Paperback, 320 pagesExpected publication: July 1st 2014 by HarperTeenSource: Edelweiss
On the Fence by Kasie West is a light-hearted summery novel about a girl attempting to navigate through adolescence and love. What makes Charlie Reynolds different from other teenage girls is her brothers. She has four of them and adding her neighbour and father to the mix adds a lot more testosterone to her life than any girl should have to deal with. Charlie doesn’t have a mother from whom she can learn the art of feminine wiles so girls, “normal” girls, are as much a mystery to her as they are to her brothers – probably even more because her brothers are all dashing and beautiful and have many girlfriends who somehow don’t impart their female knowledge to Charlie. Anyway, Charlie gets yet another speeding ticket and tests her father’s patience one time too many. Her father commands her to get a job and she grudgingly does at a clothing store that requires her to put on the store’s wares while working – in other words, Charlie suddenly needs to dress like a girl and act like a canvas for a makeup artist. Then she discovers these feelings for her brother’s best friend, the neighbour dude, and her life gets complicated fast. But wait, she also has to deal with these nightmares she has been having of her mother and a car crash.
I suppose I shall say it right off the bat: I was less than enamored of this novel. It had its good points but it had major flaws and for me, the flaws outweighed the pros. The story is sweet enough and I liked the premise of the novel. I could empathize – I grew up with two older brothers and six male cousins who all lived with five minutes from us. My problem was with Charlie – she was too abrasive for me to like. I understood her motivations and why she took the actions she did but I felt that she lacked the emotional depth I require in my protagonists. I also felt that there were so many threads in the narrative that the author was unable to focus on one and explore it as thoroughly as it should have been.
Charlie’s brothers, who are one of the selling points of the novel, barely get page time because yet another boy is introduced into the mix. I wanted to see more of the brothers. I wanted a quieter, more thorough exploration of Charlie’s relationship with her brothers – perhaps a glimpse into their psyches. Instead they are limited in their roles as Charlie’s protectors; not making appearances except to bristle at whatever guy Charlie may have feelings for. Braden, the love interest, has issues of his own.. The romance is frustrating because it is unnecessarily complicated. One good conversation could have saved Charlie a lot of angst and melodrama.
Charlie’s issues are real and far be it from me to trivialize the experiences of girls growing up without mothers. I just felt that the book could have done with a slower pace and more emphasis on Charlie as a person than as Charlie as an object of desire. I do think, however, that this book will appeal to the target audience. It just didn’t appeal to me.