Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Release Date: May 13th, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Rating: 1.5 stars
Word rating: WENDY, NO
Reviewed by: Blythe
A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete's nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she's falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up--and the troubled beauty trapped between them.
Second Star could easily go by the title Bad Decisions: the novel. (The movie adaptation would inevitably feature Justin Bieber.) Because really, that's all the characters in this novel do: make really, really bad decisions. A retelling of Peter Pan in which Wendy is caught up in a love triangle between Peter and Hook (or Pete and Jas, respectively) should be innovative and fresh, and it was honestly a huge reason why I was looking forward to reading Second Star so much. Unfortunately, the romance was to Second Star as the iceberg was to the Titanic. And that's not to say it ruined ships, because trust there are no worthy ships to be found in this book; that's to say that this ended up as a disaster in the ocean. I only wish it would have ended with more limbs and also more Leonardo DiCaprio.
First, to get the novel's merits noted, Sheinmel's prose is truly wonderful. It captures the essence of a summer in California, and managed to portray the euphoric atmosphere very well; if there truly was love and romance in this to be given justice, I'm sure her writing would have done so. Because of the writing, the setting was for the most part exceptional, and was almost like its own character for most of the novel. How Sheinmel describes the beach and the sand and the setting sky would make for Second Star to be a fitting summer read, regardless of the many issues I may have with it.
As for the bad, the romance (both of them) is unarguably the most frustrating part of Second Star, second maybe to Wendy herself. Just a warning that this portion of the review will contain spoilers, some minor, some not so minor about the romances and other events later on in the novel that contribute to one romance in particular.
Pete: He-Man (and You-Woman)
After barely a week of knowing each other, Pete basically tells Wendy that he's in love with her, by saying that he had never loved another girl, Belle (whom Wendy immediately has conflict with over Pete, and is always painted as the bitchy character with no development), like he loved Wendy. Before this, all Wendy and Pete did was surf together, have a few conversations, and rob a house. Apparently this is grounds for loving someone. Surprisingly enough, this is the least intense case of insta-love in the novel. Even though, right after meeting him, Wendy misses Pete with a burning passion and goes as far as saying that she wants to see him again almost as bad as she wants to see her brothers again. Cute.
From the get-go, Pete is incredibly protective of Wendy, adapting a me-man, you-woman way of establishing the relationship. He tells her whom to stay away from, what's best for her, and why, as if he's known her for years when really it's only been a day. He lies to her on multiple occasions, but Wendy forgives him after but a weak explanation time after time. After having thought Peter was seeing Belle, Peter assured Wendy that nothing is happening between them (and, of course, this is also where he manages to tell Wendy he loves her, basically). This would be okay, were it not for the fact that in doing this, Belle is immediately made out to be the antagonist in this situation; in fact, I think the only antagonists in the entire novel are Belle, and a man who tries to rape Wendy.
Think about that: the only two antagonists in the novel are a girl who had the nerve to be romantically interested in someone Wendy was only just beginning to form a relationship with, and a rapist.
And Pete perpetuates this. So yeah, that's that ship.
Jas: stalker, drug dealer; ideal boyfriend, obviously
This guy is the epitome of what's wrong with most "bad boy" love interests. To give some background, the entire plot of Second Star is that Wendy is looking for her missing brothers, but gets side-tracked along the way by cute boys and slutty, man-stealing bitches. Now, it is also revealed that her brothers had been addicts of a drug supplied by Jas himself. Of course, since Wendy is so brave and determined and willing to do anything to help find her brothers, she decides to go on a road trip with Jas. Regardless of the fact that he is the reason her brothers are missing. Because he offered help.
Even before embarking on this road trip with Jas, she says she couldn't have refused his offer (which, yes she could've), and then she literally lists every single reason why she should've.
Yes, this guy is a drug dealer; who knows how much money he's made off of selling dust to unsuspecting kids, getting them hooked, ruining lives--if not ending them? [...]
But he's offered to help, and I'm not about to refuse.
Then, through a weak backstory and shoddy attempts at relationship building, Wendy's disgust for Jas quickly turns to admiration, which then very quickly turns to love. All of this taking place in about two days. Granted, however, Jas did have his eyes on Wendy a little bit before she had hers on him, as shown when Jas tells Wendy that he had been "watching" (it was stalking, let's be honest) her for days earlier. As she swam early in the morning. When she thought nobody had been watching her. Wendy's reaction?
I should feel violated. The guy was spying on me every morning when I thought I was alone [...]. But I don't; instead, I'm kind of glad he was there.
One surefire way for me to be frustrated with any romance is for the love interest to have stalked the main character, and for the main character to brush it off like it's nothing. Wendy passes Jas' stalking off as his being protective of her (like Pete was), and sees it as a security she needs when she should be looking at it in the exact opposite way. Here she is, in a car, with a guy who is known to have been violent, and he tells her that he's been watching her every morning while she was unaware. And she feels safer having heard this.
The other surefire way for me to be frustrated (at best) with everything your romance stands for is for the love interest to assert his strength and power and love by way of defending a near-rape. Which, if you couldn't tell, is what happens in Second Star; Wendy makes the questionable decision (of many) to ask a strange man in a strange bar for a cigarette, despite the fact that she doesn't smoke (I still don't understand why she would do this). The man ends up trying to sleep with Wendy, despite her dissent, and ends up taking himself upon her forcefully. Jas comes out to bludgeon said attempted rapist, after which Wendy says "he can be violent, [and] he can be cruel," but decides to stay in the car with him regardless, and go to a shady motel with him to spend the night.
Also, as a side note, he is described as smelling like "tide and sweat, beer and salt, and something uniquely Jas." If someone told me I smelled "uniquely Blythe," I'd run so fucking far...
With these two romances and love interests, we have the overprotective and vaguely misogynistic one, and we have the drug dealing, abusive, condescending, stalking one; one of them will win, but really there is no winning. They're both terrible love interests, and Wendy is naive enough of a character to fall head-over-heels in love with both of them over the course of a few days.
I don't like this book, I don't like what it perpetuates, and I for the life of me don't understand what it's trying to send. It's a quick read and will most likely be fitting for a carefree day on the beach, and honestly I had enjoyed it before the romance reared its ugly head, but a quick beach read is quite honestly all I could recommend this for; the writing and setting are lovely, but ultimately I disapprove of this novel and nearly everything that goes down in it highly.