Paige Elizabeth Hancock is tired of That Look. She’s tired of being defined as the girl whose boyfriend drowned. Even though it’s been two years, everyone knows about Aaron, so she’s seen as a grieving widow, even though they’d only been together for a couple of months. Going into her junior year, Paige wants to finally finish grieving and get a fresh start. With this in mind, like any good planner, Paige makes a list of goals: 1) go to a party 2) join a group 3) date 4) travel & 5) swim.
The Start of Me and You is a romance at its heart, but there’s a lot of other things going on here. For all that the ship is central, there’s very little actual romance in it. Though it feels fluffy, The Start of Me and You gets pretty sad sometimes too. Emery Lord excels at really building lives for her characters. It’s not just about Paige’s love life, but also about all of her family relationships, her friendships, and her feelings about Aaron. That’s a lot to handle in one relatively short novel, but Lord gets it done like a boss.
Paige starts off on the list like the goal-oriented girl she is, expecting to be a better her by the time she hit the end of it. She finds, as all of us do, that life isn’t that simple. What she thinks she wants isn’t necessarily going to be what she needs, and she can’t rush to acceptance. It’s a process. Life is a process. We’re all of us constantly growing, changing, and learning from our inevitable and plentiful mistakes; at least, we’re learning if we’re wise enough to pay attention. What I love so very much about The Start of Me and You is that in pretty much every character we get to know at all, this is so evident. Heck, we even get a small window into Ryan’s ex-girlfriend who makes a brief appearance. These characters are so dynamic, and the arcs are powerful.
Years before the book began, Paige’s parents got together. It was a painful time, but Paige was glad that they got divorced, because they were so much healthier and happier apart. More to the points, they were better parents apart. At the beginning of the novel, they drop the bombshell that they’re dating. Each other. It’s supposed to be the dream of every kid whose parents are divorced right?
For Paige, it’s not. Paige doesn’t take the news well, and, as much as she is really built to, rebels. She’s very much not supportive. This leads to fights with her younger sister, who takes a more Hayley Mills or Lindsay Lohan approach to parental reunion. The Hancocks are a very loving and believable family, but they have their issues to resolve. When the novel closes, things aren’t perfect, but they never can be; they are, however, hopeful.
Even more than those family relationships, I adored Paige’s with her grandmother. Paige tells her Grammy everything. Though Grammy’s memory is going, Paige will tell her over and over, because that’s how much she loves her and respects her advice. Her Grammy is a real hero for her. Their relationship is so sweet and a little bit sad. Also, Grammy is such a shipper, which I love her for forever.
The friendships too are a thing of a beauty. Paige has three close friends: Tessa, Kayleigh, and Morgan. Tessa and Paige are besties, as are Kayleigh and Morgan, but the group as a whole is very solid. That doesn’t mean that jealousies and fights don’t crop up, because of course they do, but they always get dealt with. Bottom line: they’re always there to support one another. The way the heroine in Open Road Summer reacted to female characters who weren’t her best friend was the biggest issue that I and many others had with Lord’s debut, and nothing remotely similar is present in The Start of Me and You.
In junior year, those four add two new friends: Ryan Chase and his cousin Max Watson. Ryan was Paige’s goal boy for that third goal, dating. Max, who’s also his best friend, quickly becomes one of Paige’s best friends. They bond over literature, grammar, and pop culture. Obviously, I had some amount of feels about this. No, for real, Max is one of my favorite book boys ever. He’s so smart and adorable and nerdy banter like WHOA. While I would have liked a few more chapters of happy coupleness at the end, this book still has one of the hottest non-kiss scenes ever in a book. For the record though, there will actually be kissing, but prepare to do a lot of shouting at the book first.
My reservations regarding The Start of Me and You are so trivial that some of you will probably laugh at my nitpicking, but I can’t leave them unsaid. Paige is a “Grammar Girl,” though she’s embarrassed by the designation. Yet, this happens: “me and Aaron” (48). It’s in the title too. While the internet is of two minds about whether putting yourself first is grammatically incorrect or just impolite, I really don’t think it’s something a grammar nerd would do. Paige also claims to be a pop culture aficionado, but she didn’t know there was more than one Indiana Jones movie. She’d also never heard of Firefly and didn’t bother to look it up. Small, yes, but they made me question Paige a bit.
Let’s be real, guys. I’ll be reading absolutely anything this woman writes; I don’t care what it is. Any author who can bring the swoon like this is an author I will keep reading.