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I love Kate Cann's books because they are just so much more interesting that your usual teen fiction, and this one was no exception. Rowan is a typical 6th former all set to go to uni in September, but a couple of things make her stop and think about what she's doing and with a sudden change of heart, she defers the uni place and takes off for a gap year in the States. That in itself is pretty much an escape, from a life less ordinary in the UK at the very least, but it's not the only challenge Rowan comes across over the next few months, and when things don't turn out exactly as she's anticipated, she had to make some tricky decisions about whether to return home or just keep going on to the next adventure. Sensible thing that she is, she opts for the latter, and though she might never know what's coming next on the roller coaster that this trip is turning into, she knows she'll be able to handle it, and that it'll be a whole lot better than heading home would have been.
The book is split into four parts, with the beginning of each being the escape from the last, making it a very well titled book. It's not an especially short book (over fifty chapters, which is pretty hefty for a teen read) but I flew through it. The story is compelling, the characters human (and therefore flawed) but unbelievably appealing, and the writing just drags you in and won't let you go. When Rowan finds out that posh employer Sha's real name is Sharon and finds this hilarious, I had to laugh because that was exactly what I was thinking. Ditto when the evil Coco shows up later on and Rowan is visibly disappointed, I was feeling pretty disappointed myself. When you are rooting for the characters so much that you want a happy ending for them as much as you want one for yourself, you know you're on to a good read.
Another thing I like about Kate Cann's books is that although they always include the same common themes that all teen lit picks up (friends, boys, pushing boundaries, finding yourself) you get a brand spanking new story every time. I've read a disturbing number of books aimed at this audience but I can't recall a single one that's even remotely similar. This would be a great read for so many groups of people - those considering au pairing or working holidays or anything that involves Getting Away from reality for a while, those who love a good love story (and/or those who love a real, rocky love story), those who like the outdoors, lakes and, um, iguanas. And, of course, those who don't fall into any of these categories but simply like a great, juicy read.
Sometimes you might read to get new ideas of things to do, places to go, people to see. Sometimes you read just for the chance to escape into a totally different world you'll never venture into yourself. With this book, I felt like I was literally reading the story of my life. Au pair job straight after A Levels? Tick. Slightly uncomfortable accommodation with an American family? Tick. Some Greyhound busses, diner breakfasts and a jaunt to the Caribbean coast of Mexico? Tick. Or in other words, been there, done that. My story was by no means identical to Rowan's but it was pretty darn similar (at one point, while au pairing, I even knew a Rowan). That's why I was able to believe everything that happened in this story. Some people might think it's unlikely that you could organise an au pair job from scratch in a couple of days, but my experience was that you can do it in 24 hours when you have to. Others might think that dating someone you randomly pick up at a bus stop is a bit far fetched but, um, done that too - and it was an American bus station no less. So trust me, everything in this book is not only possible, but also extremely likely to happen in real life, and if you start reading the book with that in mind, it really adds an extra slant to it all.
This is a stella read that is beautifully crafted, and I can't imagine any sane teenage girl not enjoying it the way I did.
This review previously appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk