Imaginary Thingsby Andrea Lochen
From Andrea Lochen, award-winning author of The Repeat Year, comes an enchanting tale about family, love, and the courage it takes to face your demons and start over again.
Burned-out and completely broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural Wisconsin home for the summerher four-year-old, David, in tow.
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From Andrea Lochen, award-winning author of The Repeat Year, comes an enchanting tale about family, love, and the courage it takes to face your demons and start over again.
Burned-out and completely broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents’ rural Wisconsin home for the summerher four-year-old, David, in tow. Returning to Salsburg reminds Anna of simpler timesfireflies, picnics, Neapolitan ice creamlong before she met her unstable ex and everything changed. But the sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs awakens Anna from this small-town spell, and forces her to believe she has either lost her mind or can somehow see her son’s active imagination. Frightened, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon, but what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son’s imaginary friends truly represent and hidden secrets about her own childhood.
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By Andrea Lochen
Astor + Blue EditionsCopyright © 2015 Andrea Lochen
All rights reserved.
There was something about driving an ancient Dodge Caravan packed with all of my worldly possessions, including my four year-old son and my cat, that reeked of failure and desperation. The back of the minivan was crammed with duffel bags of clothing and cardboard boxes filled with pirate action figures, perfume bottles, matchbox cars and race track pieces, sketchbooks, a remote-controlled dinosaur, mascara wands and eyeliner pencils, markers and stubby crayons, and black garbage bags stuffed with everything else: David's rocket ship comforter, my flat iron, winter coats, story books, sandwich baggies full of earrings, and half-eaten boxes of Little Debbies that were probably smushed by now. I'd sold my bed, couch, and kitchen table for a fraction of their worth and had given my TV to Stacy for all the times she'd watched David for free. I'd also asked her to hold on to my rocking chair, the one piece of furniture I couldn't bear to part with, until I could come back for it. I'd taken bags of clothes and toys that David had outgrown plus my old dresses, purses, and shoes to Goodwill, and still the minivan was bursting with the painfully mundane trappings of my life.
If I'd sped past myself on the highway five years ago (and undoubtedly I would have, because this Caravan wasn't exactly capable of high speeds), I would have looked at the maroon minivan missing its hubcaps, the back windows blocked by lumpy garbage bags and last-minute additions to the trunk like Candy Land, a bag of kitty litter, a dustbuster, and then at the driver — a pretty, twenty-two-year-old girl with dirty blond hair and a perfect nose, sporting glamorous sunglasses, a bleach-stained T-shirt, and frown lines, and thought — where the hell did she go wrong? And then I would've zipped past, changed lanes, secure in my own bright future, and forgotten her.
Ha. What a sucker I'd been. What a sucker I still was.
I raised my eyes to the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of David rocking back and forth in his booster seat, singing quietly to himself, "The tie-ran-a-suss rex had big big teeth, big big teeth, big big teeth. The tie-ran-a-suss rex had big big teeth when dino-suss roamed the earth." In her pink crate on the seat next to him, Vivien Leigh was mewling her dissatisfaction, as she had been since we'd left Milwaukee an hour ago.
"How you doing back there, buckaroo?" I called over my shoulder.
He lifted his blond head and squinted thoughtfully. "Me and kitty are singing," he said.
"I can hear that. Do you need to go potty?"
He squinted again and cocked his head. "No."
Which meant yes. I popped a stick of watermelon gum into my mouth. "We'll stop at a gas station in a few minutes and you can go."
The AC had been wheezing and puffing out only a tepid breeze, so as soon as I pulled off at the next exit, I cracked the windows and the pungent, familiar smell of manure blew in. Yep, definitely not far from our new home now. Strands of my hair whipped across my face, and I wished I could remember where I had packed my brush — probably in one of the duffel bags at the very bottom of the pile. Oh well. Who was there to impress at this Podunk gas station anyway? There were only four pumps, and a homemade sign advertising BAIT! BRATS! HOTDOGS! God, I hoped there were indoor bathrooms.
"Can kitty come out, Mommy?" David asked as I unstrapped him from his booster seat. Sensing freedom was near, Vivien Leigh was yowling for all she was worth.
