One Lonely Degree
Finn has always felt out of place, but suddenly her world is unraveling. It started with The Party. And Adam Porter. And the night in September that changed everything. The only person who knows about that night is Audrey—Finn’s best friend, her witness to everything, and the one person Finn trusts implicitly. So when Finn’s childhood friend Jersy moves back to town—reckless, beautiful Jersy, all lips and eyes and hair so soft you’d want to dip your fingers into it if you weren’t careful—Finn gives her blessing for Audrey to date him. How could she possibly say no to Audrey? With Audrey gone for the summer, though, Finn finds herself spending more and more time with Jersy, and for the first time in her life, something feels right. But Finn can’t be the girl who does this to her best friend . . . can she?
I Just Cannot Handle This Subject Matter
After reading two of C. K. Kelly Martin's novels, I added all of the others to my wishlist on Amazon, and bought three of them, her first three novels, when they went on sale. One Lonely Degree differs quite a bit from my prior experiences. Although the style clearly belongs to Martin still, and the books have a similar tone that I associate with her, I can really tell how much she grew as an author from this book to My Beating Teenage Heart. I did enjoy reading One Lonely Degree, but the subject matter is a bit overdone and it's also a subject I really just don't care for much personally.
Of course, Martin does not write contemporaries full of rainbows and sunshine and happiness. The first half of the novel reminded me quite a bit of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, though their plot and situations differ. Finn, short for Fionnuala, aches and lives in fear, cringing at the memory of some incident months before. The reader does not learn precisely what transpired until quite a long ways in, allowing time for guesses. This both builds suspense and lets the reader see just how much Finn refuses to deal with what happened. She avoids talking about it to anyone, and even thinking about it to herself.
As always, I respect Martin so much for not shying away from how terrible teens can be. They have sex, they drink, they do drugs, and they generally hurt one another constantly. Finn is so incredibly selfish throughout One Lonely Degree, and, honestly, I'm finding that I really love the main characters that admit their own selfishness and indulge anyway, because that is being a teenager, or, really, a human.
On top of her personal difficulties, Finn's parents have been going through something, and she fears that divorce is on the way. Already so unstable, she throws bratty temper tantrums and ignores her obviously upset parents, hoping that, if she fights back hard enough, the current of change will retreat back whence it came. With her friend Audrey, too, Finn always focuses on herself first, her personal dramas counting much more, largely because of The Event.
At this point, I'm going to have to venture into spoiler territory, because I just don't see any other way to talk about what happens and why I didn't like this book more than I did. As happens in about 75 percent of YA novels set in a school, a new guy comes into Finn's class. In this case, her turns out to be a childhood friend, Jersy. Though at first annoyed by him, she quickly starts to crush on him, but tamps those emotions down when Audrey expresses interest, because broken as Finn is, she doesn't think she could handle a relationship anyway.
Jersy's presence destroys the friendship between Finn and Audrey in so many ways, none of which were his fault, but I still never cared for him as a character largely because I feared where the novel was going (and I was right about that). I did think it was awesome that he is shorter than Finn, though, because that pretty much never happens in fiction. Anyway, his presence in their lives breaks down their friendship, first because Finn pretends never to have wanted him, second because he and Audrey end up having to sneak around while dating because of her father's disapproval, and third because, when caught sneaking around, Audrey gets sent away from the summer, leaving Jersy and Finn free to bond and hook up.
Dang it, I suspected the whole time that One Lonely Degree was taking the slow train to infidelity town, but I kept hoping, because, as I said, SLOW train. I know nobody likes cheating, but I seriously hate it, because I've always had a very black and white sense of justice, and, to me, such things seem stupid and so easily avoidable. In this modern age of communication, send your girlfriend an email and end things, so that you can launch on your new relationship as something other than a cheating loser. Similarly, talk your feelings out with your best friend before you ever lay a finger on her boyfriend in a sexual manner, and, ideally, don't tell her he's fair game when you've already got feelings for him. Audrey would have backed off immediately had Finn mentioned her burgeoning attraction, because of all of Audrey's lingering guilt about her part in what happened.
Sadly, I would have liked Finn and Jersy well enough as a couple had they not been betraying someone else. Maybe you can't help who you fall for, but you can at least try to be less of a jerk about it than they did. While my heart ached for what Finn went through, that does not excuse her behavior here. Plus, once the characters are in that place, there aren't really any endings that will satisfy me. Pretty much as soon as the cheating occurs, I cannot like those characters as much as I did before, and I can't root for them to have a happy ending, at least not for a long while. Forgiveness and empathy are not emotions that I'm especially good at.
In no way would I say that One Lonely Degree is a bad book, but if you have huge issues with infidelity as a theme like I do, you may not love it either. I feel, too, that I might have appreciated this more had I not read several novels with similar themes that spoke to me more than this one happened to.