A Love Hate Thing
The Blind Side meets The O.C. in A Love Hate Thing, a love story, coming of age story and examination of what and how much we owe to the communities we come from.
Tyson Trice, called Trice, hasn’t seen the Smiths in ten years, but a series of tragedies has him leaving the dangerous streets of his hometown of Lindenwood and moving in with the family in the posh community of Pacific Heights. He doesn’t plan to stay long, just until he turns eighteen in six months and can head home where he won’t face questions, stares and the gut wrenching feeling of being an outsider.
Nandy Smith is not happy when her parents advise her that the boy she used to play with ten years ago, the grandson of the man who used to take care of the landscaping, is coming to live with them. It’s taken her a long time to build an impeccable Pacific Heights persona, to become the kind of girl who has the perfect white boyfriend, ideal college resumé, and chic friends that have made her queen of the teen scene in that community. She has no intention of letting some possible gang banger ruin her perfectly planned summer.
Trice doesn’t appreciate Nandy looking at him and treating him like he’s some banger who’s gonna shoot up the house. The first few days he’s in their home, the two are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) rude to each other. Trice finds Nandy extremely shallow, a young woman so anxious to fit into her superficial world she’s willing to deny her heritage and sell her soul to blend in. Nandy thinks Trice is nothing but trouble, that he represents everything that is low class and dangerous about the community he comes from and she fears he may have the power to change how people view her.
Before the two can come to daggers drawn, Jordy, Nandy’s younger brother, helps them broker a peace. Once they start talking, Nandy learns Trice’s tragic backstory and Trice comes to realize that Nandy is a kind and caring young woman afraid to disappoint those around her.
But Trice still has people back in Lindenwood that he cares for, people who might not meet the laws standards of ‘good’ but who have been good to him. People who know and understand him, who have always been there for him, accepted him and cared about him. Nandy and the rest of the Smith family, the school counselors and social workers all want him to make Pacific Heights work for him, to turn it into his new home and to take the opportunities it offers with both hands. He isn’t sure he wants that. As his feelings for Nandy go from friendship to something warmer, he realizes he may have to choose between the girl he loves and the people he never meant to leave behind.
Some teen novels work for all age groups because they have a story to tell, and tell it in such a way that the book can be enjoyed by everyone. A Love Hate Thing will, I think, work best for a young adult audience. This is a nice coming of age story which explores the things – community, social status, race, family – that can affect how we view ourselves and what we want from our future. For both Nandy and Trice, expectations play a large role in their journey to self-discovery. Trice knows that young men from his neighborhood die young after a trip down the long, dark road of criminal activity. Everyone in Pacific Heights – and plenty of people from Lindenwood – want him to rise above that but he struggles with wanting a better future for himself when he knows that so many of the people he cares about don’t have that choice and that it will mean no longer fitting into the community in which he was raised. Nandy has turned herself into a pretzel being the perfect Pacific Heights girl but encountering Trice again has her questioning whether that’s really what she wants to be or if she has allowed the expectations of her community to shape her into someone she doesn’t like. There is a lot of angst here about being true to oneself that I think older audiences will grow bored with, but that younger audiences, especially those that love teen dramas, will appreciate.
The romance is fairly angsty as well. Trice and Nandy knew each other as children, then Trice stopped going to work with his grandpa and they didn’t see each other for over a decade. Apparently, that childhood relationship was very important to them both and shaped a lot of how they felt about life. While the author alludes back to it often, the relationship itself took place off page, and that left me wondering what was so magical about their connection that the many, many relationships they’ve had since didn’t surpass it. I also felt that while we understood why Trice considered being with Nandy his Neverland back then (her home was free of the domestic abuse rampant in his own, and the wealth, comfort and safety made it seem magical), we’re never told why Nandy felt strongly about Trice. Since their present connection is forged almost entirely from that previous one, it was important to understand why it meant so much to both of them and I just don’t think the author explained it well enough. It was also disappointing to have two people fall in love simply based on the nostalgia factor and not give them a more nuanced, balanced connection built on shared interests in the present.
The ending, which involves Trice being tricked by something which was obviously a trap, is a bit problematic as well.
Fortunately, the other portions of the tale make up for that. Something I think the author does very well is showing that while Trice claims he has no love left to give thanks to the traumas he’s been through, he actually has an incredible amount of love to give. He becomes good friends with some of the quirky kids in the Pacific Heights community and he cares deeply about many in his Lindenwood community. Brilliantly done was capturing the essence of how each group showed love and care in their own way.
The secondary characters are another high point in the novel. Each is a nuanced individual who brings something unique and important to the story. I especially liked Prophet, who embodies a fabulous mix of the good and bad in Lindenwood, and Travis, who shows the best of what Pacific Heights can be.
A Love Hate Thing is not a perfect book but it is a strong début from an author I look forward to seeing more from. I would recommend it to fans of teen drama (Riverdale, the O.C., 90210) and teens who like angsty novels.
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