Author: Kristi Cook
Release Date: 08/05/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Looking for a fun, quick, read about classic southern families? Well you have found it in Magnolia. This was such a pleasant surprise. I requested it from Edelweiss, so I was interested in it and expected to like it, but it was so much more than I thought it would be. Something, maybe the cover, made me think it would be dark and melodramatic, and while it had its dramatic moments, for the most part it was a really good YA romance with some more serious moments thrown in.
Jemma and Ryder are the opposite of Romeo and Juliet, their families have been friends for generations, but Jemma and Ryder, the first boy and girl that are finally around the same age and able to marry and unite the families, can’t stand each other. They used to get along but after something that happened in middle school, Jemma can’t stand Ryder and thinks he’s a pompous ass. However, their families, especially their mothers, are convinced they belong together and pretty much never stop reminding them of it.
The story is told through Jemma’s voice, a totally normal, 17-year-old girl who’s into cheerleading, shooting (loved that part), and her family. I liked Jemma and her story, but there was also nothing really remarkable about her to make her a favorite character of mine. The same thing is true for Ryder, he seems like a good guy, but outside of being a fantastic quaterback, a good looking guy, a strong student, and an all around good guy, there wasn’t much about his personality to truly make him stand out. The story is told in a very conversational style and sometimes it did feel like there was more telling than showing, which was a bit of a disappointment, but given the style and nature of the story it didn’t hurt my opinion of the book too badly.
Through a series of tragic coincidences Jemma and Ryder wind up alone together in Jemma’s house to ride out a hurricane that has hit Mississippi. Maybe it’s because I read the book on a dark, about-to-be stormy day, but I had so much anxiety around the storm. I loved it! The crazy wind, rain, and tornado warnings have Jemma and Ryder, but especially Ryder, really freaked out, and I felt their nervousness as I was reading. If Kristi Cook gets tired of writing romances she should do suspense because I was really worried.
Even though I was so nervous, I loved the storm because Jemma and Ryder were trapped together and pretty much forced to work out their differences. Maybe it was a cheesy way to tell the story, but I thought it worked, especially for a fun, easy YA romance. At the time of the storm Jemma had gone on two dates with a guy named Patrick and Ryder had been carrying on a kind of flirtation with a girl named Rosie. I could have done without both of those storylines. The Patrick storyline especially made the book feel more melodramatic than necessary and caused the story to be stretched out a bit too long.
What really worked, and I would be curious to hear what actual southerners think, was the whole southern life aspect of the story. Jemma and Ryder both live in historic southern homes and their families are both big on southern traditions like Sunday suppers, college football, and Greek life at college. Their families are very close knit and Jemma’s friends call her mom Miss Shelby and she calls Ryder’s mom Miss Laura Grace. It was all very gentile and fun for this northerner to read about. Some less than favorable southern things were touched on, too, like racism and gossiping/judgmental attitudes, but for the most part, besides the storm and some family problems the story wasn’t too serious.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for something else to add to your summer reading list I highly suggest giving Magnolia a go. It’s a good blend of serious and fun and while it’s not a new favorite, I still enjoyed reading it. The look at small town southern life was great and I was biting my nails with anxiety (in a good way) over the hurricane that hit Jemma and Ryder’s town.
I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss (thank you!). All opinions are my own.
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