Open Road Summer by Emery Lord
Published: 2014, Walker Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
If we could capture feelings like we capture pictures, none of us would ever leave our rooms. It would be so tempting to inhabit the good moments over and over again.
Open Road Summer could well become the book of the summer for many YA readers; it’s certainly been hyped enough by many on all sides of the writing-publishing-reading spectrum. While it’s not a perfect book by my standards, I can appreciate its influence and did enjoy the time I spent reading it.
This summer is supposed to be the summer of Reagan and Dee. Reagan and Dee, who’ve both recently had their hearts broken, who are both desperately trying to move forward with their lives and dreams. For Dee, this means a full summer headlining her music tours, for she is no other than the super popular country music star Lilah Montgomery. For Reagan, this means an escape from her abusive ex-boyfriend and stifling family life, a chance to expand her portfolio for her photojournalism college applications, and the opportunity to reconnect with a best friend who’s away more often than not.
Reagan expects a few pitfalls along the way, and her primary purpose in touring is to be Dee’s support. When the inevitable scandals happen, Reagan is there to shield Dee. What she doesn’t expect is a new chance for love and regained trust in the form of former singer Matt Finch, who agrees to join the tour as the opening act, as well as Dee’s fake boyfriend.
Open Road Summer gets its title after one of Dee’s earlier songs, which is about her and Reagan on a road trip. This road trip is nothing like the one in Dee’s song - it’s much more structured, for one - but the sentiment remains the same: Dee and Reagan reunited and experiencing life together. Dee and Reagan willing to face anything to protect each other. Theirs is the sort of friendship that I love to read about.
I owe Dee for so much, for the pinkie links and kindnesses and phone calls and bail-outs. This is the currency of friendship, traded over years and miles, and I hope it’s an even exchange someday. For now, I do what all best friends do when there’s nothing left to say. We lie together in the darkness, shoulder to shoulder, and wait for the worst to be over.
On more than one occasion, I’ll admit I was a bit baffled by the continued strength of their friendship. After Dee got picked up by a record label, she becomes more wholesome, a fully positive role model for her young fans. Reagan’s just about her opposite in every way, at least outwardly. Had Reagan and Dee met at their current phases in life, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have had any possibility of becoming friends, with Dee’s stardom just one of the barriers.
But I have to commend Lord here; she made me believe in a friendship that, for all intents and purposes, would probably not exist outside of the realm of fiction. And that’s by no means an easy thing to accomplish. Theirs is the sort of friendship where very few things can disrupt the camaraderie and trust. If only every book could have such a positive focus on female friendships.
Despite (anvil-sized) hints to the contrary, this is all I wanted this book to be about: Reagan and Dee and all that they’re willing to do for the sake of their friendship. But once Matt joins the tour, much of the focus on friendship is redirected to a more romantic bend. The relationship that Matt and Reagan develop is healthy and undeniably good for them, so I suppose I cannot complain much.
I will say this, though: the fact that the resolutions to Reagan and Dee’s main conflicts are both centered around romance is a bit problematic. The final romantic foci serve to undermine the importance of Reagan and Dee’s relationship, potentially feeding into beliefs that only romance will make you whole, in the end. That really isn’t the case with either Reagan or Dee, but I wish that romance isn’t given such a heavy emphasis for each of them as the book concludes.
In addition to the friendship and romance angles, Open Road Summer heavily focuses on self discovery. First there’s Dee, whose profession requires her to wear many masks, whose every action must be tempered by the fact that she’s bound to be scrutinized by others. Her life no longer appears to be quite her own - and this story is in part about her learning how to reconcile that knowledge. Reagan also feels trapped by her life in many ways, although for her the road trip is more a way to escape her problems than anything else; at least initially. Much of the novel deals with how Dee and Reagan can adapt to life’s challenges and become better versions of themselves, and I fully appreciated that aspect of the book.
Despite some issues I had with the depiction of romance, I did enjoy Open Road Summer overall. It is a well-written and entertaining read, and I adored how genuine Reagan and Dee’s friendship is.
Rating: 4 stars