Places No One Knows, by Brenna Yovanoff

On the surface, this book is YA romance between a super-motivated girl and a super-slacker boy. That somewhat common trope wouldn’t be enough to attract me to this. What pulled me in was the inclusion of a magical realism element. I like YA contemporary books with one little fantastical twist, especially if it’s used well to support the plot and message of the book. One theme of this book concerns knowing the real people beneath their displayed surfaces. In the end, I’m glad I dug a little deeper and borrowed this book from the library.

The primary narrator of the book is Waverly Camdenmar. She’s acing all her classes, she’s a top runner on the school cross country team, and she’s best friends with popular student (and mean girl) Maribeth Whitman. Well, that’s the surface Waverly. Underneath, she knows that she’s all those aforementioned things because they look good, but are they the real Waverly? This keeps her up at night, and she tries to cure her insomnia by running. The extra running is like white noise to her, and it’s the only time she can really clear her head.

Meanwhile, the secondary narrator (I’d say about 20% of the time) is Marshall Holt. In class, he’s a slacker. He smokes, he drinks, and he does some drugs. Well, that’s the surface Marshall. Underneath, he’s actually quite bright and kind. His parents were on the verge of divorce until his father fell ill, so they’re staying together. Just as Waverly uses running to escape, he uses substances to escape.

Though these two share Spanish class together, they don’t hang in the same social circles. To Marshall, Waverly is nothing more a dream girl that he’ll never be able to date. To Waverly, Marshall is nothing more than something toxic to her social standing. And then something magical brings them together.

In an attempt to sleep, Waverly uses a relaxation technique that transports her to wherever Marshall is, occasionally at inopportune times. At first, they both wonder if they’re dreaming. Thus, they’re able to drop their facades and be real. The chemistry between them during these scenes was palpable, believable, and exceptional.

From this bizarre situation, internal conflict develops for both of them, but is mostly shown in Waverly as she wavers between the true feelings she has for Marshall and the fake behavior she displays toward him when in her clique. Though this conflict is initially strong, I felt it dragged on a little, and I found myself wishing I could tell Waverly to just get over herself and get to the ending (which is great). I guess that’s better than my initial assessment of her, which was that she was a little too self-aware and smug.

My favorite character in the book was Autumn, another runner on the cross-country team who ingratiates herself into Waverly’s popular clique, much to Maribeth’s chagrin. Because Autumn didn’t care what others thought of her, she was a perfect foil for Waverly. She helped Waverly learn what being and having a friend really meant, and her reason for doing so (which I will not spoil) was proof she was an excellent friend.

The book made me wonder how well we really know other people and how much of ourselves we really let other people know. Can anyone ever fully know someone else? Those are the places no one knows to which the title refers. This idea is somewhat symbolized in the book by the “spill wall” in one of the girls’ bathrooms—a wall where anyone can anonymously write their problems. Waverly’s observations and utilization of this wall was an effective way to represent her character growth.

There’s a lot in this story to enjoy and think about. How Waverly is transported to Marshall’s side is never explained, but I didn’t need the explanation as I willingly suspended disbelief there. I sometimes disbelieved Waverly, but that’s really only a minor personality flaw. There were many places I know I liked in this book, enough to give Places No One Knows FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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Places No One Knows is available at Amazon.

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