By Your Side

352p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Jan. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780062455864.
Gr 7 Up—Finding themselves unexpectedly locked in the library together for a long weekend, two seemingly dissimilar teens bond. Autumn takes photographs for the yearbook, belongs to the "in" crowd, and has a budding flirtation with the fun-loving and popular Jeff. Rumors abound about bad boy Dax, who has spent time at a juvenile detention center, been raised in foster homes, and doesn't seem to care what other people think about him. Unable to communicate with the outside world and surviving on PayDay bars, Autumn opens up to Dax in a way she never has with her friends; she tells him about her anxiety disorder. Upon liberation from the library, Autumn faces her true feelings for Jeff, deals with guilt as he recovers from a dreadful car accident, and increasingly wishes that her friends knew the real reason she often flees group gatherings. She and Dax act not just as "distractions" for each other but also as supporters, pushing each other to confront fears. Going beyond a light tale of teen love, the story delves deeper by weaving in themes of the foster care system, absent parents, and mental illness. Although the start is a bit contrived, West's multidimensional protagonists experience growth as their romance evolves. The snippets of kissing at the end ring true to the book's wholesome nature.
VERDICT Real-life issues enhance this engaging novel, which will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen. A good choice for realistic fiction shelves.

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