Desert Isle Keeper
I picked the first book in the Burnham College series, Undecided, as one of my favorite books in 2016, and guess what? Ms. Keyes has followed it up with another winner! Undeclared is funny, sexy, awkward, addictive, and frustrating… just like its principal character Kellan McVey. This time Ms. Keyes takes a character you sort of want to hate (he’s handsome, popular, great at sports, a ladies man), and humanizes him. The process is humbling for Kellan and hilarious for readers. I enjoyed every bit of this book and laughed out loud more than a few times. Secondary characters make memorable and multiple appearances throughout this story and I hope it signifies that Ms. Keyes has plans for more books in this delightful series. You can read this book as a standalone, but parts of Kellan’s college life really only make sense if you read Undecided first, and there are probably spoilers for it in this review. Set aside a few hours for this one. Once you start, it’s VERY difficult to put it down.
For as long as Kellan can remember, Andrea (Andi) Walsh has been a major part of his life. Neighbor, best friend, greatest rival, closest conspirator… but things changed the summer before Kellan left for college. Determined to be more experienced sexually, he asked Andi for help, and for two blissful months Andi was both best friend and lover. Kellan knew his feelings for her had evolved into something deeper, but before he could ever discuss it with her, she abruptly stopped speaking to him.
When Undeclared picks up, Kellan is at home the summer before his junior year at Burnham. Readers of the first book will remember Kellan as the ultimate ladies’ man – until a case of gonorrhea put an abrupt end to his partying ways. He spent the majority of Undecided working through a vaguely remembered list of seventy-plus women he’d had sexual relations with to try to figure out who gave it to him. Mystery solved and STD cleared up, Kellan is determined to find out why Andi abruptly ended their relationship and froze him out. He tracks her to one of her summer jobs, but the conversation doesn’t go as planned. After he awkwardly blurts out that he had gonorrhea (the STD is comic gold for Ms. Keyes), he tries to backtrack and refocus the conversation on why Andi won’t speak to him. Unfortunately, they’re interrupted by a group of girls who just want to flirt with him and before Kellan can stop her, Andi takes off.
Back at school, Kellan is determined to get back to business as usual, but he can’t figure out why all the things that made him happy before don’t seem as fun. Out with Crosbie and Nora one night shortly after school starts, he’s still trying to figure out why he feels so differently this year when the women’s volleyball team arrives with their new players – one of which is Andi, but he can’t figure out why she’s there.
Andi spots him and tries to flee, but when Kellan corners her, she admits she’s at Burnham on a volleyball scholarship. Shocked, he asks her why she didn’t tell him and Andi admits she doesn’t want to be linked to him. She knows all about his reputation and doesn’t want anyone to mistake their relationship. Hurt and angry, Kellan lets her go and pledges to stay away from her.
Readers, let me be clear: the fact that Kellan and Andi are meant to be together is never a question. Unfortunately, Kellan is emotionally immature and a relationship doofus. Andi is OBVIOUSLY his true love (duh Kellan!!!), but he’s unwilling and unable to admit it. It’s also clear (and rather heartbreakingly so) that Andi has always loved him. She’s kept her feelings from him knowing he didn’t reciprocate or deserve them. Undeclared is the story of how Kellan grows up, bumbles and fumbles his way to Andi, and then nearly loses her again.
Andi doesn’t make it easy for Kellan for most of the book, but once she allows him back into her life, every conversation is charged with the intensity of their attraction to one another. Unfortunately, every time they take a step forward, something happens to drive them apart. It’s frustrating! It’s also very funny. Though you can’t wait for them to figure things out, it gives the secondary characters a chance to shine.
I loved Kellan’s fraternity brothers (who get a lot more attention in this book), but his frenemy Marcella steals every scene she’s in. Her machiavellian scheming and surprise appearances delightfully torment Kellan. Speaking of chemistry… Marcella and Kellan read like constantly bickering siblings. I love that Marcella mostly gets the best of him and I hope she eventually gets her own story. Ms. Keyes has a great talent for dialogue and Undeclared is filled with witty and sharp conversations between Kellan and his friends, Kellan and Andi, Kellan and his advisor, Kellan and… well, everyone! It’s all very funny and deftly captures the maturity and age of this group of friends. The friendships, the experiences, the choices, the maturity level… this is obviously an idealized version of college life, but it reads and feels very authentic.
Told entirely in Kellan’s PoV, Undeclared is a refreshingly honest (well sorta!) look at a popular college student who seemingly has it all, but in reality suffers all the same doubts and insecurities as everyone else – it just takes him longer to realize it. Kellan is a candid and charming narrator who sincerely believes he’s living his best life – until he realises he isn’t and starts to doubt himself. His loyalty to his friends and family, inability to pick a major and anxiety about his future, add depth and vulnerability to his character. It’s entertaining and exasperating watching him trying to figure out how to be a better man. Ms. Keyes does an excellent job taking an already likeable character and crafting him into a truly loveable one.
Everything we know about Andi is through the lens of Kellan’s feelings and attraction to her. Beautiful, sensitive and stoic in the face of Kellan’s constant missteps, even with the absence of her PoV, the character feels very real. Ms. Keyes does a terrific job using Kellan to interpret Andi’s feelings and reactions to his behavior, and how obviously bewildered she is once he starts to focus his attention and affections on her. All of this is juxtaposed by how fierce and confident she’s become since their aborted summer affair and Kellan’s vivid memories of growing up with her. When we finally learn why she shut him out before he left for school, and she explains to Kellan why he’s not what she needs or deserves, it’s hard not to cheer for her. Andi is a tough yet vulnerable match for Kellan; it’s a delicious torment to watch them struggle to their happy ending. The final sequence is as good or better than the story that precedes it, but I would have loved a post-playground scene Ms. Keyes!
Undeclared is the often hilarious story of how Kellan McVey grows up, discovers things he thought mattered don’t matter quite so much, and realizes the love of his life was always in his life. Funny, fast paced and addictive, this is New Adult at its best. I’m not sure which of the Burnham College books is my favorite, but I recommend you read both. I’ll go ahead and declare it now – Undeclared is destined for my best of 2017 list. I loved it.