Paperback, 352 pages.
Release date: May 7th 2015.
Rating: 4½ out of 5.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that's impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father's unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn't take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?
In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.
But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone's heart survive?
Keren David’s Salvage was the dark horse of YA in 2014: a warm, diverse and powerful novel about friendship, family and facing your fears which fought off stiff competition to be nominated for the Carnegie Medal and the first ever YA Book Prize. It was one of my favourite books of the year, but it was a long wait for the awards explosion. In contrast, This Is Not a Love Story has arrived like a blockbuster, in a maelstrom of glitz, glamour and inevitably high expectations.
Written in a classic, accessible and sharp style, This Is Not a Love Story brims over with heart. As a book which features everything from love triangles and heartbreak, school scandals and sick lit, family ties and moving away, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s YA’s answer to a soap opera — but look deeper into the drama and this may be Keren David’s most important novel to date.
With her crazy hair and hopelessly romantic ways, Kitty is a heroine every reader will come to adore. Keren’s talent for characterisation proves a match even for a vast and sprawling supporting cast which reaches halfway across the globe, and readers will come away feeling they’ve gotten to know everyone from Kitty’s sister Rachel to Theo’s brothers Simon and Yonatan, to Kitty’s new friends Lucy and Alice (I’m a particular fan of Alice, and her taste in t-shirts). This book is a very international story, with people coming back from or heading off to other countries all the time and several Jewish characters among the leads, which in Keren David’s hands, is a huge source of fun as well as diversity. The prominence of LGBTQ+ storylines and a wealth of other subplots will keep readers engaged from start to finish.
Kitty hopes Amsterdam will give her direction and maybe a boyfriend on the side, but as luck would have it, she’s in for a treat: two very different love interests are hers for the taking — but nothing’s ever that simple, and both boys have secrets of their own. Outgoing, impulsive Theo has a penchant for making all the wrong choices for all the wrong reasons, while moody, enigmatic Ethan has an artistic streak and sends mixed messages as a default. I didn’t fall for either of them the way Kitty did, but I loved that the book takes pride in its love triangle and wears it like a badge of honour. There are plenty of twists in the tale to keep readers entertained, too.
That said, as much as the book is about fresh beginnings, it’s weighed down by backstory and readers will wonder if some of the character can ever really move past the mistakes they’ve made. A stronger, more driven plot with a tangible goal was very much needed. I would’ve loved to have seen more of the online life Kitty cultivates via Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram, too, as what is shown is near-perfect. If there’s one fault I’d say consistently shows up in contemporary YA, it’s a distinct lack of understanding of how teens actually use social media — as a part of daily routine, a kind of modern multi-media diary, capturing the burden and the joy of teenage existence in the 21st century. Teens move onto the next app and platform more quickly than most authors can keep up with, but Keren David gives Zoella a run for her money in the way the medium is handled here.
Ultimately, however, it’s Amsterdam that winds up the real winner of This Is Not a Love Story. The city casts a spell over the characters and it’ll cast a spell over you, too. It’s a much more detailed and heartfelt portrayal than any found in The Fault in Our Stars, and it’s the little things — like people leaving their curtains open late into the night because they have nothing to hide, the rhythm of the city and the laidback lifestyle of the community Kitty finds herself in — that make the difference. Read this book and I guarantee you’ll be booking your tickets and learning Dutch in no time.
In short: this book is a masterclass in enjoyable, elegant, emotional YA from an author who’s clearly at the top of her game. Armed with a quick wit and a big heart, This Is Not a Love Story is a modern must-read. It’s not without fault, but it’s impossible not to be swept up in this twisting, turning tale of will-they won’t-they teenage romance.