Saturday, April 01, 2023

Then Everything Happens at Once, by M-E Girard

Baylee has never been in a relationship.  And given her size, she figures she'd be lucky if anyone ever noticed her.  She remains oblivious to the friendliness of her neighbor Freddie, on whom she actually has a crush.  When she starts texting with Alex, a stranger she's met online however, she realizes that things could change.  But it's all very awkward as Baylee isn't used to navigating romantic relationships.  Suddenly, she goes from famine to feast when Freddie reveals his interest.  Instinctually, Baylee returns the affection, putting her in the awkward place of juggling two relationships where once there were none.

And things are about to get a lot more complicated because this is March 2020 and news stories about a virus sweeping the world are just starting to pick up.  With Baylee's complicated love life, she doesn't have much time to pay attention to any of that (although having school get cancelled helps give her time to focus on sorting things out).  Even as lockdown is declared, Baylee can't really conceptualize the weight of the matter, despite repeated entreaties from her Mom and the authorities.

During the early days of the Pandemic, I had wondered what sort of YA stories would come from it.  This sort of dazed-and-confused romance makes a certain amount of sense.   Baylee's an interesting protagonist.  Aside from cheating on Alex, she's actually very candid.  While she's articulate, her mind is truly confused by all of the novel things that are occurring to her:  first love, first kiss, and first sexual experience.  Putting it all in the context of lockdown raises the stakes a bit and Baylee proves largely (and realistically) incapable of adapting to the restrictions.  As an adult, it's hard for me to be sympathetic to her selfishness and to the degree she puts her family (and her vulnerable little sister in particular) at risk by her quarantine violations.  However, it felt authentic and even if it made me dislike her, I recognized that as a sign of my degree of investment in the story.

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