All Rhodes Lead Here
Mariana Zapata is very well reviewed here, so I was excited to try her new book, All Rhodes Lead Here. But with its clumsy heroine, rude but ultimately gold-hearted hero, and bland first person narrator, this book reads as run-of-the-mill YA, with only the swearing and sex scenes making it an adult novel.
Aurora de la Torre returned to her hometown of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, after breaking up with her husband, a celebrated country singer whose career was based on Ora’s uncredited songwriting – and who also insisted on keeping Ora a secret. For fourteen years. (“Breaking up” is probably a generous description – her husband, Kaden, is a serious mama’s boy who caved in to Mama’s insistence that they kick Ora to the curb). She rents a garage apartment online which turns out to have been posted by the owner’s teen son, Amos, without his knowledge. She convinces Tobias Rhodes to let her stay, and begins a journey of recovery from her relationship and the unhealed loss of her mother twenty years earlier in a hiking accident.
Ora is deeply generic. She’s apparently a songwriter so good that she wrote over five award-winning albums, but her talent has dried up. How fortunate for the author, who doesn’t have to write lyrics, or worry about making an ambitious woman sympathetic! Also fortunately, Ora doesn’t feel the loss. I am unaware of anybody who has centered their life for fifteen years around that level of performance in any field who sees it go and is like ‘Yeah, whatever, I don’t really care.’ Her cutesy klutziness, straight out of YA and Twilight, goes from contrived but inoffensive (she’s terrified of bats and mice, but Rhodes can rescue her) to eyebrow raising (she fell off a ladder and had a bat box fall on her face, but walked away with bruises?) to dangerously incompetent, as Ora takes on wilderness hikes beyond her skill level. I just wanted her to be competent at anything.
Rhodes is a cranky man of few words, and I liked that character. Unfortunately, Zapata isn’t consistent with it, so this strong-silent type weirdly breaks into paragraph-long sentimental declarations of love. He even nicknames Aurora “angel”, which she writes off as him misremembering her name. (This obliviousness to a male finding you attractive is also a YA staple, as is Ora’s juvenile phrasing when she talks to Rhodes: “I thought maybe you liked me. As in liked me-liked me.” Maybe she should have had a friend pass him a note after PE?).
Far and away, the best part of the novel is Ora’s and Rhodes’s relationships with Amos, Rhodes’s teenage son. From his shoulder-bump hugs to his terse, stumbly awkwardness when discussing anything serious, Amos is one of the most authentically written teens I’ve come across in a long, long time. His relationship with Rhodes is lovely, and the author also effectively transforms his behavior as he slowly warms up to Ora. Teenagers, especially teen boys, are so hard to write, and Zapata impressed me with this lovely authentic character.
Also to Zapata’s credit is the accuracy of the Colorado setting and the wilderness elements. She clearly did her research for the types of questions Ora has to answer at her job at an outfitter (for instance, “What’s a tent hammock?”) and what the answers would be (“largely a waste of money”). The weather and seasons are realistic, with Ora and Amos going snowboarding in October, and sudden thunder and hail storms dropping on hikes at high altitude. It’s just jarring that an author would create such a realistically wild and risky setting and then people it with, well, an accident-prone moron. Ora! You work at an outfitter and your mother died hiking! WHY DON’T YOU HAVE GOOD BOOTS?
I checked and it seems that most of Zapata’s work is self-published and well over 500 pages, so it seems her fans don’t object to the rambly long-windedness of her books, but to me, there were many sequences that simply should have been cut. (Frankly, the whole songwriter thing should have gone – just make Ora divorced and starting over.) There’s also a weird writing tic where the author talks about peeing way too much – I counted at least twenty-one references to pee or peeing, which is not something I wanted to spend my time reading.
If you would like to read an average YA novel, just one with good parents, swear words, and boning, then by all means, follow this Rhode. Personally, though, I prefer good YA and good adult romance to a book that can’t figure out a way to be either.