I have been so thoroughly charmed by Sarina Bowen’s first YA novel. The Accidentals will actually have you laughing through your tears… or at least I did.
I had all the faith in the world that Sarina Bowen would rock the YA world with this story, especially since her NA titles (especially the Ivy Years series) are some of my favorites. While they aren’t YA, the Ivy Years series is one of the most perfect stepping stones into romance that I’ve found. They are on my #AlwaysRec list because I know that those stories are not what people expect to find when they hear ‘romance.’
Anyway, The Accidentals tells us the story of Rachel Kress, a thoroughly ordinary teenager with a not-so-ordinary father… whom she’s never met. The book begins just after Rachel’s mother succumbs to cancer and while authorities are trying to piece together living arrangements until Rachel turns 18. Her social worker reaches out to Frederick Richards, known the world over as rockstar Freddy Ricks, but Rachel isn’t holding her breath that her father will respond, let alone show up. But, then, he’s there and nothing about her life will ever be the same again. Oh, and there’s a cute boy, too.
The Accidentals is one of my favorite types of YA books. It has a romance that is somewhat central to the plot, but it’s not entirely about the romance. After all, Rachel has a lot on her plate. She is trying to navigate all the usual teenage spaces, schoolwork, friends, etc, but also has to find time to grieve, to cry, to say goodbye. And then she has to deal with things that most 18 year olds don’t think about, like, where am I going to live in a month when I’m too old to be a ward of the state?
Enter Frederick Richards. He definitely complicates matters just by showing up. Is it good that he has arrived at Rachel’s hour of need? Absolutely. Does it add one more thing to Rachel’s emotional cornucopia, threatening an avalanche that may be impossible to stop? AbsoFREAKINGlutely. So while she’s glad to meet her father, she’s also trying to come to terms with him choosing to be in her life now when he’s never shown any interest before.
It quickly becomes evident that Frederick Richards is a man-child. A fairly good-hearted man-child, but a man-child nonetheless. He’s not a terrible person, as he treats waitresses, drivers, and clerks respectfully, but he also has known about his child all his life and avoided her because she would force him to leave the imaginary Neverland he’s been inhabiting for the last decade or two.
The story progresses as Rachel embraces life with Frederick and tries to give him a chance while keeping him just far enough away from her heart that she won’t crumble into nothingness if he abandons her again. Who can blame her? It’s obvious that he has spent his life running from anything truly difficult, and figuring out how to be a father to a grown daughter is anything but easy.
I think what I love most about the Frederick/Rachel dynamic is the realness of their interactions. Neither spills their guts before trust has been established. They both screw up and make things complicated. But neither one throws in the towel. They keep dancing around each other until one of them learns a few of the other’s steps, getting closer and closer to finding the same rhythm.
You can’t talk about The Accidentals without discussing Rachel’s life at Claiborne Prep. Her roommate, Aurora, is TOTALLY awesome and is the kind of friend everyone hopes to find when starting off fresh in a new school. She tries to give Rachel space when she needs it, but also pushes at all the right times. Aurora quickly sees Rachel’s introverted tendencies, and while she doesn’t try to change her, she encourages her to keep getting out of their room and into the world.
And then there’s Jake. Jake, Jake, Jake. From his first email it is clear that THIS is the kind of boy YA is written for. He’s unashamed of his nerdiness. In fact, he encourages people to see the nerd in him with all his nerdy slogan t-shirts and thick framed glasses. He works so hard not to be seen as the same kind of guy that his brother, the Asshat, is. Jake is so patient and wonderful that I felt my inner teenage self swooning over his every word.
This story is so well done. I read it in one sitting, incapable of setting the book down for more than a minute or so at a time. I was just drawn in by Rachel and her supremely reasonable behavior. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or act out the way so many YA heroes and heroines do. She tries to be respectful and understanding, even when the person she’s trying to understand doesn’t necessarily deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Teenagers are emotional people. They just are. It’s a fact of life that while your body is adjusting to life as an adult, you are also in the midst of one of the most emotionally upheaving times of your life, too. Not to mention all that sexual awakening stuff. And for Rachel, she’s balancing all of that on top of a mountain of grief and complicated parental feelings. I don’t think I would have survived everything Rachel handles so deftly in The Accidentals. This is definitely a story that I will revisit and recommend for years to come because it is wonderful in so many ways.