Release Date: December 31, 2013
Published by: Balzer + Bray
The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine
Wren Caswell is average. Ranked in the middle of her class at Sacred Heart, she’s not popular, but not a social misfit. Wren is the quiet, “good” girl who's always done what she's supposed to—only now in her junior year, this passive strategy is backfiring. She wants to change, but doesn’t know how.
Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.
One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.
This is one of those times when I could sense the story's potential, but the actual story didn't quite manage to make me *feel* it. I really wanted to love this novel, to be one of the few bloggers who's staunchly defending it (most I've seen have been DNFing or writing negative reviews). Instead I'm left with a muddled feeling. Here's my quick list:
Things I liked:
**the idea of an empowering story for an average quiet girl
**said girl actually having some kind of experience with boys
**the idea of second chances, because boy does Grayson need them
**a Medieval Times like business that's kept in the family
**the idea of complicated family dynamics for both main characters
**the attempt to make something feel new/fresh in contemporary by giving some pretty unpredictable backstories to various characters
**the way the city was developed - the various school factions and the history each character had in regard to the sports and schools. The history and background for the Camelot.
Things that were meh:
**Wren. I wanted to like Wren more than I did -- it's hard when you don't know what to do with your future, and when everyone is telling you that you fit into this perfect mold - the child who's easy to handle, the student who doesn't talk enough in class, etc. etc. Except Wren didn't do much to change her situation (e.g. if you don't feel like you can talk in class to your teachers, approach them afterwards and facilitate one-on-one meetings) and when she started getting more into Grayson, a lot of her concerns about the future seemed to vanish. Wren needed more agency. The synopsis says she has a passive strategy, and the only times she gets fierce relate to Grayson, not herself.
**Grayson. I could empathize with the idea of him not realizing how terrible he'd acted and now needing a second chance... but I didn't find him charming, like Wren did. I didn't like how he treated her, how he continued to lie. His list of redemptive qualities (e.g. good brother) seemed less substantive than the past he was trying to escape (e.g. getting kicked out of school but not really visiting his half sister and brother).
**The Romance. My first disconnect with the romance happened after Wren saved Grayson's life. At their first meeting, she didn't trust him enough to give him her phone number... but later says he was charming and starts to obsess over him (?). Then I understood the obsession: saving his life was something that was all hers, and she felt good when she helped him. So she's not passive anymore. Okay. And for Grayson? He's made her into this idealized savior girl, and only she can help him - he can't help himself. Yet, for me, that's all the romance was -- both of them still stuck in the ideal stage. I'm not convinced they actually fell in love with each other, and it's definitely playing into that quiet-girl-can-change-bad-boy stereotype.
**Character Development: Both characters want to change -- Wren wants to stop being the average, quiet girl and Grayson wants to be a better person, but it's not really shown how the other two change each other. Wren hangs out more with Grayson instead of working at the Camelot, which her family owns -- okay, but that's not really her changing, growing; she sort of speaks out and dies her hair, but that comes off more as being "rebellious" than actual self-realization (for me, at least). Grayson stops feeling comfortable doing the bad stuff from his past -- okay, but a) he's at this point even in the beginning of the story; and b) he still doesn't do anything good to cancel out the bad which makes his self-realization/growth feel flat to me. We're told he realizes he's been bad; is his redemption only shown by him seeking out Wren? They both need someone to believe in them, but to me it felt like they were still believing in ideals of the other person and it wasn't actually shown how that person was helping the other along.
**The Characters. Sex-positive/experienced best friend. Idealistic, straight-laced friend. Jock, frat boy brother. Perfect but in love/pregnant sister. Stern man-boy (reliving glory days) father. Take-charge mother. Dissatisfied and filled with longing mother. Sad old man father. Trophy wife stepmother. "Homewrecker" (Grayson's words) and connected stepfather. Arrogant, frat boy / douchey boys. A lot of the characters failed to go beyond these descriptions for me.
Things I disliked:
**Grayson's self-pity despite his privilege. He has a stepfather who's willing to pull strings so that he can get into Columbia and he doesn't acknowledge how fortunate that is, especially for someone who was expelled in his senior year. How many people even get that chance? I found it hard to empathize with his attitude.
**The way the adults acted. How can a guidance counselor not realize that telling students that you're not going to get into a school is demotivational and that some students would take offense or get discouraged? Why would a guidance counselor care if students hooked up so long as they didn't cause trouble at the time? Why does said guidance counselor nearly lose her temper over a spat of drama? Grayson's parents. His family. They seemed like enablers. The only adults I thought were okay were Wren's parents.
**The drama. This is more than angst and different from sometimes enjoyable soap opera-y drama. I found it hard to believe in the situation at hand. I also personally enjoy contemporary stories that emphasize character over plot, and I think this one was the other way around.
**The ending. I'm not going to add a lot here because what I say might be considered a spoiler, but the ending seemed kind of rushed and unsatisfying. I was left wondering about the character growth and wondering whether anything had really changed.
My advice for you is to try out the book. Read an excerpt from the beginning. If you like that a lot, you might go on to really like the book. If you're not sure about it, then maybe don't read more.
Here's the blog tour.
(Am I seriously incapable of writing a mini review?)
-[2 stars] Giselle at Xpresso Reads: "Even without the insta-love, I didn’t get the romance. Why were either of these people even interested in the other?"
-[3 stars] Jen at the Starry-eyed Revue: "The Promise of Amazing was a quick, mildly entertaining read, and I'm sure many others will find it more enjoyable than I did."
-[4 stars] Glass at Ja čitam, a ti?: "Honest and captivating young adult story."