A secret relationship conducted almost exclusively via text buoys a college freshman slouching awkwardly toward adulthood and a 21-year-old cafe manager who is trying to clean up the mess his life has become.
When Korean-American Penny Lee, petite, unruly of hair, and socially inept, leaves home to attend the University of Texas, she’s eager to launch her writing career and gain some breathing space from her inappropriately flirtatious, overwhelmingly extroverted mother. Sam, a lean, tattooed, and coolly coiffed young white man, grew up with his wildly dysfunctional mother in a trailer park, dropped out of college, got entangled in a manipulative relationship with an Instagram-obsessed beauty, and is now struggling to stay sober and fulfill his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker. After their paths cross in real life on the streets of Austin, the two forge an unlikely friendship—or is it more?—via marathon texting sessions, the physical distance allowing them to be vulnerable in a way that would crumble under the pressure of face-to-face contact. However, crises in both Penny’s and Sam’s lives as well as the tension resulting from their increasing intimacy force them to move beyond the comfort of their glowing screens. While the premise is appealing, character development is weak, making it difficult to care what happens to any of them. It is sadly ironic that the feedback from Penny’s creative writing professor (a noted African-American writer of science fiction) that her story is “rhythmically one-note” and that “excellent dialogue and glitter-bomb observations won’t save you” applies equally to this novel.
Witty asides and up-to-the-minute slang cannot compensate for an absence of emotional depth or well-crafted prose. (Fiction. 14-18)