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By Your Side by Kasie West

By Your Side by Kasie West
Pub. Date: January 31, 2017
Source: e-ARC via edelweiss (Thank you, HarperTeen!)
Summary: When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Mental Illness

SPOILER WARNING

Back in 2013 Kasie West took the YA community by storm with her sci-fi novel Pivot Point (which I LOVED). After the sequel, however, she shifted her focus to contemporary and it’s in this genre that she truly shines. Ask any YA fan for recommendations or a list of their favorite books and I guarantee you’ll hear West’s titles pop up again and again. When she drops a book it’s kind of a Big Deal and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on By Your Side!

With a paper written and a weekend away with her friends (and the cute boy who seems to be into her) just around the corner, Autumn makes a last-second run back inside the library (damn that extra large drink!)…and discovers the doors have locked behind her. And her friends are gone. And the lights are off. AND because of the holiday weekend, the library will be closed an extra day. As if that isn’t bad enough, she realizes she’s not alone. Dax Miller, grade A loner and town bad boy (the rumors surrounding his stint in juvie have him pegged as a murderous criminal kingpin in the making) is also locked inside the library. Hoo boy, it’s going to be one long weekend.

What could have been a Made For TV Movie-esque fluffy romcom about two polar opposites trapped inside a library all weekend instead is a novel with surprisingly heavy-hitting topics: anxiety disorders and the resulting panic attacks, a horrific accident that leaves a boy in a medically-induced coma, and an abusive home life/foster care. Autumn’s anxiety is so severe she requires medication (though she shows no symptoms of withdrawal or any negative results from not taking her pills), all the while insisting on keeping it from her friends, the people who should know her better than anyone. Instead, they write her off as being flaky, ready to bail on them at a moment’s notice and never one to sleep over (so this long weekend away at a cabin is huge). Before Autumn finally tells them what’s going on, there’s a scene that made me SO enraged, so fiercely angry, that if these kids had been my friends, they would have instantly been dropped.

These besties (and I use the term VERY loosely) leave her at the library, not noticing that she’s not with them. There’s some sloppy excuse about how there were multiple cars and each driver assumed she had gone with someone else. Later on, the boy she likes ends up getting into an accident and a search is launched…leading people to believe Autumn is dead. She’s safe and sound the entire time inside the library, but with no way of contacting the outside world, no one knows.

And don’t get your hopes up: By Your Side only features the library in the first few chapters. Autumn and Dax spend a few days watching television in the break room and playing games (neither are big readers, so really this setting could have been anywhere) before Dax discovers a way to get them out. From there, it’s Autumn’s struggle to decide what’s going on with her feelings for these two boys. She feels obligated to continue visiting Jeff in the hospital (his mother seems to believe Autumn has some ability that’ll make him wake up) and that preferential treatment shown to her seriously angers some of their friends. Ridiculously passive-aggressive bulling ensues. Also, from her time spent with Dax, she comes to see a new side of him, she sees past the tough guy facade he presents to the world.

While this is by no means the best Kasie West I’ve read, it’s not terrible. I read through it extremely quickly and was genuinely taken aback by the inclusion of such hard-hitting subjects. I’m a sucker for the Good Girl/Bad Boy trope, but certain actions of the secondary characters had me seeing red. Any images of cute, light-hearted romance and a library akin to the Beast’s are instantly quashed: neither of the two main characters read or spend their time in the library reading (apart from a battered copy of Hamlet Dax carries around). This bookworm’s heart is crushed: the book could have taken place anywhere and the outcome would have read exactly the same. I wouldn’t recommend this one to a newcomer to West’s novels, but readers wanting a quick, not entirely memorable, read will be sure to gobble this one up.

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