Author: Jennifer Brown (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown BYR
Publish Date: July 10, 2012
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: Personal Copy
Kendra has always felt overshadowed by her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD forces him to live a life of carefully coordinated routines. The only way Kendra can stand out next to Grayson is to be perfect, and she has perfection down to an art -- until a cheating scandal threatens her flawless reputation.Behind the wheel of her car, with Grayson asleep beside her, Kendra decides to drive away from it all -- with enough distance, maybe she'll be able to figure everything out. But eventually, Kendra must stop running and come to terms with herself, her brother, and her past.
Kendra's entire life has revolved around her older brother since she was a little girl. Her entire family's life is wrapped up in Grayson's disease, and it consumes them on a daily basis. To cope, Kendra's made a point of being a the perfect daughter...the one without difficulties and the one without flaws. But she isn't perfect, and when she makes a mistake, Kendra finds herself so trapped by the thought of being a failure that the only option she sees is to run. So, with a little gas, a bit of money and her disoriented brother in her passenger seat, Kendra will do her best to outrun her troubles...but can she?
I've been on a bit of a Jennifer Brown kick lately, and I think it's because her contemporary novels have this innate ability to capture and grapple with some of the most complex human emotions without ever feeling preachy or cloying. Perfect Escape is a novel that has, largely, one setting, a small cast of extraordinarily complex characters and a plot that will spin you onto a journey towards finding peace with the characters, themselves. Written with a deft hand, a soulful and realistic voice and a heart full of pain and anxiety, Perfect Escape will pull you into a world that, rather than providing escapism, provides pure, unadulterated soul-searching.
I'm a sucker for a novel that will make me feel, well, anything, and I've yet to find a novel by Ms. Brown that fails to do so. Perfect Escape is no exception to the rule, spinning me into this convoluted web filled with stress, lies, tension, panic, anxiety and depression from page one. Kendra was a bit of double-edged sword in terms of characters for me though. On one hand, we have this broken teenager that puts up a strong facade of perfection that's slowly crumbling around her. On the other hand, we have a petulant teenager that simply wants to escape it all. These two sides warred with each other, and I struggled to get in her head for the first three or four chapters. Furthermore, a lot of the initial storyline was this internal war that Kendra waged upon herself, and we're note privvied to the actual events that had caused her to run. Rather, we're teased about what might have occurred, and we have to wait and watch as the truth unfolds on the roadtrip. Grayson, too, was a tricky but powerful character. Much of his time is spent consumed by his OCD. He struggles to function without counting rocks and performing his little rituals to maintain a grasp on reality. As such, it was really difficult to understand what made him tick (no pun intended) because, let's be honest, he didn't know either. If he did, he would have stopped it. The introduction of Rena as a secondary character in the story was an excellent move, as her self-assurance despite her situation really brought out the best in both Kendra and Grayson and fueled their journey along. The true beauty of Perfect Escape is that it is a true, character-driven novel. Yes, the road trip plays a role in the story, but the trip is really just an embodiment of this internal journey that Kendra and Grayson need to go on together to find peace, and that symbolism is really powerful. Despite the fact that I had some trouble reconciling with the OCD storyline at times, this book remained a powerhouse contemp for me.
Overall, I really enjoyed Perfect Escape, and it was actually a faster read than Ms. Brown's other titles. I did have a few gripes with it (namely the slower start and the lack of information until halfway through the story), but the vast majority really worked for me. I give it a 4 out of 5, and I recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary and issue books.