"No, she's fine," I said and held out my arms for him to jump down. "We won't be long."
David curled his pointer finger around one of the metal bars of her crate sympathetically. "Do you want food, kitty? Do you want to play? Do you need to go potty?"
I glanced inside her crate. She shot me a haughty look and then, seeming to think better of it, let out a pitiful meow. "Oh, don't be such a diva." I manually propped the side windows open an inch.
David looked unconvinced, but he slid into my arms anyway.
Inside, a country music radio station played over the speakers, and the tiled floors looked like they hadn't been mopped or swept in twenty years. Crystals of salt leftover from winters long ago stuck in the soles of my sandals. David galloped straight for the candy aisle.
"No candy," I said in my best I'm-not-in-the-mood-so -you-better-not-start voice. The man at the register craned his neck to get a good look at us, but I ducked behind a rack of trucker hats as I steered David's little body to the restroom. Suspicious of what state the bathroom would be in, I flung the door open and flicked the light on with my elbow. It was pretty much in keeping with the rest of the gas station: sad gray tiles, scrunched-up paper towels on the floor, drippy faucet, toilet seat flipped up to reveal what I hoped was a ring of mildew.
"Don't touch anything," I instructed David and guided him inside.
He stood in front of the toilet for a second and then faced me. "Go outside, Mommy."
"Just go potty, David."
He frowned. "Go outside. I'm a big boy." It was his rebuttal to everything lately.
I glanced at my phone — it was three o'clock already, and I'd told Duffy we'd be there around one — and blew out a sigh of resignation. "Fine. But don't touch anything, and wash your hands when you're done. I'll be right outside if you need anything."
When the door closed with another click, the cashier's head darted up again. Unluckily, we had a direct view of each other as I waited outside the bathroom. He was middle-aged with a thick brown beard and a green plaid shirt. I supposed he was a nice enough guy — somebody's uncle who sent birthday cards with a twenty inside, the best bowler on his team, maybe — but all I felt right then were his eyes crawling all over me, undoubtedly trying to determine the color of my bra and the cut of my underwear. Yuck.
I narrowed my eyes at him and then feigned interest in the odd assortment of items shelved nearby — windshield wiper fluid and ice scrapers right alongside boxes of tampons and bags of Funyuns. My gum was starting to lose its flavor, and I hadn't heard the toilet flush or the water run yet. I pressed my ear against the door.
"Everything okay in there, buckaroo? Need any help?"
David didn't respond, but I thought I could hear him singing softly: "When dino-suss roamed the earth ..."
I pressed on the door handle, but it wouldn't budge. "David!" I called. Was the door stuck or had he locked it? "Let Mommy in, okay?" I was acutely aware that the bearded cashier was watching the whole scene with interest.
"It's time to go, David. Let me in so we can wash up and then go to Grandma and Grandpa's house." I jiggled the handle again, but no luck. I squatted down to be at his level and spoke into the crack. "Did you lock yourself in? You need to turn the knob or the little dial thingy, okay?"
"I know how to lock and unlock the door," David said. It sounded like he was crouching, his mouth hovering near the door jamb.
"Great. Then unlock it so I can come in." I stood up and swung my purse back over my arm.
"Need any help there, honey?" the cashier called.
I didn't even bother to look up. "No, thanks. We're fine."
"Alrighty then," he said, heavy on the skepticism. "Let me know if you change your mind." Like he was worried my son was going to wreak havoc in his precious, pristine gas station bathroom. Right.
"David, unlock the door right now," I hissed.
"If I unlock the door, can I have candy?"
"No deal. Unlock the door this instant, David." My tone was stern, but I wasn't fooling anyone. My four-year-old clearly had the upper hand here. The cashier knew it, I knew it; even David knew it.
There was a long pause, then the sound of water rushing. I could only imagine what he was doing inside. Unscrewing pipes? Playing in the toilet? Licking the floor?
"It's time to go, David. Please unlock the door for Mommy." I was so tired. I'd been up until three the night before, packing the minivan and attempting to cover up the holes in the walls and scrub out the carpet stains for our apartment inspection. Not that I'd gotten my deposit back anyway.
