Title: I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: February 3, 2015 by Henry Holt & Co.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.
There are times when a book makes such an impact on me that I find it almost impossible to review. How can I possibly do it justice? I’ll Meet You There is one of those books. I finished it more than four weeks ago and I’ve been mulling over my review ever since, feeling like a less than stellar review is somehow doing a disservice to the book. But here’s my attempt at sharing what an incredible story this is.
I’ll Meet You There is the story of Sky. Her life is not an easy one but she has big plans. After the loss of her father and the subsequent breakdown of her mother, Sky often took on the role of caretaker and responsible adult. Escaping the trailer park and the suffocating life in her small town is her only goal. With high school graduation behind her, she lives for the end of summer when she can shake off the dust of Creek View and flee to art school. But when her mother loses her job, Sky feels responsible for her well-being and suddenly her own future is in jeopardy.
Demetrios managed to create characters who were completely believable. I never once felt I was reading a work of fiction, but instead maybe a recounting of very real people that the author knew and loved. Josh and Sky’s realities often felt grim and the hopelessness was almost tangible. The ache I felt for these two young people was visceral. I pulled for them, I wanted so much for them. I wanted Life to be kinder and gentler with them. The realism extended to the setting as well, with Creek View feeling almost like another character in the book. The small town off a California highway, withering in the summer heat. The dilapidated trailer park, the lone diner/restaurant, the bored teenagers and the lack of any opportunity.
Josh’s experiences in Afghanistan and his struggle in the aftermath truly hurt my heart. I appreciate a military aspect in novels when they are honest and done well, when an author has obviously done the research instead of relying on clichés. With a husband who is a 20 year veteran, who had a wide and varied Navy career, I am acutely sensitive to the portrayal of military themes. So often they are idealized (every sailor is a SEAL, every soldier is an Ranger) or riddled with clichés (hotshot rogues who save the day). But Demetrios either researched well or has firsthand knowledge of the subject matter. She gave an unflinching account of Josh’s service, his connection to his fellow Marines, his injury, and most importantly, his lingering issues with survivor’s guilt, anger, and grief. This was so grounded in reality that it was sometimes painful to read. Kudos to Demetrios for the honesty – and for getting it right.
I’ll Meet You There is a story of loss, hope, grief, friendship, coming of age, falling in love, pushing your limits, setting your own course and so much more. This isn’t a story with high drama or cookie cutter characters or overused tropes. Instead, the realism is gut-wrenching and at times hard to take. Sky’s fight to escape from an unstable parent and a dead-end town and Josh’s struggle to come to terms with the realities of war were unflinchingly portrayed. But it was that grittiness and that realism that makes I'll Meet You There what it is: completely unforgettable.