Hi everyone! Hope you’re all doing well! Because I’ve not been reading all that much recently, you may have noticed that my last few posts have all been recommendations or discussion posts, but I finally finished a book! This one I think might be a bit difficult to review, but I’m going to try my best to come up with something at least semi-coherent for it!
Title: Watch Over Me
Author: Nina LaCour
Genre: Contemporary, Magical realism, Paranormal, Young Adult
Synopsis: Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.
But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.
Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the Northern California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.
This is my second Nina LaCour book, after I picked up Everything Leads to You earlier in the year, and I was once again pleasantly surprised! I had high expectations for this book as everyone seems to love Nina’s melancholy, heart-breaking books, and my expectations were definitely met! I’m loath to give much more of a description than the Goodreads synopsis gives, because I don’t want to spoil anything or give anything more away, because I think it’s best to go into this book not knowing what’s ahead. I will say that I was a little bit lost with this book, but that’s almost entirely my fault. First of all, I was not expecting ghosts, at least not in the literal sense – I thought this was just going to be your classic hard-hitting contemporary but the ghosts play quite a big role in Mila’s story and I think that they were a really interesting addition to the book. Secondly, and this one isn’t my fault, is that I expected this book to be sapphic – half because it’s a Nina LaCour book, and half because its genre is listed as LGBT on Goodreads after ‘Young Adult, Contemporary and Fiction’. I’m not sure why it is listed under LGBT because there is neither a romance in the story nor do we ever find out the main character’s sexuality – so please don’t do as I did and expect this book to be sapphic – it’s not!
But onto the actual review! After reading two of Nina’s books, I find her writing style to be delightfully simplistic. I know for many people this may sound like a sign of not great writing, but I for one loved it. It’s very straightforward and to the point and I actually think it worked really well alongside the worldbuilding for this novel. Although the book is set somewhere in America (I’m not great with American geography…or any where’s geography for that matter) but the cold, chilly, wintery weather felt very much like somewhere in the north of Scotland, and I could picture everything in my head so clearly, from the craggy cliffs with the ocean spray on your cheeks, to being wrists deep in the cool, wet mud harvesting the carrots for tonight’s soup. It felt like I was right there with Mila. The writing is, at times, rather heart-breaking, and the book deals with some heavier topics, and at times (particularly near the end) I felt myself tearing up. Something I found about either the writing or the plot of this book, was that it reminded me a lot of the Jacqueline Wilson books that I read as a child – whether that be to do with Mila’s story or to do with the seaside farmhouse haunted by benevolent ghosts, who knows! But I will say, this was much less outlandish and problematic than any of Wilson’s novels!
I really liked the characters a lot, but they’re also the reason I docked a star from my rating. Mila is probably one of my favourite main characters I’ve read for a while and I felt very connected to her. She notices everything and is a real empath, and she felt extremely realistic. She does go through a bit of a tough time throughout the book, but I really enjoyed reading from her perspective. The side characters, however, were where I felt a little let down. We get to know Lee, one of the children that Mila teaches, who is also going through a tough time with one of his ghosts, and I really enjoyed his bond with Mila. But apart from that, with a book that focusses so much on the found family aspect, the rest of said family felt really underdeveloped – I felt like we really knew nothing about them. I wish that the book would have been a tad bit longer, just to really explore those characters a bit more (especially the teenagers, as I felt they were just there to be a bit moody and that’s it, but I would’ve liked a bit of nuance).
As I said, this book deals with some more difficult topics, but it does so very well, in my opinion. It deals primarily on healing – we see Mila struggle with her past and the loss of her family in several senses, and we also see her helping Lee get through his trauma, too, and in doing so, helping herself along the way. There is also a real focus on found family, which is one of my favourite tropes, and it had real potential to be something really great, but as I mentioned, due to the lack of development, it fell a little flat for me.
Regardless, I really enjoyed myself while reading this book, and I know that it’s one I’ll go back to time and time again. It’s a haunting, atmospheric Autumn read that is perfect for this time of year, and I highly recommend that you give it a chance!