Friday, December 10, 2021

Hello (From Here), by Chandler Baker and Wesley King

Maxine and Jonah meet while shopping.  They are both hunting for toilet paper and Maxine accuses Jonah of hoarding.  It's the spring of 2020 and the governor has just declared a full lockdown to deal with the rapid spread of COVID-19.  

All in all, an awkward time to kick off a romance, but life (as it has become) marches on.  Max is trying to make ends meet as a personal shopper, bringing quarantined people their groceries.  Her mother's dry cleaning business is grinding to a halt as people no longer need to clean their suits and dress slacks.  Meanwhile, Jonah ostensibly only has to deal with the cancellation of his long-planned trip to Paris this summer and the fact that his Dad is stranded in Spain.  But underneath these stark class differences, Max and Jonah share a great deal in common and as they endure those uncertain first months of the pandemic, their relationship undergoes unusual stresses and strains.

I've been waiting for a decent YA romance set in the contemporary moment for the simple reason that all of the traditional ones feel so unrealistic in today's world (where even kissing seems unwise).  Baker and King do an incredible job in capturing the mood of the times in a way that will make this book a go-to for young readers in the years to come trying to understand life in 2020.  Is it too soon for historical YA of that period?  No, I don't really think so.  Children's literature is as much about helping young people connect to their world as entertaining young readers.  What could be more relatable to a teenager right now than other young people trying to navigate a relationship that takes place with masks on and six feet apart?

Unfortunately, I found the story itself to be dull and aimless.  Reminiscent of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist with its meandering unstructured format, this is a story that really does not have a goal.  There are a number of ideas (absent parents, illness, and poignant subplot about a famous movie director, rescuing a shelter dog, etc.) but no consensus about where to take the ideas.  It reads like two established writers with not-entirely-compatible styles that are playing literary tug-of-war.  Characters and situations introduced by one are pointedly ignored by the other.  For a team-written novel to really work, you need collaboration, which inevitably means re-writing large sections after you reach the end to make the exercise into a story.  This book is far too rushed to do that serious editing process.  The end result is simply boring.

So, not great literature, but fascinating material.  Hopefully, it will inspire others to tackle the subject.

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