Emily Wing Smith Back When You Were Easier to Love
296 pp. Dutton Books (Penguin Group) 2011 ISBN: 978-0-525-42199-3
Summary (From Goodreads): What’s worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you’ve been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan – the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah – unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan’s former-best-friend Noah.
Original and insightful, quirky and crushing, Joy’s story is told in surprising and artfully shifting flashbacks between her life then and now. Exquisite craft and wry, relatable humor signal the arrival of Emily Wing Smith as a breakout talent.
Back When You Were Easier to Love is another one of my book choices for The Contemps Challenge, and I’m happy I chose it. It’s a very cute, funny novel that my girls in class will enjoy. Honestly, I’m not always too worried about whether a novel is “clean”, but this one is and it’s nice to know it will be available to my students.
This novel touches on a number of subjects including identity, faith, love and acceptance. Joy has lived most of her life in California until her parents decide to move to Utah late during high school. She and her family are Mormon and had a small group of Mormon friends in California, but now that they’re living in Utah, pretty much her entire town and school is Mormon. Joy has a difficult time distinguishing between her faith and identity as a Mormon. This subject doesn’t overwhelm the book by any means, but it plays a big part in her relationship with Zan and her figuring out who she is.
Joy meets Zan when she first moves to Haven and is attracted to him immediately. He’s not one to conform like “everyone else.” He wears his hair longer, his face scruffier, and his grandpa’s loafers. He doesn’t like the people of Haven and their boring ways. He seems himself as better than everyone there. He and Joy start a relationship, which Joy falls hard for. She’s gets to the point, especially in the present after he’s left, where she feels like he makes her a better person. She doesn’t feel good enough anymore; she’s lost herself to him. Of course, Joy doesn’t realize this. For me, as an adult, I had problems with this. I grew irritated with how much she was basically obsessing over him. I don’t know if teen girls will be as bothered by this as I am, because I know many teen girls–and adult women–who feel the same way when they’re dating someone. Thankfully, Joy has great friends, whether she realizes it or not, who try to talk some sense into her. But Joy needs “closure” so, because of a dream, she takes Noah with her on a trip to find Zan.
I adore Noah’s character. There isn’t a swooping romance because that’s not how life is for these characters. As described in the book, Mormons won’t even kiss someone unless it’s a pretty serious relationship. The characters take their faith seriously and want to do what’s right. I dated a Mormon boy in high school and can attest to this. I was completely dumbfounded as to why he wouldn’t kiss me! Finally he explained it, which made me feel a little bit better, but not really. Anyway, Noah is determined to be Joy’s friend even though Joy can’t stand to be around him and his “soccer lovin’” self. She has a set idea of who Noah is, but on their trip to California to find Zan, she learns that everything isn’t always what it seems–in more ways than one. He’s a sweet, mild-mannered, witty character that I’ll remember long after reading this book. And after reading Back When You Were Easier to Love, you’ll understand why those three adjectives describing Noah, really don’t do him justice at all
This is a fast-paced read, with strong main and supporting characters. I was able to get past some of my issues with Joy because they don’t stay for the whole book. A big part of this novel is Joy, and Noah too, learning who they are and accepting themselves and those around them. It really is a fun book to read and one that I highly recommend you give to a teen girl and/or put in your class and school library. In fact, my high school book club decided to read this as one of our summer reads. There’s much to be taken from this book without it being preachy or anything close to that. It made me think of E. Lockhart’s The Boyfriend List and Learning to Swim by Cheryl Klam.