The water stopped. "If I unlock the door, can I have animal crackers?"
Fine. Given the circumstances, it seemed a small concession to make. I was starting to worry Vivien Leigh was dehydrating into cat jerky in the minivan. "Yes, if you unlock the door you can have a snack."
"Sure. Whatever. Just open the door."
A few seconds passed and then the door clicked, and I scrambled to open it. David looked up at me with his wide brown eyes.
I gripped his shoulder a little too tightly and peered in the toilet. The water was grungy, but not yellowish at all. "Did you go potty?"
"No, Mommy. I told you I don't need to go potty."
"David," I said, and then stopped, too angry to continue. Count to ten, twenty, a hundred, whatever it takes, Stacy was fond of saying. You can't take back your words. I bit my lip. "Don't ever do that again. Now let's get your snack and get back on the road before Grandma Duffy starts to think we changed our minds."
Of course there were no animal crackers, so we settled on a dusty package of mini chocolate muffins, which I was pretty sure had been sitting on the shelf a few years past their absent sell-by date, but David wouldn't be dissuaded. The cashier enjoyed a good close-up of my cleavage in my V-neck as we checked out but then sent me a disapproving look as I handed the muffins over to David. Great, even he thought I was a totally incompetent mother.
I buckled David into his booster seat somewhat gruffly, but enamored with his mini muffins, he didn't seem to notice. The standoff in the gas station was just another one of the footholds I lost with him every day. Sleeping in his T-ball jersey and socks? Sure, why not? As long as the cleats came off. Eating a Swiss Cake Roll for breakfast? Fine. How different was it really in nutritional value from a Pop-Tart or doughnut? Burying and then digging up his action figures in various holes in the backyard like a dog? Whatever. As long as it kept him occupied. I was a disaster at discipline because David knew my Achilles heel — I didn't have any energy left in me to fight.
As I pulled out of the gas station, I did a double take. Leaning against one of the pumps was a blond man wearing a leather jacket, despite the heat. He was much too tall and heavyset to be Patrick, but my pulse accelerated anyway. No matter how much time passed, Patrick would always be my own personal boogeyman, lurking behind every corner.
"Tell me a story," David said around a peaty mouthful of chocolate muffin.
My head felt like a wasp's nest — brittle and buzzing. "Not now, buckaroo. Maybe later if you're good. I need to focus on the road now."
* * *
It would've been easier to think of our stay with my grandparents as a fresh start if their home in Salsburg hadn't been the place I'd been shipped to whenever I needed to recover from my other failures in life. My mom had first sent me to stay with them the summers I was seven and eight, after serious "behavior problems," as she called them. Then after some spectacular mischief my sophomore year of high school, I was exiled to Salsburg again for the entire duration of the school year. Most recently, when I was eighteen, they took me in for part of my pregnancy.
So the symbolic significance of the fact that I was going there now, after I'd lost my job as a receptionist at Lakeview Dermatology, was not lost on me. Or them, I was sure. But they had always been good about taking me in, dusting me off, and attempting to set me back to rights again. Winston and Duffy Jennings were not stern, preachy types, nor were they permissive, indulgent pushovers. Since my mom had made them grandparents before they were even forty, much too young to be dubbed Granny and Pops, Duffy had insisted I call them by their first names instead. She owned a small beauty salon and over the years had learned to talk auctioneer-fast, pausing rarely to catch her breath, lest someone interrupt her. She called it like she saw it; sometimes she called me a dumb-ass and sometimes she called me a snickerdoodle, and whichever it was, usually rightfully so. Winston was a semi-retired farm equipment mechanic who had adapted to his wife's loquaciousness by speaking up only when necessary; his silence was occasionally restful but most of the time kind of unnerving.
My grandparents rarely left their one square mile of southeastern Wisconsin, their beloved population-of-one-thousand town, and they acted as if driving all the way to the "big city" of Milwaukee was as treacherous and cumbersome as hitching up a team of horses to a covered wagon and setting out for the great unknown. Driving alone both ways with a baby was unappealing to me, and I was an appallingly lazy correspondent; I patted myself on the back if I remembered to send them a Christmas card with a recent photo of David in it. So the pathetic fact was that the last time we'd come to Salsburg for a visit was for David's second birthday, and if I was nakedly honest with myself about it, I'd admit it was because I had been flat broke (though nowhere near as destitute as I was now), and I had known I could count on them to buy cake and presents.
