The Blurb: “Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.
Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin’s summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents’ divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.
Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog– and Emmy definitely doesn’t. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.
Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends. A funny, sad, and remarkable story, A Really Awesome Mess is a journey of friendship and self-discovery that teen readers will surely sign up for.”
I really enjoyed this book. It was a page turner for me, which is odd, since it wasn’t overtly suspenseful; but I guess because the characters were constantly and rapidly evolving, I was eager to see what the next shift would be for each of them.
As an “issues book”, I don’t think A Really Awesome Mess was much of a groundbreaker. I liked the way anorexia was represented, because like Natasha Friend’s Perfect, it delved deeper into the affliction and explored causes other than the simple desire to meet societal depictions of female beauty. Yes, Emmy is insecure about her weight, but that insecurity stems from a much more complex knot of emotions within her and events in her life. But overall, the image of adolescent mental health issues risked coming off campy—a motley crew of unlikely friends, some heart to hearts, big revelations on top of Ferris wheels… I struggled to be 100% convinced. Still, it’s great to show teens that their problems are surmountable, and since I’ve been lucky enough not to deal with any of the circumstances represented, so I can’t really know how realistic it was or wasn’t.
But as a teenage friendship adventure, I was sold. Each member of the Heartland Academy crew brought something different to the table (except for possibly Chip. I might have cut him… he was the least unique and the most dispensable for me. Sorry, Chip), and their personalities continually intermingled and bounced off each other in unpredictable ways.
The shenanigans, also, were on point. The pandemonium that breaks out near the middle of the book was pretty delightful. Altogether, though it may not have revolutionized the way I see the world or set a massive unprecedented fire of inspiration ablaze, it was a very fun and well-done book that I thoroughly recommend.