AUDIENCE: Young Adult
LENGTH: 432 pages
Lou Carling has a secret she can’t write on her walls along with all of the other thoughts and feelings displayed publicly in her room, so she starts a diary. Little does she know, over the course of the summer this diary will come to hold many more secrets than just her own.
Though The Mess of Me, Chantelle Atkins’ first novel, centers on sixteen-year-old Lou Carling, it also tells the story of Lou’s family and friends. Covering quite a lot of ground in its 432 pages, this dramatic novel depicts the spiraling world of one crazy summer, including raging parties, eating disorders, drug use, self-harm, domestic abuse, and the confusion of young love.
While the plot has plenty of twists and turns, ups and downs, this happens purely by nature of the complexity of Atkins’ characters. Though the writing feels a bit choppy in the first few chapters, Atkins hits her stride early on with Lou’s voice and the novel flows easily from there. A dramatic yet grounded page-turner, The Mess of Me could so many times feel overdone or cliché in another writer’s hands—violence, drugs, teenage shenanigans, etc.—but Atkins deftly maneuvers Lou, Joe (Lou’s best friend), and the others through their tumultuous summer by letting the characters themselves work through these situations instead of forcing reactions or plot points.
The characters are the story; who they are determines what happens rather than the other way around. Lou is an incredibly round protagonist. Angsty, intelligent, witty, and caring, the inner thoughts Lou writes about her obsession with weight and food, her confusion about budding sexual urges, or her feelings toward growing up in a way that forces the reader to empathize, to really know what it’s like to have these thoughts. Lou isn’t all good, nor is she all bad, and that’s what makes her so relatable.
The supporting cast is equally as round, though at times it feels like there is a lot more to some characters than revealed in the novel, perhaps a back-story that Atkins has in her head, especially with Joe’s brother Travis. That being said, a book can only be so many pages and ultimately none of the characters lean entirely into a black or white category of good or evil. This results in a wonderfully engaging, emotional novel that at times feels eerily too true to life.
Written in diary format by a smart, funny, and emotional teenage girl, The Mess of Me is a heavy, gritty, powerful young adult novel. Fans of Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Go Ask Alice, and similar YA authors and titles will feel at home with this title. A perfect read for the upcoming summer, this novel lends its pages to the struggles of flawed yet loveable characters as they navigate unexpected dangers and ever-impending adulthood.
Warning: Atkins does not shy away from intimate details about anorexia, cutting, drug abuse, domestic abuse/violence, and other potentially triggering subjects.
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Genevieve Shifke Ali is an Assistant Editor with an independent publishing house. She writes occasionally on her blog genevieveshifkeali.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @GShifkeAli.