Still, when I had called Duffy two weeks ago to explain my financial woes and plead my case, I had barely squeaked out that I'd lost my job, when she'd interjected, "Why don't you two come and stay with us for a spell? You know, Anna, that we've got those two spare bedrooms just collecting dust and storing Winston's old Revolutionary War junk, and it would be so nice to spend some time with you and Davey. Why, I haven't seen the little guy since he was still in diapers! It would be good for him to get out of that big city and get some fresh air and experience a taste of small town living."
And that had been that. What I'd hoped for, of course, as I had dialed their number, and though the length of a "spell" had not been agreed upon, something about this stay seemed much more permanent and serious than all the others before it. I had no home to return to this time. I was leaving no one behind who really gave a damn. This was not merely a respite from my life. This was my life.
* * *
"We're almost there," I sang out to David, as we passed the ostentatious wooden sign welcoming us to THE VILLAGE OF SALSBURG; POPULATION: 1,140; THIRD LARGEST GROWER OF SNAP BEANS IN WISCONSIN; HOME OF THE FAMOUS SALSBURG FIREMEN'S PICNIC; PROUD SISTER VILLAGE OF BORKENDORF, GERMANY. It was the kind of town you could completely miss if you were focused on changing the radio station or lighting a cigarette. One church, one cemetery, one volunteer fire department, one restaurant, one gas station, one bank, one drugstore, one post office, one beauty parlor, and five bars. No stoplights. No sidewalks.
Of course by this time, David was dozing in his booster seat. I rattled down Main Street and hung a right on Steepleview — so named for its vantage of St. Monica's white steeple reaching heavenward. Duffy and Winston's house was a large brown and white split-level adrift on a sea of rolling green lawn. Not that you could see much from the street except for a long blacktop driveway and a wishing well; towering Douglas-firs hid the rest. A shiny blue SUV was parked at the top of the driveway, and I was careful not to block it with the Caravan.
I rolled the minivan door back as slowly and gently as possible, which was about as quiet as a freight train squealing its rusty brakes. David blinked up at me with stormy eyes and a furrowed brow — a sure indication of an impending cranky mood. That made two of us.
"Guess what, buckaroo? We're finally here! Grandma and Grandpa's house!"
He looked unimpressed. I unbuckled and lifted him into my arms. When I tried to set him down, he clung to me and pressed his hot little cheek against my neck.
The screen door slapped shut, and Duffy's voice rang out. "Glad to see you finally made it!" She was wearing a metallic purple apron and one latex glove; the other dangled inside out from between her pinched fingertips. Her platinum hair was teased into a cloud twice the size of her head. "I wish I could roll out the welcome wagon for you right now, but I'm in the midst of coloring Edna Franklin's hair, and it's very touchy business. Just one minute on too long, and it could turn out more Paradise Peach than Autumn Auburn."
Excerpted from Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen. Copyright © 2015 Andrea Lochen. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Andrea Lochen is the author of two novels, Imaginary Things and The Repeat Year. She earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha and lives in Madison with her husband. For more information, visit www.andrealochen.com.
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Lochen manages to seamlessly balance the real and the fantastic. Not only is the novel full of relatable characters that will make you laugh, cry and everything in between, but it will also make you yearn for a town you would miss if you blinked.The fantasy elements continued to surprise me and David absolutely stole my heart. Imaginary lizards and a small town romance don't seem to mix, but Lochen manages to pull everything together. I can't wait for the next book from this author!
