First Reads Friday presents a sneak peak at the upcoming novel What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass.

From the book flap:

 Alexis Bass’s heartbreakingly beautiful second novel is a tale of love, loss, and learning to forgive, perfect for fans of Gayle Forman and of Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything.

A year and a half ago, Amanda Tart’s brother got behind the wheel drunk and killed his best friend. Today, he’s coming home from prison.

Amanda’s been the one living with the fallout, made worse by her brother’s recent unapologetic TV interview. People think he’s a monster. Still, she loves him. It’s her dark secret, until she starts getting close to Henry again–whose sister is paralyzed from the accident.

A year and a half ago, her brother destroyed his life. Now Amanda has to decide if she’ll let his choice destroy hers.

Overall:  This books begins with a prologue of an interview of one of the biggest drunk driving douches possibly ever known to mankind, Jonathan Tart. This introduction leaves no room to the imagination.  We are about to embark on an indictment of his actions.

A year later, the book actually begins when we meet Amanda Tart, Jonathan’s younger sister, who is dealing with the fallout of Jonathan’s accident and the sensationalism from his interview.  She is excited to have him released from prison, but attempting to hide her true feelings from the rest of the world.  You can feel her guilt and shame wafting from the pages of the novel.  It’s almost too painful to read.

Amanda dates Graham, who can only be described as the most perfect, and by default, boring, boyfriend ever.  In her first line about him, Amanda says “Graham is my boyfriend. It’s really generous of him.” Her guilt and shame have clouded her judgement enough to make her feel unworthy of such a stale partner. It makes you feel even worse for her.

Enter Henry, Amanda’s former flame, who also happens to be the brother of one of Jonathan’s victims of the accident.  In a Marcus Flutie-like fashion, Henry tap, tap, taps his way into Amanda’s life again and with this interruption comes the avalanche Amanda’s been trying to hold back since the accident.

For a book with such a crucial and delicate message to convey , there is  too much static for the message to ultimately stick.  This book isn’t just an indictment of drunk driving, but mixes in themes of coming of age, friendship, guilt, addiction, parenting and forgiveness, just to name a few.  Clocking in at less than 300 pages, that’s an ambitious load to handle in its entirety ultimately making the concluding messages feel rushed and diluted and inconsequential.  Even with these drawbacks, there are these details that draw the reader in.  See Me Talk Pretty Below for an explanation of why I didn’t totally write-off this book.

Judge a Book by its Cover:  When I look at this cover and see two people holding hands with 95% of the cover saying “WHAT’S BROKEN BETWEEN US,” I think it’s probably a book about a contemporary, dysfunctional teen romance. I definitely wouldn’t have picked it up if I hadn’t received it as an ARC from our favorite local bookstore, Inkwood Books.

As a personal aside, I will also mention that this is my second First Reads Friday in a row where I’m reading an Issue book with LARGE FONT on the cover.  I guess it’s a theme in YA book marketing?

Me Talk Pretty:  Bass’s triumph in this novel does not come in the form of her larger story arc and themes, but in the small details of her characters.  For example, Henry is British, so Bass conveys his accent and Amanda’s residual fondness for him in the way Amanda always hears him calling her Amander.  Bass also reveals other characters personalities in the way Amanda nicknames them in her internal monologues, such as Standard Dad and Mumsy. She is a delightful writer.

Just. Why.  Why you would stick a love triangle in the middle of a book about the perils and far-reaching circumstances of drunk driving. WHY?

Bizarre Love Triangle:  I am a huge proponent of love in a novels. I don’t mind a love triangle done well.  But this one, well, it really had me scratching my head. Instead of furthering the plot, this really distracted and diluted the important message I feel Bass initially wanted to convey.

Open tab/Last call: I would definitely buy another round and Uber it home based on Bass’s writing techniques. Her first novel, Love and Other Theories, is on my radar.

What’s Broken Between us releases on December 29th.  Get your copy here.