BOOK REPORT for The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman

Cover Story: Improbable

BFF Charm: Big Sister

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

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Talky Talk: Surprisingly Deep

Bonus Factor: Open-Mindedness, Photography, Coins and Tombstones

Anti-Bonus Factor: Family Discord

Relationship Status: Serious Summer Romance

 

Cover Story: Improbable

There’s nothing really wrong with this cover except that I don’t normally like seeing real-people models on books. They take all the imagination out of it for me. Also, Mati and Elise hang out on the beach ALL the time, but never once did they frolic in a field of wildflowers, so this cover is highly improbable.

The Deal:

Elise has become a bit of a loner since her brother was killed in action three years ago, so while the move from San Francisco to the small coastal town of Cypress Beach was inconvenient, she wasn’t leaving much behind (except all the awesomeness that San Francisco has to offer; sorry, El). As a pretty decent trade-off, she gets to reconnect with her sister-in-law and three-year-old niece and, bonus, gets her own dog who loves to run on the beach in the mornings.

Which is where Elise is when she notices a crazy guy walking into the waves fully clothed. She pulls him back in (rightly believing if he’s nuts enough to go in to the ocean fully clothed, he probably doesn’t know about rip tides) and learns who he is: Mati, a teenager from Afghanistan in the US on a temporary visa. Elise is wary to trust him at first—after all, her brother was betrayed by his Afghani compatriots and her family was in NYC during 9/11—but soon she realizes it’s really hard to stay away from Mati because, well, he’s an extremely hot boy who is also sweet and smart.

Elise knows her family won’t approve, but she’s never felt a connection with anyone like this before. Can it be right if the odds are stacked against you?

BFF Charm: Big Sister

I’d be Elise’s friend, no problem, but I think what she needs right now is a non-shitty family member to tell her that she isn’t the one in the wrong here. Her brother, Nick, was her best friend, and when he died Elise built up walls around herself and her peers, using photography as her way to connect but still stay distant. When she finally starts to open up again, you can see Elise is passionate and caring and inquisitive, and isn’t afraid to admit—and then change—when she’s ignorant or wrong. Plenty of people could take a page out of her book on how to be compassionate humans.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Elise and Mati are quickly intrigued by each other, but because of Mati’s religious beliefs and his life back in Afghanistan, it takes a while before anything physical manifests. But this just means a graze or a glance is that much more charged. And it gives them an opportunity to get to the really sexy stuff: understanding one another emotionally and connecting deeper on an intellectual level. (But never you fear, there’s definitely some swoony kissing bits as well.)

Talky Talk: Surprisingly Deep

Most of the chapters are told from Elise’s point of view, but every once in a while Mati chimes in using the free verse poetry he writes in his journal. It’s used sparingly and judiciously, so, as someone who isn’t into poetry, I can affirm it wasn’t too much. Upperman crafted a great summer romance, combining the headiness of finding someone and falling in love over just a few months with the bittersweet of knowing summer—and possibly that relationship—has a definite end. This isn’t a social warrior Issues-with-a-capital-I book; it’s quieter and more personal. The prejudice Elise sees and experiences from her own family is crippling to her because these are people she loves with all her heart, and she is deeply hurt they won’t respect another person she also cares deeply for. I devoured this book in an evening and it left me with a smile by the end.

Bonus Factor: Open-Mindedness

I liked that when Elise was confronted with something (and someone) she has been historically told is “bad”, she freaked out a little and then examined that reaction: What was the reasoning behind the way she felt? Then she did what every person should do when they are afraid of something they’re ignorant about: research. Elise has a perfect quote that sums up the start of her path to being a better person than one who gives into fear:

I’m not sure if my prejudice was ingrained in me by my mother, who’s feared Muslims since the Twin Towers fell—doubly after my brother was killed—or if I’ve chosen narrow-mindedness because it’s easier than acknowledging how utterly complex this world is, but I am certain of this: Nick would disapprove of complacent ignorance.”

Bonus Factor: Photography

Elise is planning on going to an art institute back in San Francisco after she graduates, and her portfolio is about finding pieces of life amongst death. This means she frequently goes to cemeteries and finds lighter moments to capture, human and nature alike, and that sounds like a pretty cool concept.

Bonus Factor: Coins and Tombstones

While reading this book I learned that there’s a coin code when you visit a military grave to show that you paid your respects: leave a penny if you simply visited; a nickel means you and the deceased were in boot camp together; a dime for if you served together in some capacity; and leave a quarter if you were there when the soldier was killed. Apparently it started during the Vietnam War, and the money is occasionally collected and put towards maintaining the cemeteries or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Family Discord

While I haven’t been in Elise’s precise situation, I connected deeply to her feelings of frustration and sadness at her mother and sister-in-law’s inability to be objective when it came to understanding anything to do with Muslims. To see such hatred twist the face of someone you once thought was a role model is a tough life lesson. I love that there was no easy solution to Elise’s issues with her mom (because that’s often real life), but at the same time it was, obviously, quite a bummer.

Relationship Status: Serious Summer Romance

I thought you and I would just be a fling, Book, but you’re a lot deeper than I expected. I don’t know if we can take this back to our real lives, but if not, then I at least want you to know that our time together was worthy of the fond memories I’ll think back on when I’m old and gray.

The Impossibility of Us is available July 31.