When my officemate told me this about this book and it was a "magical realism" story, I have to admit I wasn't excited about it (never read it before). But I guess I should thank her now. I like this genre, and I LOVE this book! I'm all about deep characters and emotions, and this book had a perfect blend of both. It was easy for me to relate to the single mom, Anna, because of the no-nonsense way she talked and thought about things, and she's exactly like my sister. But to my surprise the magic part of it didn't ruin the characterization like I thought it would, it only added to the people's personalities and to the fun. The situations with David's imagination coming alive actually made her emotions even more poignant and more "real" for me as a reader (Sounds funny I know, but if you read it you'll get what I mean). Anyway, the writing style is excellent, a good conversational pace, and perfectly reflects the moods of my favorite season, Summer. (Not "party at the beach," summer, but "relax and enjoy" summer) And even though the stories are completely different, it's a lot like the mood I felt when I read Bridges of Madison County for the first time. Anyway, if you're in the mood for an uplifting, satisfying and unique read, this is a beautiful book. I'm going to give one to my sister, my mother and my best friend so we can talk about it. And I'm going to look for other "magical realism" novels too, as long as they're written like this one.
Great read! As the mother of a 5 year old, I totally got the dinosaurs and other mysterious happenings. Loved the characters and thought it was really refreshing to read such realistic fantasy. They don't call it magical realism for nothing!
I really enjoyed this book. It was very vivid especially for a parent who had been through a similar situation
I enjoyed this 300 page book, it did not hold my interest as much as I would have liked. The reason for only 3 stars. The last chapter was fast moving & kept me entralled. The sentence for kidnapping is years not months; but I will say no more as I hate people to give away the ending. GJRA
A quick, good read. Interesting and imaginitive. Imaginary friends and play in general are an unobstrusive way to see your childs inner workings. A good reminder!
I was not sure if i would enjoy this book based on the mixed reviews..but I'm so glad it didn't derail me...what an EXCELLENT story! I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn't put it down..characters are believable and heart warming..great job!
I enjoyed this story. It's about a young mother who moves in with her grandparents when she runs out of money after losing her job. It's the classic failed-at-life-in-the-big-city type of small town tale except that Anna is able to see her 4 year old son David's imaginary friends - two dinosaurs - and the shadow creature he's conjured up that is haunting him. The plot was a bit predictable, but I liked the characters. Anna was doing the best she could after a life with a horrendous mother and a loving but mentally unstable ex-boyfriend. Her grandparents were awesome - very helpful, caring, and supportive. And Jamie was the most wonderful of boy next door type love interests. The developments with David and his imagination held my interest as well, but nothing really blew me away. I especially enjoyed this setting - Milwaukee and the nearby small towns. Living in Milwaukee myself, I knew of many of the locations mentioned, which was fun. Lochen lives in Madison, so the city highlights are authentic, although I think all of the small towns were fictitious. I couldn't find any of the on the map. This book isn't a must read, but it's enjoyable, especially if you like child-relate trauma type stories or best-friend-turned-lover type tales. http://www.momsradius.com/2016/04/book-review-imaginary-things.html
Who hasn't had an imaginary friend? Five year old David has two imaginery friends -- and they are dinosaurs, King Rex and Weeble. The only problem is that his mother can see them too. And then something else imaginary appears, but it doesn't look or act like a friend. This was a story of a journey between mother and son, both trying to find their way in life while searching for security and peace of mind. I didn't find it nearly as entertaining as I did "Memoirs of an Imaginery Friend" by Matthew Dicks, but it was an interesting concept of how deep the bond between mother and child can reach. For me it brought back wonderful memories of my own children's imaginary friends -- my daughter's Skippy Rabbit, who hung around for months on end. Then there was "John", my son's friend who lived with us for at least 2 years. I'm glad I hadn't read this book when my kids were young because perhaps I would have worried about the imaginary friends they chose and why. Suffice it to say, that I reveled in their love for their playmates and made the best of it until it was time for them to fade into the sunset. Let's face it, we all need a security blanket from time to time -- and sometimes even after we are grown. Imaginary Things was not a spectacular book in my opinion, but it was a good escape from the daily grind and anything that takes me back to the memories of my children's childhood days is a good read. If you read it -- I hope it conjures up some interesting friends from the past for you as well.
