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3.3 2
Young Adult Fiction 217
"It's not you, it's me..."
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From the prologue, we gather that a guy named Rob has died and so have others. We know that whatever Rob did has made him the villain and that his actions won’t earn him forgiveness any time soon, even from his own brother and family.

“I can’t decide what to do with your ashes. It’s been nearly a year now. Almost summer again.”

“This is not forgiveness. Don’t think that.”

Then the story leaps back in time, to the beginning of the summer, and we’re introduced to the main narrator of the book, Jamie. He’s quiet and stays to himself; he’s a normal guy in his first year at uni working a summer job on a river. Jamie ends up falling hopelessly in love with the elusive and out-of-control Caro, despite his older sister and everyone else warning him that she’s no good. He can’t help it, he’s drawn to her despite the fact that she keeps him at arm’s length, only comes around when she wants, and that’s she known for being promiscuous.

We learn through Caro’s POV that she’s a free spirit, rules can’t confine her and she won’t be defined by the words people whisper about her on the street. Her main focus in life is politically driven- to bring the wrongs of terrorism and war to the home-front. She believes it’s her responsibility to help people realize that the soldiers are just a weapon used by the government to force their ideals of right and wrong on the world. She’s a radical activist, willing to prove her commitment to the cause by using extreme measures. Basically, she reads like a ticking time-bomb. The only thing she needs is a weapon of her own.

That brings us round to Rob, Jamie’s older brother. He’s an ex-solider, released from duty after he was wounded in combat in Afghanistan. We learn through his narrative that there is no adjusting to life at home after combat; that for him, there’s no transitioning back to only being a citizen. He joined the army like his father and grandfather before him and as a way to escape the nothingness that was his life. He felt most alive as a soldier, with his sniper in his hand and the enemy in his sights. With his rifle and his rank stripped away from him, he’s only left him with a black and bitter hole that fills him up from the inside. He wastes his days away with drugs and alcohol, only fearing sleep and the nightmares that come with it. He just needs a purpose to bring him back.

So, Caro finds her weapon in Rob and Rob finds his purpose in Caro’s convictions. Jaime falls into this web of destruction because he provides Caro with the perfect escape and keeps her grounded to the present. She likes his innocence and the game of toying with him, but it could be so much more. This Is Not Forgiveness a twisted and tangled tale of the romantic fantasies of a naive, love-drunk boy who falls for the wrong girl; the wrong girl with the power of persuasion that hopes to reach martyr status by using a lost soldier; and a lost soldier just looking for a reason to have a gun in his hands and battle to wage. But when the day of demonstration finally lands on their doorstep, who has the nerve to pull the trigger and who is the only one left to walk away?

This book wasn’t at all what I thought (was hoping?) it was going to be, but I suppose I should have done more homework. When the blurb said “taut psychological drama” is meant it. This story has tremendous depth in regards to how some teenagers are ruled by emotions and the different routes it can take them on, depending on their environment and if they have “purpose.” For some, passion is harnessed and used to create art, music, love, charity, but to others, it can take up residence in political campaigns or larger movements. It also delves heavily into the psyche of veterans, soldiers, and those released from their service to their country. In short, it played out real-to-life emotions and scenarios, providing a bit of a dark entry into the world of war, terrorism, political activism, and betrayal. Admittedly, I’m not up to par as far as politics go and a majority of what Caro and the other activists talked about was way above my head. For that reason, it was harder for me to feel connected to the characters at all.

The majority of this story felt like you were trudging up this giant mountainside and at the top you expected bloodshed and turmoil, some kind of climatic end to stun you and help you understand the actions of everyone in the book. However, that wasn’t how it settled with me. I felt blindsided by Caro’s affection for Jamie after stringing him along for so long. I was confused and unsettled about Rob’s ability to become this monster that didn’t even let family ties get in his way. Nor did I feel Jamie’s loss or heartbreak at all. Most importantly, the ending- though poetic- didn’t fit the story to me. Not that I wanted bloodshed and gore, but that’s what it felt like the story was gearing up to showcase and then it didn’t deliver.

Verdict: I think this really is a case of “It’s not you, it’s me.” I think those that enjoy books with deeply-involved plots or novels centered around warfare and how if effects people, even our youth, would really like it, but it simply wasn’t for me. I can honestly say that the only real purpose for me reading it to the end, aside from hoping that I’d learn to love the characters at some point, was that I wanted to know what Rob did and I was let down by that as well.

*Note: An e-ARC of this title was provided by Bloomsbury's Children Books via Net Galley.
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