I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This was a coming of age story that had elements of romance, and although I have read plenty of books with similar themes, it was nothing like what I am used to reading.
The main character, Mo, (Love that name) was a wonderful leading character who wasn’t a nerd, jock, misfit, or any other stereotype of a teenager. He was the kind of person who all kids can be, but far to many choose not to be, and that’s what made him extraordinary. He got along with a lot of his classmates, but he was also a victim of bullying; he wasn’t a genius or an underachiever, he tried hard but not always his hardest, he made mistakes but never set out to hurt or misuses anyone. Honestly, he was just an all around likeable and great character who was very selfless and brave in an “everyday hero” sort of way, and I love the way he managed to stand up to bullies without sinking to their violent level.
But Mo is not the only great kid in this book. He has two best friends, Kazzy and Max who he has been close to since Junior High. The chemistry between the three of them translated very well. Based on the way they interacted, it was very easy to believe that these three people had grown up together and truly loved one another. They know each other so well, and always seem to be able to comfort and entertain each other when necessary. The friendship is slightly complicated by the fact that Mo is head over heels in love with Kazzy and she has no idea how strongly he feels about her, but the tension that usually arises from that sort of situation was pleasantly missing.
If you’ve ever watched “The Friendzone” on MTV, you know it’s that type of cringe worthy television that’s hard not to watch. Most of the time, I hope that the person who is putting themselves out there is rewarded for their bravery and the person they love, loves them back. But I also usually get ticked with that person for bringing their best friend on TV and dropping a bomb like that because you just shouldn’t ever do that to your friend! That is unfair because they have had plenty of time to sort through their feelings, but they expect their friend to change immediately and enter into a committed relationship. Mo is definitely in the friendzone, but he handled it just right. He waited too long to make a move in my opinion, but once he did, he did it in a way that was respectful to their friendship. He gave her time and space, let her know that his feelings were not going to change, and most importantly insured her that no matter whether she wanted to be in a relationship with him or not, he wasn’t going anywhere. When you truly love someone, that’s what you do.
It’s a good thing that Mo was willing to be there for her no matter what because Kazzy needed all of the love and support she could get. Kazzy and her mother belong to a commune called the Bethlehem Ranch that has a reputation for being a cult. However, Mo, Max, and their families know that this is not true because although they do not live on the ranch, they are sort of honorary members of the Bethlehem family and allowed to come and go as they please. No brain washing or abusive tactics are used by the leader of this commune to manipulate those who live there, and it really is just a bunch of “hippies” living and working together in harmony and peace. It’s a strange way to live, but not harmful in the least.
Unfortunately that all changes once the truly loving leader dies, and the Bethlehem Ranch is taken over by Abel and his son Clean. (You read that name right. They all have strange cult like names.) The Bethlehem Ranch owes a lot of money in back taxes, and Able decides that the only way for them to keep their home is through criminal activities.
The way that everyone reacted when they realized just how corrupt Abel and Clean were was very well done. The commune was not just some fad for Kazzy and her mom, it was their family. In fact, every member is so devoted to becoming a part of one family that although they are not all related by blood they all share the same last name, Bethlehem. It was very difficult for Kazzy and her mom not to make excuses for the actions of the new leaders because to do that would be betraying their entire family. I myself never felt conflicted about what actions they should have taken. I wanted them to high tail it outta there as soon as they discovered the truth, but it took some time for things to sink in, and when they did finally realize the danger in their current circumstances, it was almost too late.
I was surprised by how much freedom the teenagers in this book were given by the adults. I mean to allow your 17-year-old to go off into the woods for three days unchaperoned with their friends and go base jumping for the first time is strange enough, but the fact that they were doing it for a class assignment was even weirder. I know it was creative license and it didn’t keep me from being able to enjoy the story, in fact the adult’s hands off approach enabled the story to progress. However, the parents and teacher had so many moments where they expressed concern, love, and discipline towards the kids that I expected them to do that all the time. My point is that the kids seemed more competent than the adults sometimes. Lol
There was also a supernatural element in this novel that I was not expecting but was it was entertaining and fit the story. I’m not going to tell you about it though because it would ruin your fun. :p
Overall, I would have to say that this was a very imaginative and well thought out coming of age story, and the ending was particularly beautiful. These three kids went through some extreme literal and figurative growing pains, but they handled it with humor, bravery, class, and above all else, love. I am very happy to have gone on their journey with them.
Although adults might enjoy this story, I would recommend it for ages 15-18. There was also some language that parents of younger children should be aware of, but other than that, it was clean.