Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine

The Promise of Amazing tells the story of two young people who have a completely unplanned, incongruous encounter that leads to a relationship.
Wren Caswell is an average student in the junior class at Sacred Heart Academy. Her average marks means she's unlikely (according to Mrs. Fiore) to apply to Harvard. Ranked 49th out of 102 students, she has been denied admission to the Sacred Heart Honor Society.

Wren lives with her dad, who is a lawyer and her mother who runs the family wedding business called Camelot where Wren helps out. She also has two older siblings, Josh and Brooke.

She has just come off a break-up with her boyfriend, Trevor DiMarco, who dumped her so he could be free for his first year of college at SUNY Purchase in the fall. Trev was a friend of her brother Josh,when they attended St. Gabriel Prep.

Grayson Barrett lives with his dad and his new wife, Tiffany. His father is in the real estate business and they are well off. Grayson's parents split 6 years ago, with his mother taking off for another man. Grayson was one of the stars of St. Gabriel Prep, a top student and star of the lacrosse team. But last year he was expelled for selling term papers. Gone is his chance to get into Harvard.

While serving at a wedding one night, Wren steps in to save a boy who is choking. The boy happens to be Grayson Barrett. Grayson is immediately attracted to her and decides to pursue Wren. He knows he needs to change the path he has gone down, and Wren seems like the ticket to make that happen. He feels that Wren is a good person, someone he can be himself around. When Grayson comes clean about why he was expelled from St. Gabe's, Wren backs away from him. Undaunted, Grayson decides to apply for a job at Camelot so that he can get to know her better.

But Wren has no idea just what a bad boy Grayson is, because pimping term papers was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few weeks Grayson and Wren see each other and fall in love. Motivated by his feelings for Wren, Grayson tries to break away from the group of guys he's been involved with. But this proves to be more difficult than he imagined. His friend Luke, refuses to let Grayson leave. Can Grayson find the inner strength to do what is right and win Wren back?

The Promise of Amazing has some great strengths and some terrible weakness. This book brilliantly portrayed modern life with all its tragedies and difficulties. Especially poignant is the Thanksgiving dinner Grayson experiences with his mother's second family. Grayson is lost between the two worlds his divorced parents have created. He doesn't fit in with either.

His mother has remarried and started a new family, with two young children, Ryder and Gwen. When Grayson goes to the holiday dinner there, he still has a great deal of anger towards his mother for cheating on his dad. He has a disparaging name for his stepfather and ends up leaving the dinner early. This scene realistically portrays the alienation and loneliness teens often feel and are forced to accept when the adults in their lives behave selfishly. It also accurately reflects the anger many children feel towards the parent (in this case, Grayson's mother) who abandons the home without sufficient cause.
"The day my mother left wasn't monumental. My parents' divorce was sickeningly amicable....No glasses thrown across the room. No heated debates over who got what. They simply woke up one day, decided they didn't like the life they were living, and said, "Okay, done with" But the one thing they couldn't split down the middle was me."
His parents divorce seems to be the force behind Grayson's bad behaviour - pimping term papers and becoming involved in a theft ring to finance a graduation trip to Europe. His world seemed, not surprising, to have unraveled. However, Constantine has her character come to realize that his problems have arisen BECAUSE he has not moved on rather than being due to the fact that his world was shattered when his parents divorced. While it's true that Grayson, like all children, must come to terms with his parent's divorce, this is often easier said than done and often assumed by adults to just happen.

Constantine told her story using two narratives, those of the main characters, Grayson and Wren. For the most part their entire relationship was unappealing. Credibility was strained as to how quickly Grayson and Wren's relationship developed, despite Grayson repeatedly stating he wanted to move slowly and develop a friendship first.Wren seemed determined to give Grayson chance after chance despite his behaviour demonstrating again and again that this was not a good boy to be with.

Neither character was particularly appealing. At times the things Grayson says and thinks seem either too mature for someone his age, or too immature. There's plenty of "f" words or variations of the same and a total obsession with sex. Grayson's prime motivation for changing his life was the brief encounter he has with Wren while choking. For some inexplicable reason, Grayson's conscience seemed to assert itself when he was with Wren. Even he was puzzled by this. He was a mostly despicable character whose immoral behaviour, rationalization and lack of conscience made him wholly unlikeable even when he was trying to redeem himself.

Grayson's redemption is accomplished gradually through the novel, although he's a liar right to the very end. He gradually changes from the sexy boy with a bad attitude, a player, thief and liar, to at least a person who has come to the realization that he has been "stealing trust". His attempt to leave the theft ring that he and Luke created, his confession to Wren about his past and the realization that he needs to repair his broken relationship with his mother are commendable but don't outweigh the fact that for the balance of the novel Grayson is genuinely unlikable.

Wren is good, kind and hard-working and in a word boring until she meets Grayson. Her indecision regarding Grayson when it's obvious he's not a good person, and her repeated rationalizing of his behaviour is tiresome. She too experiences her own journey in the novel. Always known as the quiet, obedient daughter and student, she begins to assert herself and even tells Mrs. Fiore how her speech about Harvard affects the students. Wren comes to realize that a piece of paper labeling her doesn't define her.

I also didn't like that this novel perpetuated the all too common perspective that hooking up with multiple people is a normal part of teenage years as expressed by Wren's girlfriend, Jazz who advises "What I'm getting at is -- so what if he's been with other girls? It only means he's experienced.....We're sixteen... this is what it's supposed to be." This kind of boy drama is best left to older girls in college, or maybe never. Sixteen year old girls should be focused on school, sports and other extra curricular activities that build character and social awareness.

The Promise of Amazing doesn't deliver the promise of the title. There is lots of mature content in the book making it more suitable for older teens who will likely find Grayson and Wren's relationship silly. Most annoying was the repeated us of phrases such as "a hormonal puddle of hotness" that are awkward and cliched. The Promise of Amazing is a take on the good girl meets "the sexy, troubled bad boy" theme with an ending that is most unsatisfying, making it a novel that is best passed over.

Book Details:
The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine
New York: Balzer & Bray An imprint of HarperCollins     2014
371 pp.


Allyson Estes said...

I believe that your commentary on this novel is both irrelevant and immature. First of all, this story is meant for the teenagers of this decade, not for old women who grew up in the 1950's (I can only guess). Second of all, who are you to call Wren a boring teenager. Seriously? You consider looking up your ancestry as a hobby. You are a librarian who knits and you also reads novels that were meant for teens, not for frowning old ladies. How about you read and educate yourself on the values of finding yourself a life.

About me said...

Allyson many adult women read young adult novels. Your comment might have had some merit had you chose to discuss some of the points I mentioned in my blog post. Instead you attacked me personally and suggested that because of my hobbies and possible age that I was not qualified to review this novel. This kind of argument - called an ad hominem brings nothing to the discussion.