Saturday, June 15, 2013

When You Open Your Eyes, by Celeste Conway

In the exotic setting of the expatriot community of Buenos Aires, Tessa and her friends live fun, but dangerous lives of parties in seedy tango bars, chauffeurs, and drugs and alcohol.  While Tessa thinks she knows what she is doing, she finds herself head over heels infatuated with a smoldering and disturbed French boy named Lucien.  She's the daughter of the legal attache to the US Embassy and he's the son of the cultural attache of the French Embassy.  Together, they make beautiful art and steamier romance.  But Lucien is a troubled young man and his needs may be a bit too much for Tessa to cope with.

As anyone who's ever tried to "help" a friend who really needed professional help knows, it's easy to fall into the trap of going from being a good friend to being in too deep.  And when love and lust are involved (never mind throwing in an exotic locale), it's easy to get sucked in.  Conway does a good job of showing that trap slowly forming and of showing how easy it is for Tess to get trapped.  She also does an amazing job with the setting, depicting with great detail what life in Argentina is like for an expatriot teen.  What works less well for me is the story itself, which heads in one particular direction for the first 264 pages, but shifts to a completely different trajectory in the last 40 or so.  The split is so dramatic that it is basically like reading a different book.  I felt cheated out of my "original" story.  It's certainly foreshadowed so I can't complain that it came from nowhere, but the complete abandonment of the central characters and core plot elements makes the ending feel orphaned.

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