Carly Vega works non-stop, desperate to both keep her grades up to earn a scholarship and to help earn enough money to smuggle her parents back to Florida after their deportation to Mexico. Arden Moss, rebelling against his authoritarian father and grieving his sister, refuses to work at all – not in school, not on the football team, not anywhere. When Carly thwarts one of Arden’s more serious pranks, he becomes fascinated with her and determined to make her his sidekick in the nightly misadventures that make him feel alive. Carly has to decide whether to prioritize the labor that may bring her family back together, or the moments with Arden which give her the childhood she’s been deprived of.
I really liked Carly, and I thought her struggle between serving her family and trying to have any kind of life of her own was clearly and sympathetically depicted. Her family demands that she work endlessly to contribute to the enormous sum of money required to smuggle her parents back to the US, to the point that they criticize her for the time she “wastes” on schoolwork. Carly, however, sees schoolwork and an eventual scholarship (she is an American citizen) as her only route out of a minimum wage future. The depiction of Carly’s poverty was vivid and detailed, for instance when she has to barter work with her neighbor in order to use her washing machine. Carly is motivated, hard-working, and goal oriented, and also totally lacking in the teen angst that many YA heroines wallow in. Carly has real problems.
What draws her to Arden is the freedom she feels in his company. By “joyride,” the author means that the two go out playing silly pranks together, the only time when Carly feels like a teenager and focuses entirely on fun. Arden was not as interesting as Carly. There seems to be a new fad in YA cross-class romances that the wealthy character must have experienced some sort of horrible tragedy to offset the privileges of wealth, and frankly, it felt contrived. Most rich white boys don’t need suicidal schizophrenic sisters and doped-out mothers to justify acting out and fighting with their fathers. The author did a good job showing how Carly was sucked into pranking with Arden because she is so starved for fun, but Arden’s choices were less sympathetic. Although Arden matures, I spent a lot of the book disliking him him for selfishly putting Carly’s future in jeopardy, weighting “I want company in dog poo pranks” above “Carly’s life will be destroyed if we get caught.”
For a book about illegal immigration, Joyride isn’t overtly political. We have two personal stories – Carly’s separated family and Arden’s virulently racist, right-wing law enforcer father – and while Carly’s family is obviously more sympathetic, the book doesn’t editorialize. That Carly’s parents will be attempting to illegally re-enter the country is presented as a given. Arden’s father is loathsome, so that does make us more sympathetic to the immigrant side, but Carly’s parents are not perfect. I was concerned that they expected Carly to help them break a law, but I was more concerned that they seemed completely indifferent to her personally. All of Carly’s few phone conversations with her parents revolve around how much money she is contributing, with a heavy guilt trip for any time spent on herself and her education at the expense of earning money to bring them back.
Carly’s legal citizen status created some issues for me as a reader. When her parents were arrested, they did not tell anybody about their children, even though Carly (and, I think, her older brother Julio) were both born in America and could not be deported. The author characterized that decision as based on paranoia, but I found it odd. Also, the author didn’t address what the legal options are for parents of citizen minors. I am not a lawyer and I don’t know what they are, but the author and the characters should know. Lawyers are expensive, but Carly and her brother come up with $60,000 for a people-smuggler. Surely they could at least spring for a consult with an immigration attorney, or explain why they chose not to.
Throw in an incredible coincidence in the last third of the book, and the book doesn’t make DIK status. It is still, though, an interesting and topical read, and I really liked the heroine. On the whole, I recommend it.