In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks (Simon Pulse, 28 April 2015)
This is a difficult book to rate. Part of me enjoyed reading it. I feel like it's well-written and fairly emotionally engaging; I find myself feeling for the main character, Jonathan, even despite all the complaints I have about him which I will explain at length below. But man, do I have lots of complaints.
Jonathan Aubrey survived a plane crash when he was little: a plane crash that killed the rest of his family and left him physically and mentally scarred. He's never been the same since. The tragedy granted him the power to make worlds with his mind: to escape from the reality of his life, he creates a world where Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. In the real world, Kylie Simms doesn't even notice him. But one day, when Jonathan accidentally confuses the two worlds, he tries to kiss the real Kylie Simms – and it seems the two worlds are beginning to interfere with each other. The real Kylie Simms is obsessing over him without knowing why, whereas his girlfriend Kylie is starting to feel doubts about their relationship. How can Jonathan prevent disaster from happening and leaving him all alone again?
My main problem with this book, and it is a problem that permeates the entire book and severely affects my opinion of it, is that everything is just so horribly wrong.
As I've said, Jonathan creates a world where Kylie loves him. And in fact, you find out that it is a world where Kylie can't stop loving him no matter what. And that is just. SO. CREEPY. At one point, the Kylie in that world says that she feels icky. And icky is exactly how I feel about this whole thing too. If you think about the implications of that, of creating a world where someone just MUST love you, it is so awfully creepy. Kylie and Jonathan have sex in that world, and it just doesn't feel right to me, because it's like Kylie has no choice. She basically exists to love Jonathan in that world. Jonathan runs away to her every time he has a problem or feels sad so she can make him feel better. He's using her. It's not a healthy relationship because he CREATED HER TO LOVE HIM. I don't want them to be together! I'm not rooting for them in the slightest! In that world, Jonathan could do anything to her and she'd still have to love him. That is a horrifying thought.
Not only that, but in the real world, Kylie only starts to feel things for Jonathan and obsess over him – and she can't stop obsessing over him and she doesn't even know why – because romantic feelings about Jonathan from the girlfriend-Kylie are leaking over into her mind, across the two worlds. So, in the "Kylie-Simms-is-my-girlfriend" world, Kylie loves Jonathan because Jonathan created her that way, and in the real world, Kylie starts to have feelings for Jonathan that she also cannot control because they're not really her feelings either. Jonathan does worry about this at first but ultimately it seems that he somehow manages to figure out that even without this influence of the girlfriend-Kylie world, real-Kylie would have feelings for him. I don't know how he can be so sure of that, really.
I feel like the author does try in some ways to address this problem, especially towards the end of the book, but for me it doesn't feel fixable. It's wrong, and the only thing that could have happened from that point on is for Jonathan to realise how terribly wrong it all is, and somehow manage to move on and stop seeing Kylie at all, after all the ways in which he's messed up her life. He can't make up for what he's done, in my opinion, but at the very least he can remove himself from her life and stop messing it up any further. But instead, the author's message seems to be that Kylie and Jonathan basically belong with each other no matter what and they're destined to be together. The ending basically takes something that was wrong in the first place and makes it even MORE WRONG. I don't like this at all, and it ruined the book for me. Jonathan does not deserve to be with Kylie, and Kylie deserves to be treated far better than this. Both Kylies spend almost the whole book feeling perpetually confused about their feelings for Jonathan because of decisions that Jonathan made. The solution is not: yes, Kylie and Jonathan definitely belong together! It's that Jonathan needs to stay far, far away from Kylie.
Due to this major problem, I cannot give this book more than two stars. Honestly, like I said, I actually enjoyed reading the book, even though I did think the author could have handled this a lot better and explored the problem of consent more because it's so central to the way the story unfolds. The concept is interesting and Jonathan's tragedy makes my heart break; I'm intrigued by the story of this boy who lost his whole family in a plane crash when he was little, and I wish it could have turned out differently.
Besides, although I still managed to enjoy the story, I do feel like it was definitely more enjoyable in the first half than in the second; there are lots of concepts raised in the second half that have potential but aren't fully developed, or concepts that are just kind of plain bizarre and that I have a hard time fitting into the picture of this book. There is an interesting twist, but honestly, by that point, I was so frustrated with Jonathan that I stopped caring as much.
I'd still be happy to check out this author's books in the future, because I like Brooks' writing; I just didn't like the choices she made with this particular book.