Monday, February 22, 2016

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith | Book Review

The Forever Girl
(I do like this cover, don't you?  I want to go to that beach.)

The Forever Girl is the parallel story of Amanda & David and Clover & James.  Amanda and David have been married for quite a while; they're in their 30s and have two kids and a comfortable life in the Cayman Islands.  One day Amanda realizes that she's simply fallen out of love with David.  There's no acrimony; just apathy.  At the same time, Amanda's daughter Clover realizes that she's in love with James, the "boy next door."  (He's actually a few doors down, but they've grown up together and he's just that wholesome "boy next door" type of guy.)  Amanda meets James' father one night for drinks, and almost goes too far, but doesn't.  Clover and James go off to different boarding high schools and lose touch.  Amanda doesn't divorce David, but does move to Scotland.

It sounds like a lot to keep track of, but it's really not.  Really, the story is mostly Amanda and Clover as they negotiate some pretty complicated feelings for the guys in their lives.  The chapters don't alternate evenly, but they do switch back and forth from Amanda's point of view to Clover's and back again.

I was at first uncomfortable with what seemed like it was going to be a book ok'ing marital infidelity.  But then Amanda stopped herself!  I was pretty stoked about that.  I mean, I was sad that she felt that she and David needed to separate, and that she should move so far away.  But I was glad that infidelity didn't really seem like an option for her (or David, although it's never truly confirmed as what he was up to while she was living in Scotland).  You might know by now if you follow my reviews that I also get excited about books with somewhat normal, supportive family units.  Amanda and David never completely divorce, and they are both super supportive of their kids.  Amanda and Clover remain close throughout the whole book.

I became uncomfortable through the latter half of the book with Clover's obsession with James.  Even though they go to separate boarding schools in separate countries, she doesn't ever date anyone else.  She's just pining away for James... who may or may not even remember she exists.  Then comes college.  They actually end up at the same college, by chance, but in separate degree programs so they never run into each other.  Clover continues to pine.  After they graduate, they both go off on "gap years" and live, again, in separate countries.  (She in Scotland; he in Australia.  Can't get much farther apart.)  And guess what?  The pining continues.  By the end of the book, I was actually pretty fed up with Clover.  I didn't find it romantic or cute that she would go to such lengths of angst for this guy.  They hadn't really hung out in person since they were preteens!  And yet she grows into a full adult still so friggin' fixated on him that she's disrupting her life in pursuit!

One thing Alexander McCall Smith does really, really well is setting and atmosphere, and The Forever Girl is no exception.  Even if I did get frustrated by one of the characters, I was 100% hooked in the book by the setting.  First the warm, sunny, vibrant, colorful Caribbean.  Then the muted grays and greens of cooler Scotland.  And finally, the hot, wide-open Australia.  I could practically feel the mugginess of the Caymans and see the gray of the ocean in Scotland.  I actually really loved the housekeeper/nanny, Margaret, employed by Amanda and David.  She's Jamaican, and a transplant to the Caymans.  She's got great spirit and spunk.  I'd have liked to have even more of her in the book!

Overall, I give The Forever Girl about 3.5 stars out of 5.  Not head over heels with the plot, but definitely loved the atmosphere.  I don't regret a minute spent reading it, but I can't think of anyone to recommend it to.

*I received an advanced copy of The Forever Girl from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.  Thank you!

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