This is 16-year-old Gemma Tucker’s plan for the summer: go to Colombia for a three-week volunteer program with her handsome-brilliant-wholesome-altruistic-PERFECT boyfriend Teddy, then return to Putnam, Connecticut, for lots of fun in the sun. But, of course, her plans go blooey: Teddy dumps her, ending their relationship of two years with no warning and no real reason, in Target, while shopping for their trip. (CLASSY MOVE, TEDDY!)
Due to her mother’s schedule, Gemma gets shipped off to the Hamptons to stay with her screenwriter father for the summer. The Hamptons, a place that she has avoided since she was 11 years old, and a place that holds no good memories for her: It’s where she realized that her parents’ marriage was irrevocably over, and it’s the setting of her worst, most shameful moments. Her behavior five years ago had such drastic, life-changing consequences that she’s carried the guilt ever since.
When she arrives in the Hamptons, the first person she runs into is the girl she hurt the most. And due to a case of mistaken identity, she’s been giving the opportunity to get reacquainted with Hallie Bridges, to atone for her sins…and to maybe even be forgiven.
Katie Finn’s Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend has humor, strong dialogue, a decent romance and a complicated emotional core. It also has a serious, whiplash-inducing—when the switch happened, my jaw literally dropped—identity crisis. The first four-fifths of it read much like an early Meg Cabot book, with plenty of slapstick humor, some romance, and lots of well-meaning shenanigans. It’s true that Gemma did some terrible things in the past—and that one of those things resulted in long-term misery for an entire family—but she was an 11-year-old who was desperately trying to keep her family together. Yes, she could have saved a whole lot of people a whole lot of pain by coming clean, but she was scared and alone and ashamed, and her years of silence only compounded those feelings.
The surprise comes from the shift in tone, not from the plotting: Suddenly, the book gets REALLY DARK. (Pretty Little Liars–dark, not The Storyteller–dark.) As Finn semi-subtly telegraphs the major plot twist from the moment that Gemma and Hallie first meet, I’m going to go ahead and reveal it: So if you want to avoid that, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
When Gemma finally comes clean to Hallie about her identity, Hallie reveals that she’s known all along. And not just that, but that she’s engineered every single bad thing that has happened over the course of the summer…including her breakup with Teddy. Basically, she reveals that she has gone full-on Dark Side…and it appears—though we won’t be sure until the sequel—that Gemma is going to respond in kind.
So what starts out as a mostly-light, humorous story about redemption starring two mostly-sympathetic leads suddenly transforms into Revenge by way of Gossip Girl. I have no idea what direction the sequel will take, but I admit it: I’m intrigued.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.