimes to cope with The Bad Shit™. Healing isn’t as simple as receiving some stock apology and “forgiving” someone, and you can’t just tell someone to move on and expect them to do so. Marci Lyn Curtis did a great job with her.
Rusty caused me some issues at first. His negligence and blithe facade were the last things that Grace needed, and I spent a good portion of the book being frustrated with him right alongside her. Still, Curtis doesn’t paint Rusty with one all-over color. She gives him depth, and while I still think that how he handled Grace’s custody was painfully bad, he shows genuine remorse and makes actual efforts at doing the right thing. His grief and insecurities ultimately made him sympathetic, even if I’d still want to give him a good long talking-to if I ever met him in real life.
Owen was interesting. I was very unsure about him during the early portions of the novel, as Grace was. I have a hard time trusting men in meatspace, so I was fully ready to straight-up launch Owen into the sun if Grace’s suspicions proved right. I won’t spoil anything here, but as with Rusty, I appreciated that Curtis gave pretty much every character dimensionality.
◊ Quick sidenote before I discuss a few other characters: while the characters are all given depth, sexual assault and rape are never, ever excused or blamed on victims in the novel. The implicit and explicit text of the book states that rape is an awful, inexcusable crime which is often committed by people known by the victim prior to the assault, not strangers. The author’s note at the end and provided support links to victims of assault make it clear that this novel’s purpose is to provide a story which shows victims that they are not alone. ◊
Janna was a good surprise. She and Grace fell out of touch through all-too-common misunderstandings (which make sense in the context and are not unrealistically overdramatized), despite being best friends for many years. She isn’t presented as a stereotypical mean rival or discredited for being attractive and outgoing, two things I hate to see in secondary female characters. She and Grace’s journey and their bond with each other were written beautifully.
I’ve waited so long for an apology, and now that I have one, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. Does it matter to me? Yes. Does it make everything alright? Not really.
Before I end this review, I want to discuss the themes and messages of the novel a bit.
I said earlier that the novel does not excuse rapists or assaulters. It absolutely does not, and I love it for that. The last thing I need when reading a book that mentions a subject so heavy and so incredibly personal to me is to see the author explain away why “the perpetrator had their reasons” or some similar bullshit. I want stories that embrace survivors with open arms, acknowledging that what was done to them was not okay, not even remotely. This novel provides one of those stories.
It also has this beautiful message of hope that avoids faux-positivity crud that makes my skin crawl. I don’t need to be told an asinine thing like “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – something that was actually said to me, y’all, I shit you not – like…what happened to me was without my consent. If I feel bad feelings about it, I’m not going to pretend like that’s my fault. No victim should. This novel takes that idea of positivity and puts it right in the garbage where it belongs. It instead proffers the idea that for real healing to occur, not only is acknowledgment of trauma important, but a support system and the knowledge that what happened to you was real and not your fault is as well. For bridges to be mended between people, real efforts at and actions of reconciliation – not just words of apology – are vital.
So, would I recommend The Leading Edge of Now? Yes, wholeheartedly, if you are in a headspace where you can read about the topics it addresses. I thought the ending was a little too neat, and there was a line about librarians/libraries that made me both laugh and roll my eyes (y’all, public libraries are often not silent or stodgy places anymore), I both sped through this and “enjoyed” it. (“Enjoyed” because it was a very emotional read, but it was ultimately cathartic for me.) I hope this novel gets some love.
This novel was provided to me for free by the publisher via NetGalley. All quotes are taken from a pre-release copy.