What I liked:
The prose itself was solid, and there were even a few quotable moments. The consistent incorporation of information on whales added a charmingly ethereal quality that suited the main character’s vaguely fantastical mindset.
It was refreshing to see the external cause tied to the main character’s depression as something a little more subtle than some of the traumatic and/or gratuitous possibilities common to YA lit. (Granted, being willfully abandoned by a parent is a terrible thing to endure.) Because it can be too easily lumped together with the oh-so-commonplace event of divorce, it’s something that peers tend to overlook or not think to empathize with.
I deeply appreciate how much care the author took with her personal note at the end of the book, regarding her own struggle with depression and anxiety (which was tied directly to a dysfunctional homelife.) And props to her for being so responsible as to include a page of information on where one can seek mental health and suicide prevention assistance.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
-Maia is a fairly unreliable narrator. (Which isn’t unfitting for a book addressing mental illness. But some readers may find this aspect difficult to cope with, as Maia is also our only narrator.) We discover early on that she’s been battling mental health issues ever since the mother she idolized left their family, and her father remarried.
She has been hospitalized previously for depression over an incident she insists wasn’t a suicide attempt. She was only intending on listening to the radio in the car her mother left her… by sitting inside it with the engine on… in a closed garage. >.> Yeah. Totally not a suicide attempt. So, how dare her dad and stepmom be vigilantly assessing her every move and abnormal behavior?
In this, as well as in her choice of unvetted road trip companionship, dodging legal passage into Canada, and hunting down her bio-mom without an address or any money of her own with which to execute this venture… there is much belief that readers will have to suspend.
-The story unfortunately suffers from at least one case of insta-love. Before they are anything more than passing school acquaintances, Maia has been engaging in some borderline voyeuristic obsession, and thinks of Billy as the “love of my life.” But even with them thrown together and relying on each other amid their travels, the chemistry between them never quite comes through as compelling or believable. (If they’d already had an established relationship, or simply a friendship, before this story takes place, I suspect this aspect would have felt far less contrived.)
-Billy himself is pretty erratic in behavior for the first half of their road trip. Not only is he concerningly volatile in the emotional department, he’s also pretty hot-and-cold on the romantic side of things. After we learn his backstory and get a taste for his law-evasion skills, I spent a good while wondering if the plot was about to go violently sideways. Maia, on the other hand, seemed distressingly naive about the vulnerable position she’d placed herself in with a boy she barely knows. In short—not exactly a recipe for “swoon-worthy.”
-Though she had previously decided to try quitting her psych meds cold turkey and admits she suffered hugely from withdrawal, Maia at one point gets it into her head that doing the same thing will be okay this time—because she has a boyfriend now, and she’s definitely (maybe) going to be reunited with her mom. (While this is yet another mark against her having common sense, the natural consequences of this are at least made evident.)
-At one point we’re given a séance scene that throws in a sense of magical realism, but ultimately didn’t seem to amount to anything.