Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein <website | twitter>
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: wilderness rehab, cheating relationships, bad friendships, negligent parents
Format read: ARC received via Netgalley (Thank you!)
Summary: After Cassie and her two best friends, Lila and Amy, were caught with pot on prom night, she’s sent to a wilderness rehab in California for 30 days. Though the judge thinks she has a drug problem, that’s not it at all — she has a big secret she’s trying to recover from and feels she deserves much worse than living in dirty clothes without showers or proper toilets after what she’s done.
Cassie is uncertain of who she is when her story begins in Dear Cassie. She’s just been sentenced to 30 days in a wilderness rehab in the middle of nowhere after being caught with pot (that she and her best friends, Amy and Lila, stole from Lila’s boyfriend on prom night after he and his friend stood them up.)
Do you ever have the feeling when you start a book that you can’t wait to read it because the idea sounds original? That’s what I thought about Dear Cassie. I read lots of issue books, and definitely my fair share of rehab books. I hoped I’d get to see a girl come full circle with whatever problems she was struggling with. I expected a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. The wilderness rehab sounded like a brilliant idea. There’s lots of manual labor involved — there are no luxuries and certainly no pampering. It’s all about survival and working long, long days doing things you never thought you’d do.
However, I wasn’t able to embrace Cassie’s story nearly as much as I had wanted to. The story begins as Cassie’s waiting to be transported from the airport to rehab. She has an encounter with a boy named Ben who punches her buttons and makes her snappy attitude surface (and also an insta-love story that I didn’t swoon over). There’s little of Cassie’s history in the beginning, which made embracing her character description that much more difficult throughout the book. She’s supposed to be tough as nails, mentions getting angry a lot (which results in physical fights), and she’s just generally not someone to be messed with. I felt like I was told about her much more than I was shown who she was. Her reactions were much weaker, making her more vulnerable and fragile than I felt she would have been according to her character traits. Also note that I wasn’t aware at all that Dear Cassie is a follow-up novel to Pretty Amy. Nowhere in the Goodreads description was I warned, and maybe a lot more of the book would have made sense if I knew that. That being said, I don’t feel Dear Cassie should be marketed as a standalone since reading Pretty Amy seems to be a prerequisite.
Her back story was told through her journal entries where she shared pieces of her life each evening. Cassie has a problem being straightforward and honest about everything that happened, especially pertaining to the big secret she was hiding. The back and forth storytelling left me feeling a bit discombobulated. There’s a particular moment when Cassie shares details about an event with Amy and Lila that I am still not sure was true or what was assumed to be true in court. I found it difficult to piece together the sequence of events, often finding it necessary to stop reading to remember what happened when so I could understand Cassie’s actions and emotions better. (Looking back, there also wasn’t a ton of resolution between Cassie, Lila, and Amy either. If I was the only one that got sent to rehab after what they went through, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot to flesh out.)
Realistically, I would assume much more than journaling would cause a person to have major epiphanies about their life with secrets like Cassie was hiding. She would have benefited from having to talk to someone; her rehab leader, Rawe, halfheartedly tried to coax Cassie into opening up, but she didn’t seem to have the skill set necessary to make an impact. Maybe this is why when Cassie’s days of rehab were over, I felt concerned that she still wasn’t dealing with her reality very well. Sure, she wasn’t making mental threats to punch people anymore, but I didn’t find her emotional growth to be what it should have been. I felt she was still putting her faith in other people and not herself to make smart choices. Everything going forward seemed to have a big question mark and was no better off than when Cassie began her 30 days away. A few too many things were left open-ended and unresolved.
With a bit of restructuring, Dear Cassie could be a much stronger story. Cassie would have been a more believable character if I was able to see more of her life before entering rehab. This may have eliminated some of the jarring back and forth scenes that separated me from the story, and with the addition of actual counseling supplementing the manual labor, maybe Cassie would have grown into a woman I was sure would succeed instead of one I’m afraid might not really be healed of her brokenness.