Imaginary Things is the story of Anna Jennings and her son, Davey. She got pregnant while still in high school and the father turned out to be unstable and he is not in their lives. Now, at 22, she has just lost her job and she’s forced to move in with her grandparents in a small town near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Strange things begin to happen as soon as they start settling in to their new life. Davey has an imaginary dinosaur friend, but Anna can see it. She had an imaginary friend for many years, but has forgotten much of her childhood. A friend from her past moves back into town to take care of his ailing mother, a friend who Anna basically grew up with and carries a torch for her. This story was well written and held my interest from start to finish. It has a little mystery, a bit of romance and a lot of heart. If you like a light hearted read, this is a great book for you. I look forward to reading more books by this author.
I'm going to have see if there's more by this author.
Charactrrs well thought out and describbed
Try to picture a young single mother, moving to live at her grandparents’ place in small-town Wisconsin with her just-about-ready-to-start-Kindergarten son. The young boy invents some imaginary friends – 2 dinosaurs, to be more precise. So far, there’s nothing especially surprising, unusual – or eye-catching – in that description. Now, try to picture the mother’s reaction when she discovers that she can see the imaginary dinosaurs, as well. And hear them. And smell them. And touch them. Then, toss in the fact that her son has also created an imaginary enemy / threat, as well … Andrea Lochen’s “Imaginary Things” appears on the surface to be – well, not so much a “coming of age” story, but a “came of age, now what?” story. (New Aduit, perhaps?) It drops hints, however, that it could go in a lot of different directions. Perhaps it could delve into the paranormal. Maybe it will be a romance. Or it might decide to be a psychological thriller. Or a mystery. And, in some ways, it IS all of those things, at least in part. Ms. Lochen was very good at planting seeds in my imagination, and then letting them develop as I read on. She provided those thoughts with some fertilizer and some pruning / weeding as we worked through the narrative – to begin with, what IS the definition of “imaginary”; if you can see and touch something/someone, does that make them real? She allows some alternate paths to formulate – mainly, the estrangement between our protagonist Anna Jennings and her own mother, which may also have had the involvement of an imaginary accomplice. By the end of the book, most of the mysteries have either been resolved directly or direct hints have been dropped towards their inevitable conclusions. (Although, I never did figure out what the role Weeple, the miniature brontosaurus, played in the story – to my mind, he was just “there”. The one positive he brought for me was to help define and refine some of the aspects of King Rex, which as one might expect from the name, WAS a T-Rex, albeit also miniature.) The publisher was looking for an opinion from a reader who happened to be a guy. This guy was very impressed by the work and is looking forward to more out of the mind and keyboard of Andrea Lochen. RATING: 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars for those sites that cannot handle fractions of a star. The book was memorable, had few discernible flaws, and will stick with me after I’ve moved on to my next fiction read. DISCLOSURE: I received this book free of charge from the publisher, under the condition that an honest review be provided within 90 days. Just made it under the wire – I think.
Anna is a single mother and has just lost her job. She decides to move back home with her grandparents since they were the rock in her younger life and she figures that her son David could use the same calm. But things take an interesting turn when she can start seeing David’s imaginary friends, two dinosaurs. While trying to figure out what this means for David, Anna realizes this also has something to do with her own childhood and her relationship with her mother. Then her childhood friend Jamie returns home to take care of his mother. Anna and Jamie want to rekindle their friendship and be more but there are a lot of things standing in Anna’s way, like her abusive ex-husband. Anna has a hard time trying to be the mother that David needs along with having her own happiness with Jamie. She also learns more about her own childhood. This is an amazing story. I admit that although I do review several contemporary romances it’s not one of my preferred genera. But I just loved this book. I felt for Anna, things just seem to be stacked against her at every turn and she constantly tries to do the best for David. I liked her ability to see David’s imaginary friends, what better way to figure out how your child feels when they can’t seem to verbally express their feelings. I even liked the romance with Jamie. You can’t help cheering Anna to keep working with Jamie. She had so much happen to her from Patrick that I could feel how hesitant she was. But in the end it will work out. This is an amazing book. It would be considered a contemporary romance but don’t let that stop you if this is not your usual genera. You will not be disappointed. I received this book fro free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoyed the story
Great book and great story, not the type of book I'm used to reading and i really enjoyed it!!!
Seems like author could not decide between a youth and adult novel. Skipped chapters and didn't feel I lost out on anything.
The author made it seem real! It reminded me of a favorite author Cecelia Ahern. This was a pleasant surprise ! !