Title: Perfect Escape
Author: Jennifer Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Release date: July 10th 2012
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
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Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation. Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past. With undeniable grace and humor, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown explores OCD, the pressure for perfection, and the emotional highs and lows of a complex sibling relationship.My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This book sounded perfect for me. I love reading both about road trips and about sibling relationships (rather than romance, for once!), and I was excited to see how Jennifer Brown would handle the topic of mental illness. Sadly, Perfect Escape didn't quite live up to my admittedly high expectations - there were plenty of parts that I enjoyed, but for such a character-driven novel, I don't think the character growth was strong enough, making this only an okay read for me.
I never really connected with Kendra. She just seemed very whiny and melodramatic, and I couldn't understand her reasoning. There's a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, making Kendra a somewhat underdeveloped character. It especially bothered me that we don't find out about the full extent of the cheating ordeal until the very ending - the revelation is underwhelming, but finding out about it earlier might have made it easier for the reader to understand why Kendra chose to run away. I get that we're not supposed to like Kendra at the beginning and that the point is to see her grow over the course of the novel, but the character growth is not strong enough to carry the story. What she discovers about herself and her relationship with Grayson is not developed enough and without further exploration, it didn't feel real to me. Since Perfect Escape is laid out to be a very character-driven story, this lack of character depth really impacted my enjoyment of the novel.
I also wasn't impressed with the Zoe-storyline. Once Kendra "kidnaps" her sleeping brother and leaves for their impromptu road trip, she has to figure out where they're going and decides they're going to visit their old friend Zoe in California. Zoe's family moved away because her parents didn't want her interacting with mentally-ill Grayson three years ago, but Kendra harbors hope that they will be reunited happily if they only make it to her new house. What happens in regard to Zoe is entirely predictable and underdeveloped, and I didn't really see the point in it at all.
I did really enjoy the individual storylines, though. I'm impressed by the way Jennifer Brown handled the issue of OCD. Having read Corey Ann Haydu's OCD Love Story just a couple of weeks ago, I was excited to read another author's take on the topic. Perfect Escape added an interesting perspective, since we get to read about the mental disorder from someone close to the the person who has OCD, rather than the person himself. The portrayal of OCD and the way it affects both Grayson's and Kendra's lives is honest and eye-opening.
The roadtrip storyline is good, too. Kendra and Grayson's road trip has a different feel to it from most road trips I've read, just because the OCD adds a whole new dimension to this type of story. As always with road trip stories, I enjoyed all the random places they discover and people they meet along the way. Rena - the girl they pick up along the way - is a fascinating character, and I wish we had gotten to know even more about her life.
But despite my enjoyment of these secondary storylines and smaller parts of the novel, I couldn't actually love it. There isn't a whole lot of action, which I'm usually fine with because I love character-driven stories, but because the character growth is so underdeveloped, that wasn't enough to carry the story. The ending is very abrupt and nothing much has really changed, making it hard for me to see the point of the whole story. I love the set-up of Perfect Escape, but the writing and character development aren't strong enough to make this novel live up to my expectations.