AUTHOR: Stephanie Binding
PAGES/LOCATIONS: 249 pages/4150 locations
GOODREADS’ AVG. RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars; 2 ratings
SOURCE: I was provided with a copy of the novel by the author, Stephanie Binding, in exchange for an honest review – this exchange had no impact on my opinions of this novel!
Camilla Lopez, a once privileged sophomore in high school, finds herself lost and alone in an unfamiliar world. Faced with mountainous obstacles from violence to multiple losses that test her resilience to the extreme, she is left feeling overwhelmed and despondent. Surprisingly, Camilla begins to build unshakable bonds with unlikely people in unlikely places; people who lift her out of her sorrows to the heights of love she is destined to reach.
Upon reading the synopsis for Binding’s Desolate, I expected to find a coming of age story – a story about a young woman learning to understand and deal with her grief after a major tragedy takes away her mother and her step-father (who is more like a father to her than her biological one) in the same night. Her entire life, her entire world is changed in a single night. I expected the anger, the depression, the heartbreak, the sense of feeling lost – these are completely normal reactions to such extreme instances of grief. I felt proud of Camilla when she started going about her everyday routine – returning to high school even if it wasn’t the school she had come to know, I was proud of her when she started making friends, I was proud of her when she finally opened up to Jalissa and Le’Vaughn sharing the story of her loss with them, I was even proud of her when she let herself feel something for Le’Vaughn at the risk of being hurt, loving him and allowing herself to be loved by him. I felt as if Camilla was truly learning how to live in spite of her grief, but as I read on I realized that I was wrong. This is the point when Camilla begins to become foreign to me – she places all of her feelings, all of her hope, all of herself in Le’Vaughn and then when she loses him, she loses herself – she falls apart. After this ultimate loss, Camilla decides to run away from her life and travel to India with her uncle. I can understand her reasoning, her desire to get away from a place which now houses so much hurt and painful memories. I had hoped that by Camilla choosing to go to India, she would ultimately grow – that she would learn how to understand and accept the grief of loss and heartache, however, I don’t think that she did.
I feel that one of the greatest mistakes we make as human beings faced with the pain of loss is our seeming need to replace those feelings of hurt and pain with feelings which distract us or make us temporarily numb to it. This need is a major contributing factor to addiction and I think that this is what Camilla ends up going through with Le’Vaughn, he becomes her addiction – her drug of choice to temporarily erase the pain of losing her family. As I said previously, Camilla places all of her feelings into this relationship with Le’Vaughn – every single positive feeling that she experiences after the loss of her family is somehow tied to him. You could describe Camilla’s depressed behavior during her time in India as that of a teenage girl experiencing her first real broken heart, but I think it is so much more than that. While in India, Camilla is for the first time having to learn how to deal with the pain of her loss on her own without any type of distraction. I wanted to see Camilla grow from this grief on her own, I wanted her to experience that mind clearing acceptance of the loss and learning how to move on in light of it, however, I just don’t feel she was able to accomplish this. I also felt that her acceptance of her loss is ultimately halted by Le’Vaughn returning to her life. To me, Camilla just falls right back into the same pattern with Le’Vaughn initially – the same seeming reliance upon him to keep her grounded. I was utterly shocked at how easily she forgave him! After all of her hurt, her pain, her tears, and her flying half way across the world and she just forgives him so easily?! I have difficulty believing that it was so easy for Camilla to just forgive him, to just return to the way things used to be, to just fall back into the pattern of their relationship as if nothing had happened – as if he had never hurt her. I want to believe it is a testament to the strength of teenage love in the face of adversity but Camilla’s initial seeming addiction to Le’Vaughn lingers in the back of my mind – she may think she loves him, she may even grow to love him, but I just wonder if her love for him is genuine or if it is her attempt at curbing her deep seeded fear of abandonment. I just wonder if perhaps Binding missed a valuable opportunity to provide an example of individual and personal growth to her audience, an audience which will likely be around the same age as Camilla (age 18 by the end of the novel). Instead of the audience getting some sense of resolution for Camilla’s grief, they are instead left to wonder – is she just falling back into the same pattern of addiction or was she actually able to find peace and acceptance of her losses?
As a testament to Binding’s writing, she has an affinity for creating characters – believable and realistic characters. Camilla’s experience was genuine, it was real – from her experience with her own grief to her interactions with other characters, everything about her felt natural and it made her believable. Characters are created on the page, words are the tool of their creation and are the only way for an author to convey them to the mind’s eye. I felt the realism of Binding’s characters – I could picture Camilla with Le’Vaughn, I could picture Camilla on her adventures in India with her uncles, I could picture Camilla sitting in the cafeteria with her friends at school. Sure, Camilla is the focus in all of these moments but it doesn’t mean that those around her fade into the backdrop or cease to exist – they are real and you can feel varying degrees of depth behind each one of them as if each has their own story waiting to be told. This is just a tribute to the growth that Binding has experienced as a writer between her first novel, Autumn Recovery, and Desolate. I truly commend her for the work she has put forth thus far and hope she continues to find success in the future with her work.
TL;DR REVIEW: 3.75 out of 5 stars. I do want to make it extremely clear that I enjoyed Camilla’s story overall, however, I found myself more emotionally invested in her story when I thought there was more room for her growth as an individual. I feel that with this conclusion Camilla didn’t grow enough on a personal level. Perhaps I am a cynic or maybe I am just missing the entire point of this novel – I honestly don’t know and am willing to admit that I don’t have all of the answers. I think this is the most conflicted I have felt in regards to one of my book reviews in quite some time (*cough* yes, Allegiant I will keep looking at you). The only thing that matters to me is providing an honest and unbiased review of the books I read – that is my entire goal as a reader and book blogger and that is what I hope to have done with this entry and hope to continue doing so in the future.