Other Words for Love by Lorriane Zago Rosenthal
Publication Date: January 11, 2011
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format read: Paperback
Why I bought it: The cover, and the title.
Summary: Set in the 1980s in and around New York City, Ari is a girl under a lot of pressure. Her mom wants her to achieve everything she herself did not and that means enrolling Ari into a private school in Manhattan when the family is left a substantial inheritance. Her best (and only) friend is gorgeous and popular and won’t let Ari forget it. But when Ari meets Leigh on her first day of school and is introduced to her handsome and do-gooder cousin, Blake… she finds more than a little distraction.
Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s debut novel is a beautiful and painful story of love, obligation, finding your own path, and making mistakes. The writing itself is so natural and the development of Ari’s character and the progression of the storyline in general are so well-done it makes me ache. For real. (Warning: the summary on the paperback is nothing like the story. At all.)
As a narrator, Ari is mature and honest. Honest when it comes to having a crush on her brother-in-law, honest when it comes to her qualms about being a good Catholic and still having the urge to have sex. I loved her voice. It was refreshing but strangely quiet, as if we can almost see the wheels turning in her head as she comes to various conclusions.
Most intriguing to me was the female dynamic in this particular book. A mom who is desperate to write a novel but can never seem to finish it, who feels ashamed she never amounted more. A sister who got pregnant very young and suffers from post-partum depression and a rare jealously of her younger sister. And then there is Ari, sort of stuck in the middle. She wants to do what’s right for her mom, for her sister, and for her but she quickly realizes how much she will have to sacrifice to make even just one of those people happy. And she is backed into some very difficult predicaments because of it.
Of course, we have the uber-amazing Summer as the selfish best friend who uses Ari as a constant ego boost. (Yet another trend in YA books. The craptacular best friend you just can’t get rid of.) So as you can imagine that leads to some juicy drama, especially when Summer doesn’t “approve” of Ari being close with Leigh, who has a slew of her own problems as well. It’s sort of like estrogen overload, but it’s done so well and just so real that it just worked.
Then there is the first love aspect. Ari and Blake. We all know how overwhelming and addicting it can be and I haven’t read it so well since Judy Blume’s Forever (which is one of my favorites) and this is better. Blake has his own interesting dynamic and feelings of obligation, and him and Ari wrestle from being so right for one another to so wrong, over and over again. In plenty of YA books, readers are subject to believe in connections that have no depth but the depth, the darkness, the insecurity and the freedom of that addicting love exists here. And without the internet, the text messages, Facebook, whatever. Because it’s the 80s people. And that’s a welcome change to YA settings.
There’s nothing left here to say except read Other Words for Love if you have not already. The writing style is stellar, the plotlines are beyond believable and effective, and you will not be able to put it down or stop thinking about it when you reach the final page. It’s just one of those rare books that stays with you.