I always start off my reviews of contemporary YA with the disclaimer that I don’t often read contemporary YA. Recently I’ve been reading a bit more of it, and I don’t know if I can comfortably say that anymore. I do still love fantasy more as a genre, but I’ve been reading my fair share of contemporary. Save the Date immediately drew me in because of its plot. I’m a fan of Katie Fforde books for some light reading and the chaos that ensues there sounds a lot like the kind of chaos Save the Date was inviting in.
And it is. If you’re looking for more like this and you can’t find it in YA, try Flora’s Lot by Katie Fforde. What I most like about this book is the way it’s coming-of-age angle is used. Lead character Charlie Grant has a romantic, idealised version of her family in her mind. You can’t necessarily call it untrue, because in a way the family is just like that. But there are also cracks, and issues, and interpersonal problems Charlie chooses not to see. This weekend, she can’t pretend they aren’t there.
We all have to come to terms with the fact that parents are only human, and Charlie has this same problem with her older siblings precisely because she is the youngest. She idealised all of them, and all she wants is for things to stay the same. As readers, we already know that’s not going to happen. Charlie herself is very much like her family: a sweet kid who is still figuring out her place in life, and who is not without some faults.
The treatment of her friend, for example, is fully on herself. She could have taken five minutes to text back, but she keeps forgetting her in favour of her family. Charlie may not see it, but we do. But then again, it’s the kind of self-absorbed that is unintentional (even if it’s hurtful). Charlie – and the rest of the Grants – are considering themselves just a taaaaaad above the “normal” people. That they are not, becomes obvious in this very entertaining book. The paper girl emerges victorious!
What I like about Save the Date is that no relationship is sacred. Everyone eventually finds beef with one or more of the others, and they are all valid points. No one in these fights is right or wrong – they are all handling it in a way that could have been done better. Charlie starts to see her family for who they really are through this process, and she finds she can still love them as much knowing they are imperfect and flawed. And that she herself is still loved even though she is too.
The events happening in the book are partly of the predictable kind: wedding preparations going wrong, the weather is going to be horrible, some obnoxious family members show up and a vindictive neighbour. But on the other hand, Save the Date handles these tropes pretty well. The showdown between two elderly family members had me wondering What. The.Hell. Happened. Between. Them. Charlie being in love with her brother’s best friend is done far more original than I expected at first, I liked how she kept flipping between being madly there for it and having big doubts – the kind you have when your dream comes true but something still feels off.
I think Morgan Matson elegantly solved all the hurdles she put up for her characters, making it a very enjoyable read while also teaching us something about seeing people for who they are. It’s a familiar feeling too: we all think that way about the people we love. But it’s only until we start seeing and accepting them with all their flaws, that we can actually get to know them and be friends with them. Charlie learns to let go of the picture-perfect idea of family and to just enjoy said family. A lesson her mom needs to learn as well, but luckily, she shows she does in the final comic.
I didn’t even talk about that yet: mom Grant writes a comic about their family, in which she polishes up what’s happening around her and channeling it into a picture perfect comic strip. It completely goes over Charlie’s head that her siblings have a problem with having their lives broadcast all across the nation, just because she herself doesn’t have a problem with it. It illustrates Charlie’s mindset very well, and Morgan Matson really drives the point home when Charlie is remembering an ideal vacation and her brother tells her she’s remembering the comic. Not the real vacation, which was a disaster. Charlie then realises he is right.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Save the Date. It’s that typical summer read for me: with a great flow and easy to get through. Funny when it can be, emotional when it needs to be. Charlie’s way of looking at things is very recognisable, and to be honest, the Grant family really is pretty amazing – even if they themselves think so too. It’s best illustrated by the paper girl: if the Grants hadn’t been so focused on believing themselves infallible, they would have realised far sooner it was actually… well, you know what? Best just to read it in Save the Date.