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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Excellent Premise, Poor Execution

Stir Me Up - Sabrina Elkins

A lot of things about this book didn't work for me. I was tempted to DNF it for almost the entire first half. I had problems with the plotting, or lack thereof, as it felt like Elkins didn't follow a roadmap but just let her characters meander aimlessly through the story. I had problems with the first person POV narrative of Cami, the 17-year-old protagonist of the story: I just didn't like her 'voice'. I was bored by endless recitations of details that didn't advance the plot -- cleaning mushrooms, making coffee, dressing for parties -- especially when other things I did care about (the hero's PTSD, for example) were glossed over.


I had a lot of more petty annoyances, too: Issues with willing suspension of disbelief, most notably having to do with Cami's best friend Taryn being given a speaking role in a Hollywood film alongside an Oscar-winning actor, when Taryn is a highschool kid from rural Vermont with zero acting experience. I was unreasonably annoyed whenever Cami gave us the English translation anytime anyone said anything in French, no matter how basic the French or how obvious the translation from context. (I don't speak French at all, and I felt these translations were both unnecessary and kind of patronizing.) 


As for the romance, I didn't like how Cami and Julian spent the first third of the book snarling and cursing at each other, and then -- as soon as Taryn tells Cami that she thinks Julian likes her -- all of a sudden everything starts coming up roses. It smacked of Insta-love, which was only compounded by the fact that very soon afterwards, Julian was promising undying commitment. (Yes, some people find the love of their lives at seventeen. Most people don't, and the smart ones leave open the possibility that, much as they love the one they're with, it probably won't last.) I also found the sex scenes distractingly vague. I don't need a whole lot of explicit detail--I'm even okay with being left outside the bedroom door--but I don't like to have to squint at odd euphemisms and wonder "what the heck are they doing, exactly?"


Why did I keep reading, then? I tried to set aside my irritation with Cami and the whole new adult/coming-of-age plot as being my own issues, and not the book's fault. I'm a long way from 17 myself, and I recognize that Cami's interests and motivations are authentic for where she is in life, even though I'm well beyond caring about parties and exams and whether or not to go to college myself. I also felt a certain commitment to the book because its setting is deeply familiar to me: Cami lives in Southern Vermont, like me, and she works in Northampton, MA, where I went to college. Books set around here are few and far between, and it's a rare pleasure to read a story that feels like home. 


Most of all, though, I read because I was interested in Julian, the hero. He's a 20-year-old veteran who lost his leg in Afghanistan, and he's dealing with not only the physical recovery from his very significant injuries but also suffers from PTSD and the grief of having been the only one in his unit to survive the explosion that took his leg. (I thought Elkins did an impressive job writing about his amputation and physical recovery, but his PTSD and grief were only superficially addressed.) 


This book was e-pubbed, and I think the bones of the story are good, but the execution is not. I suspect if Elkins had had a more rigorous editor to help her sort out the wheat from the chaff, to polish the parts of the story that shine and cut the extraneous details that only detract and distract from the heart of the narrative, I would have liked this book much, much more than I did.