Author: Morgan Matson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 3 May 2016
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: I was kindly sent a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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From college dreams (good grades, summer programs, med school) to great friends (level-headed Palmer, movie-mad Sabrina, emoji-fluent Toby), Andie has always had it together. The only child of a Congressman with a reputation to protect and the media spotlight to withstand, she can’t afford not to. But when political scandal sees her father locked out of office and her pre-med summer plans go down the drain, Andie is faced for the first time with finding out what – and who – she loves when she doesn’t have to be the person the world expects her to be. Ideal for fans of Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell and Jenny Han, this is the story of a girl who finds that, for once, the unexpected may just be the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
There’s a lot I’ve been asking for from YA in The Unexpected Everything. It has a strong plot which keeps momentum right to the last pages (and I liked the ending, too). Dogs who survive until the end? Dozens of them. Cameos from some of Matson’s best-loved characters? Several. Teens in long-term, committed relationships? Check. Pizza, happiness, scavenger hunts? Check. Teens who get to be positive and driven and are anything but apathetic? Check. A heroine whose intelligence, kindness and ambitions are celebrated? Check.
The book’s romance is cute and quirky. It’s in natural moments that Andie and the bashful, bookish Clark find each other. It won’t win awards for hottest romance of the year, but the string of choices and coincidences – if Andie’s father hadn’t been rocked by political scandal, leaving her to pick Maya’s job offer off the noticeboard at the diner; if Clark hadn’t agreed to house-sit that summer; if he hadn’t called for help wrangling a giant Pyrenees; if that same giant Pyrenees hadn’t been ill and given them the chance to remedy a disastrous first date – which bring them together lead to a relationship you can see lasting. Tom and Palmer are also a great example of the fact that not all teen relationships need to be insta-love will-they-won’t-they romances.
Unfortunately for a novel with ‘unexpected’ in the title, the book is a little predictable. It’s slow to start, the setting is generic, the pacing needed to be tighter, and I guessed twists early on. Tired tropes (like break-ups just to add some unnecessary obstacle to a relationship) seem thrown in because they ‘have’ to be, not because they need to be. Friendship takes pride of place, though I occasionally found myself wishing for more laughter and messiness from it (sometimes you really just need writers to remember that being a teenager also often means being a shambles). This book has characters trying so hard to be perfect it’s like they’re not talking to each other in any real way. However, Matson does take time to explore Andie’s rebuilding of her relationship with her dad, a politician who’s spent so much time working that their lives are practically on different planets, and fans of Rainbow Rowel will appreciate excerpts from an in-world Game of Thrones-style book series.
The Unexpected Everything has a lot going for it, but I don’t think I’d quite appreciated the impact of storytelling light and shadow, of books as rippling and hypnotic as the open sea, before I read this contemporary. Opening this book was like looking at the sun. Or possibly a tanning bed. It’s just a blast of heat, so intent on roasting your retina to let you see anything. It doesn’t reach into your heart or leave you awash with highs and lows – though it benefits from Matson’s competent pen and it still makes for a satisfying read.
Generous, warm and packed with sun, The Unexpected Everything is a page-turning read, longer and chunkier than you’d expect. It’s full of things I’ve been looking for in YA, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable four-star read.