My Best Everything

My Best Everything was first published in 2015 and is Sarah Tomp’s debut novel. It is a contemporary romance that focuses on a teenage girl who will do anything it takes to escape from her small home town. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other books to fully appreciate it.

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez can’t wait to leave Dale. All her life, her father has told her that she needs to get out of the small Virginian town, and now she can finally do that. She just has to last one more summer before she can head off to college in San Diego and finally kiss her part-time job at the local junkyard good-bye. Unfortunately, it is not long before everything goes wrong.

When one of her father’s business deals goes south, Lulu’s family suddenly finds itself short of money. This means that her dream is cruelly snatched from her as her family can no longer afford her tuition fees. Lulu is devastated but raising the money in such a short time seems impossible. That is, until someone dumps an old moonshine still at the junkyard. Although Lulu knows that distilling alcohol is illegal without a permit, she also knows just how much money a shiner can make. With the help of her friends, Rona and Bucky, Lulu steals the still and hides it in the woods.

Yet making moonshine is dangerous and she does not know where to begin. This is why Lulu knows that she needs the help of Mason – a local boy with a troubled past. The fact that Mason’s family are shiners is a poorly kept secret and, with his help, she knows that she can succeed. However, Lulu does not realise just how dangerous making moonshine can be. As she draws closer to Mason and puts her plan in action, she soon realises that she is playing with fire. She can only hope that she makes the money that she needs before she gets burned…

My Best Everything is a book that I have some mixed feelings about. From the blurb, it sounds fantastic. And, in a way, it is very memorable. While contemporary romance is not my chosen genre, I have certainly never read a book that centres around teenagers creating an illegal alcohol ring. Because of that, I was initially hooked. The opening chapters set themselves up quickly and you really do feel the urgency of Lulu’s money-making scheme. Unfortunately, I felt that the novel was just a bit too long to maintain this momentum.

There is a constant sense in My Best Everything that something will happen. The book frequently refers to the process of making moonshine as a metaphor for life in general. In this sense, the plot feels like a still about to blow. Lulu is so fixated on her end goal that she makes many naïve mistakes and, like the moonshine, each of these could result in everything blowing up in her face. Yet, this rarely becomes apparent on page.

In fact, Lulu is largely unaware of the danger that she is placing herself in until the very end of the tale due to the fact that Mason does his best to shelter her from danger. Her experiences as a shiner, despite the fact that she is constantly breaking the law, were oddly positive and due to this, I did start to lose interest after a while.

The narrative style of the novel is also something that I feel will divide readers as the story is entirely told in the 2nd person. While I am generally not a huge fan of this myself, I will admit that it does work nicely here. It gives the story a soporific feel, nicely capturing what life is like in a sleepy, American farming town. Still, I can’t really explain why the story is written like a love letter to Mason. As it is a look back over Lulu’s summer, he was present for many of the scenes that Lulu narrates to him. Why, in this case, he would need to be reminded of the conversations that they had is beyond me.

The ending of the novel felt a bit too rushed, which came as a surprise in a book that was pushing 400 pages in length. This was a bit disappointing, as it wrapped up everything so cleanly and neatly. I don’t think that any character truly had to face a comeuppance for what they had done, despite the fact that the story emphasised the illegality of making moonshine throughout. While the last chapter did neatly wrap up all of the story’s loose ends, I really wish that more time had been spent on an epilogue for the characters. Most of their fates were simply reeled off in a couple of pages of synopsis.

Yet the strongest thing about My Best Everything was its characters. The protagonists all felt like real teenagers, which shows how talented Tomp is as a writer. You could really empathise with Lulu in particular as her life was almost ruined by her father who, frustratingly, seemed completely unable to see what a big deal this was. Tomp also did a fantastic job of showing what it is like to fall in love for the first time. While Lulu’s instant attraction to Mason is a bit frustrating, it shows the power of young love – it encapsulates everything and convinces you to do stupid things.

Rona and Bucky were also fun characters, although it was frustrating that they seemed to appear less and less as the story progressed. Their romance takes a very different trajectory to Lulu’s, illustrating how first loves aren’t always perfect. They are the couple who initially feel like they will be together forever, only to slowly learn that they aren’t well suited at all.

However, while the teenage characters were great, I didn’t think that the adults in the novel felt quiet as solid. While they could have been interesting, none of them really factor into the story as much as you think. While Lulu’s mother is established as being severely agoraphobic, this actually does not add much to the tale. Even Lulu’s father does not really do that much, only turning up sporadically in the story. In fact, there isn’t even any indication that he ever accepts that everything that happens is his fault!

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I guess that I will wrap this up. While there is some decent characterisation in My Best Everything and I did enjoy the moonshine metaphor, this novel really wasn’t one for me. The pacing was incredibly slow and a lot of the action seemed to occur off page. Still, this book was Tomp’s debut novel and showed incredible promise. I would certainly consider reading more of her work in the future.

My Best Everything can be purchased as a Hardback on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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