Book Review: The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine
(to be released December 31, 2013)
In this young adult tale of opposites attracting, Wren is the good girl, burdened by her average status. She’s mainly known for being quiet, and ranks right smack-dab in the middle of her class at her all-girls Catholic high school. Bad boy Grayson, expelled by his all-boys private school after being exposed for running a business as — in his words — a “term-paper pimp”, is suffering through his uninteresting days in public school, isolated from his friends and removed from his glory days as a lacrosse star.
Wren and Grayson meet cute — or meet gross, depending on your perspective — when he chokes on a cocktail weenie at her family’s catering hall and she saves his life by performing the Heimlich. Followed promptly by him vomiting on her shoes. Despite the life endangerment and the puke, the two have a moment of connection… and thus starts the romance of Wren and Grayson.
Yes, it’s pretty much an insta-love connection. Neither can stop thinking about the other, and they have a few awkward encounters before realizing that whatever is between them might hold the “promise of amazing”. Told in alternating chapters, we hear each character’s thoughts about the other, as each tries to forge a new path in hopes of being worthy of the other.
Of the two, Grayson has the most to overcome. His term-paper pimpdom is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of shady dealings. He’s hiding a big secret involving a truly revolting scheme involving him and the other privileged boys from his former school. When Wren ponders that Grayson doesn’t feel that he’s good enough for her, I wanted to yell, “It’s true!” Yes, everyone deserves a second chance, an opportunity to reform — but Gray’s past is pretty awful, and I’m not sure that he deserves such a quick and easy redemption, one in which he never actually pays for the terrible things he’s done, other than a week of Wren feeling angry at him.
It’s gratifying to see Wren learn to stand up for herself more and grow a spine, finally speaking up for herself with the popular mean girl and with the guidance counselor who doesn’t seem to see Wren’s true potential. I enjoyed Wren’s down-to-earth connection with her two best friends, as well as her healthy relationships with her parents and her older siblings.
Both Wren and Grayson come from fairly well-off families, and the sense of entitlement permeates the entire story. Even though Wren’s family business is going down the tubes, there’s never a sense that their financial well-being is at stake. Grayson, too, comes from money, and while his home life is divided between divorced and remarried parents, the overall sense is that he has a stable, worry-free life on his hands, which makes his past actions seems even less comprehensible and more the actions of a bored, spoiled rich kid.
I didn’t hate The Promise of Amazing, and in fact, it’s a fast-paced story that is easy to get caught up in, so much so that I couldn’t tear my eyes away because I needed to know what happened next. But in terms of message and storytelling? Well, no. Grayson is not an admirable character, and despite his desire to change and be worthy of Wren, I just couldn’t get past his serious wrong-doing and his lack of atonement. Having to ‘fess up to Wren and possibly lose her was painful, sure — but even then, it all got patched up pretty quickly, no lasting damage. Without going into detail about what he’s done, suffice it to say that Gray didn’t really seem to earn the redemption that he’s granted in this novel.
Things I liked:
Wren is a quiet girl, but that doesn’t mean she’s not smart or savvy, and she’s certainly not weak. Let’s hear it for the quiet ones! As Wren puts it, “Being quiet was not a conscious protest. It was my nature.” And by the end of the book, when she asserts herself in a payback plot, she points out that “he had toyed with the wrong quiet chick.” On behalf of introverts everywhere, thank you!
Things I didn’t like:
Once Gray’s secret comes to light and Wren unburdens herself to her best friends, one takes the position that Gray’s past actions are “kind of… hot.””
I didn’t say I approved. What he did was awful, but he sort of got karmic payback getting kicked out school. Don’t you think? And, well, he hasn’t done any of this in a while, right? Like months. A guy with a past is hot.
Um, really? His horrible actions are all okay, because they were “like months” ago — and now it’s kind of hot? That’s taking the bad boy thing to a whole new level of wrongness, in my opinion.
This bizarre take on teen morality continues a bit further on:
What I’m getting at is — so what if he’s been with other girls? It only means he’s experienced. You’ve been with other guys — is he all jacked up over that? We’re sixteen… this is how it’s supposed to be.
As I write this, I realize that this twisted take on right and wrong bothers me a lot more than I realized while I reading the book. I just can’t buy the basic premise of the bad boy being reformed by the good girl. Maybe in some stories, it works, but here it feels too easy. The worst consequence that anyone truly faces in The Promise of Amazing is an expulsion from private school — although the term-paper pimpage seems to have been quieted up sufficiently that Gray won’t face damaged college prospects — and a few teary misunderstandings on the path to true love.
Teen love can be grand and full of drama. But to be convincing, it has to have stakes and feel earned. In The Promise of Amazing, the main thing that’s amazing is how quickly Wren and Gray fall in love, and how easily all of their differences — and his shady past — can be overcome.
Title: The Promise of Amazing
Author: Robin Constantine
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young adult/contemporary
Source: Review copy courtesy of Balzer + Bray via Edelweiss