Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Undeclared by Jen Frederick

Why I read it:  I was provided with a review copy by the author.

What it's about:  (from Goodreads)  For four years, Grace Sullivan wrote to a Marine she never met, and fell in love. But when his deployment ended, so did the letters. Ever since that day, Grace has been coasting, academically and emotionally. The one thing she’s decided? No way is Noah Jackson — or any man — ever going to break her heart again.

Noah has always known exactly what he wants out of life. Success. Stability. Control. That’s why he joined the Marines and that’s why he’s fighting his way — literally — through college. Now that he’s got the rest of his life on track, he has one last conquest: Grace Sullivan. But since he was the one who stopped writing, he knows that winning her back will be his biggest battle yet.

What worked for me (and what didn't): When the author approached me regarding a review, I read the blurb and then went to her website and read the two excerpts available.  I liked the premise and I liked the excerpts, particularly the one from Noah's POV, so I said yes.  I'm glad I did but the experience wasn't wholly successful for me

As much as I liked the premise, once I started reading, it was a little difficult to believe that it had been two years since there had been any communication between Grace and Noah.  And, while I was prepared to accept that they had decided their pen pal relationship was going to be by letter and care package only (no phones, no email, no Skype), Noah's absolute belief that Grace was the girl for him was a little hard to understand.  I mean, he hadn't seen or heard from her for two years. People can change a lot in that time. They'd never met in person. Maybe there would be no chemistry.  But Noah's attitude is that it's a done deal - he just has to convince Grace of that.  For Grace's part, she doesn't really take much convincing.  She was very hurt by Noah's rejection two years before and most of her hesitation was over that (which was understandable - but, why no concern about whether they had changed?).  When Noah and Grace to start to socialise together there didn't seem to be a lot of "getting to know you".  And, despite the fact that the No. 1 thing on Grace's mind is why he dumped her, they vacillate over the conversation for chapters and chapters.

There were plot threads which didn't go anywhere - Noah's business plan, his MMA/UFC career (which was better detailed but still felt a bit thin to me and not clearly defined).  I don't know much about US colleges so the parts about Grace being "undeclared" as regards to choosing her major and her struggle when she finally does so, are not really things I can comment on with any authority.  She is 19 and I was trying to remember if I was that young when I was that age.  Because she did seem very young.

The sexual tension building up was quite good - the first scene when Noah touches her in any intimate way was pretty hot actually, partly because of that anticipation.  The last quarter of the book seemed like a lot of sex scenes with not much plot and things were wrapped up quickly and a little too neatly IMO.  The final conflict felt manufactured and it's resolution reflected that because it was pretty simple.

I came away feeling that the book could do with a good going over by an(other) editor.  There were numerous typos and grammar errors and missing words.  The plot could have been tightened up and made more cohesive.  I'm guessing that the two year separation was so that Grace could be 19 and Noah 23 but I'd have liked the separation to be shorter because I think it would have made more sense to me and made the story more believable.

So, that's all pretty negative. But.  There were some very enjoyable things which kept me reading too. The friendship between Bo and Noah was very well done I thought and I liked the diversity of the other men of the Woodland house (all of whom I suspect will be getting their own books in due course - Bo's is next).  I liked the friendship too of Lana and Grace - they are cousins and best friends and their relationship seemed authentic. There is clearly a lot more to Lana's story.  I wonder if she will feature as a future heroine?

Noah was very careful regarding issues of consent and protective not just of Grace, but also of any other girl she was with (for example - on one occasion he make certain of Lana's safety when she was passed out drunk when she was with a guy in her room.)

And, in amongst it all there were patches of some truly lovely writing.
Our breakfast was delivered and I watched Noah surreptitiously. I realized that I didn't know until now whether he was right or left-handed. I knew a lot of other things about Noah, like that he and Bo had been friends since the 7th grade, when they got into a fight and were sent to detention together. Noah hated his father and loved tart things like Starbursts and Skittles, but wasn't much of a chocolate fan.

Four years of letters made you think you knew someone really well, but sitting across from him for the first time watching him eat bland wheat toast, I wondered if my collection of facts stood for actual parts of the whole, or simply random tidbits I could trot out if I was playing Noah Jackson Trivial Pursuit.
 Sometimes it was whole paragraphs and sometimes it was lines, like the last bit here:
Noah pulled out his laptop, crossed his foot over his leg and stretched out his arm on the back of the sofa, which was so short that his fingers were right behind my hair again. I wondered if the ends of my hair were seeking out his fingers, like little sentient beings seeking warmth.
(my emphasis)
And some of it was amusing and fun. 
Did all the guys in Noah's house do a 30-minute-ab routine? Was that a prerequisite? Like on the application, it asked if you had a steady job, could afford the rent, and oh, by the way, can you do 100 sit ups in 1 minute.

What else? I was hoping to be wowed by this book and I unfortunately wasn't.  However, I did enjoy enough of the writer's style and the characters that I'm planning to read the next one in the series.  I *think* this is the author's debut.  I think she has talent and I'm looking forward to where she can take it.  As it was, Undeclared was a bit of a mixed bag for me. YMMV.

Grade:  C


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