Hi, and thanks for stopping by.
Today's review is of Jessica Park's 180 Seconds, a book that I received via NetGalley (hence the lack of physical copy - I'm hoping to get it in physical regardless of having it on my Kindle - evidence of how much I loved it!) The premise is this: Allison and Esben meet during a social experiment, where two strangers must look into each other's eyes for 180 seconds, all of which will be videoed and posted online via social media, to see how different people can connect, non-verbally, in such a short amount of time. I absolutely ADORED this book - and here's why!!
I felt Allison was a really understated yet sympathetic, understandable protagonist with a tragic past. I really connected with her, and was so emotionally engaged with her personal and romantic progress. Her descriptions of her anxiety were so incredibly accurate, in my opinion, and every time she was brave and forced herself to do the things she was afraid of, I felt as proud as though she were my own friend!
"I want more of what I'm feeling, and I also want none of it."
My favourite character, however, was Allison's adopted father, Simon (she was in foster care right up until high school, when he found her). Simon, a gay man in his mid-forties, was one of the most incredible parents I have ever read in a novel. He was hilarious, understanding, encouraging, generous and so incredibly patient. I loved hearing about the care packages he sent Allison, how nervous he was to meet Esben for the first time at Christmas and how emotional he was to hear her tell him she loved him, and call him "dad" for the first time. He was absolutely wonderful.
"You can't reach what's in front of you until you let go of what's behind you."
I also absolutely adored Steffi's character. Steffi was the epitome of strength; she was incredibly determined, brave, bright and joyful. Not only that, but she was an incredible friend to Allison, never get frustrated with her, only encouraging her to be braver and braver and braver. I absolutely did not see the twist in her storyline coming. When she called Allison to tell her that her cancer was back, I genuinely wept throughout the entire phone-call, especially when she told Allison she needed to be alone during her battle and that she wasn't accepting any chemotherapy this time around. During her dying scene, with her true foster parents and Allison by her side, I sobbed again; it was written so beautifully, and Steffi's last moments and words were incredible. One of the most beautiful, sad storylines I've read in a long time.
"It's going to hurt until it doesn't anymore."
I really loved Esben as a love interest; he too was patient and understanding, always encouraging Allison to be herself and take her time. He also was very funny, very charming and so incredibly kind. It was really lovely to have a GOOD GUY who was completely unashamed of his niceness and his desire to do good in the world. Man, we could ALL do with an Esben in our lives.
"If you're going to go running anywhere, I'd prefer that you came running to me."
The main aspect of his character focused on in the book is his role as a social media influencer; he posts videos and photographs of different people and their stories to hundreds of thousands of followers, asking for help or just generally spreading joy and telling everyone what these people have been through. Some of my favourite examples are him approaching a young, male follower, Christian, who was supposed to go to Homecoming with another boy (his official "coming out") but his date was sick at the las minute, and so Esben videoed himself dancing a slow dance with Christian. He hears about a little girl who is being teased at school and hasn't had a single RSVP to her princess birthday party, so he and his awesome friends dress as princesses and go to celebrate with her. He also got like 50 odd abandoned dogs adopted from a shelter by tweeting about them. He's just generally a decent human being. Especially when you learn why Esben feels obligated to do so, you will feel even more for him (and his wonderful sister, Kerry).
"It occurs to me that this boy has not faltered once in the time that I've known him."
I loved that social media was used for good in this novel. Hate and "trolls" were referenced, and really got to Esben's morale at one stage, but they never win and they are never at the focus of the debate, neither is the likes of cyber bullying. It was so, so nice to see positive representation of the internet, and all of the amazing good that it can do for so many people, in so many different ways.
"The world is astounding. I told you people are mostly good. They really are."
Finally I want to mention that twist in the storyline between Steffi and Esben! (NOT what it sounds like!!!) I definitely remember being slightly suspicious when Steffi went to get takeaway food and was gone for ages with a pretty flimsy excuse, but I soon forgot about it in the loveliness of the rest of the book. I definitely didn't see the twist coming, and although I could sort of understand Allison feeling betrayed, I could also see how Steffi and Esben were simply trying to make her a better, braver person. I'm so happy she achieved that.
So that's it! That's why I loved this glorious book. PLEASE read it - you won't regret it!!
"I'm going to live a beautiful life. In honour of Steffi, in honour of Simon, in honour of all the glorious, giving, caring people online, and - most importantly - in honour of myself."
Till next week