Absolutely was first published in 2014 and is the debut novel of Melissa Veracruz. It is a contemporary romance which tells the story of the blossoming love between a cheerleader and a varsity quarterback. The story is the first part of the Larson series but at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Ashlyn Ramos has always been a popular girl until a drunken accident leaves her publicly shamed. Her former best friend, Reyna, is quick to use this to her advantage and sets about making Ashlyn’s life a living hell, using Facebook and texts to ensure that Ash is soon left friendless and outcast from the social scene.

Now without her car or any mobile phone privileges, Ashlyn is also forced to walk to school each day. It is in doing so that she meets Kiel Fuller – a new boy in her school who has many secrets of his own. Although Ashlyn is keen to get to know him, Kiel is just not interested in making friends. He has heard the rumours about her and thinks that it’s best if he doesn’t get involved.

However, as Reyna’s crowd grow increasingly vicious in their attempts to shame Ashlyn, all it does is push her and Kiel closer together. Soon, Kiel begins to see beyond their lies and begins to realise that he does care for her after all and he will do everything that he can to protect her, whatever the cost.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, contemporary fiction is well outside of my comfort zone. I don’t really read this genre at all for pleasure and tend to avoid reviewing these titles on the blog because I never feel that I really do them justice. However, the author requested a review and so I will do the very best that I can.

Absolutely is an incredibly well written novel. The text flows naturally and I noticed very few grammatical errors. Although the story is an easy read, it still tackles some issues that will be familiar to every teenager – peer pressure, bullying (both physical and cyber), drinking, date rape, teen pregnancy and parental expectations. This is a side of being a high school student that a lot of people (particularly adults) have a lot of trouble talking about, yet it is really important that teenagers learn about them in a healthy way. Veracruz approaches these topics sensitively in her novel, showing both the positive and negative consequences of her characters’ actions in how they hurt the people around them.

Ashlyn and Kiel are both good kids from supportive, church going families. Although they experiment and make mistakes, they learn from their actions. Ashlyn’s first experience with alcohol (and the cow death that follows this) is a sobering experience for her, causing to her to realise that the outcome could have been far more severe. In the same way, the vindictive “pranks” that the bullies pull on Ashlyn seem harmless at times, yet their ongoing effect on her well-being is clear to the reader. While one unflattering photo pinned to her locker is a mean trick, when it occurs every day it is clear that its intent is to make Ashlyn feel perpetually embarrassed and hurt. Through use of first person narrative, the reader is put in Ash’s place as she finds each of these pictures and therefore are forced to confront how such bullying would make them feel. This is a very effective way to get the message home.

However, I did not feel that the first person narrative was always entirely successful. The paragraphs alternate between Ashlyn and Kiel’s point of view, causing the perspective of each chapter to switch three to four times. While this is an interesting idea as it allows us to see the relationship unfold from both of their perspectives, it does cause the text to have a lot of repetition. Most important events are repeated twice and so I sometimes found myself starting to skim read them to get to the new parts. This was particularly troublesome towards the middle of the book, as the story did slow down a lot. Most of this part was taken over by Kiel and Ashlyn setting their boundaries (and struggling to contain their raging hormones) and the bullying sub-plot largely slipped away for seventy pages or so. While I was never bored to the point of putting the book down (which is more than I can say for some of the other books that I have reviewed for this blog), I still felt that it was largely unnecessary to keep flipping the perspective.

However, the two protagonists were more than interesting enough to carry the plot. For the most part, I found them both to be incredibly likable. Ashlyn was bubbly and caring, possessing all of the attributes of a good friend. Her biggest weakness is her naivety, which begins to gradually fade after Reyna’s betrayal. Although sweet, she is far from being a shrinking violet and shows that she is more than capable of standing up for herself.

Kiel took a little longer to grow on me due to his questionable attitude towards Ashlyn in the first quarter of the novel, especially when he refuses to “get involved” with her even when he knows that harm will come to her if he does not interfere. However, as the novel progressed, I did begin to respect Kiel a lot. As his back story is revealed, his attitude becomes more understandable and I like the fact that he has a strong moral compass (unusually for a novel, Ashlyn is the one who is more forward in the relationship while Kiel wants to take things slowly).

A lot of the supporting cast in the novel – particularly D’Nae, Jenna and Miller – were also very strong characters, and it was refreshing to read a novel with a predominately Hispanic cast, but I unfortunately find the bullies the story to be a little unrealistic. I understand Reyna’s original motivation – to make Ashlyn shoulder the blame so that her police officer Dad did not know she had been drinking – yet why did it get so blown out of proportion after this? Even after Reyna is in the clear she continues to make Ash’s life a living Hell, going as far to try to get Ash expelled and gain her a criminal record. I’m aware that girls can be bitchy but I don’t remember anyone ever going this far to bully someone when I was in high school. While I don’t doubt that perhaps stuff like this does happen, I personally found it to just be a step too far and it just made the antagonists feel a bit like caricatures of school bullies.

So, in conclusion, Absolutely is a very well written debut. The protagonists were very strong and believable and issues that they faced were ones that will be familiar to everyone in high school. While I did find the bullies to be a little over the top and the narrative style to be repetitive at times, I think that this story forms a strong start to the series and would recommend it to all fans of contemporary romance.

Absolutely can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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