Title: Flat-Out Love
Author: Jessica Park
Publisher: Self Published on April 11, 2011
Format: eBook, 400 pages
Flat-Out Love has become my favorite book. Ever. It has everything I’m looking for in a book: unique plot, interesting and relatable characters, fun dialogue and lots of romance. This needs to be on your must-read list pronto.
Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it.When Julie’s off-campus housing falls through, her mother’s old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side … and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.And there’s that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That’s because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie’s suddenly lonesome soul.To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that … well … doesn’t quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.
I flat-out loved this book! Seriously, I would totally marry this book if I could. It starts off with our young star in a sticky situation from which she must be rescued. She got screwed out of an apartment in a faraway college town and is left sitting on the side of the road (literally). Her mom phones an old college friend who lives nearby and said college friend sends her son Matt to pick up Julie.
“He’ll be driving a blue Volvo and should be there any minute.”
“OK. Matt. Dangerous town. Blue Volvo. If I get into the wrong car and get myself murdered and dumped in an alley, I want you to know how much I love you. And don’t look in the third drawer of my desk.”
Matt lives with his mom, Julie’s mom’s college friend, Erin, his dad Roger and his sister Celeste. Erin tells Julie she can stay as long as she wants. In exchange for the free room and board, she would like Julie to spend her afternoons with their 13-year-old Celeste, who has a few… quirks.
But what struck Julie the most about Celeste had to do with what—or who?—was in the chair next to her. “Oh, Julie! I didn’t introduce you properly, did I?” Celeste chirped happily and then turned to the seat next to her. “Flat Finn, this is Julie. Julie, this is Flat Finn.” Erin poured herself some sparkling water, and Roger continued daydreaming about brine, but Julie was sure she heard Matt catch his breath. She eyed the seat again. Frankly, she’d been hoping to get through dinner without addressing this issue. No one else had mentioned anything so far, but this must be what Matt had started to tell her about: A life-size cardboard cutout of their brother Finn leaned stiffly angled against the chair, his gaze fixed rigidly on the ceiling’s light fixture.
Along with Celeste’s cardboard stand-in for her older brother Finn, who is traveling the world on adventures and volunteer missions, Julie must deal with Erin and Roger who spend more time at work than they do at home with their family and Matt, who wears dorky geek t-shirts and spends his time either at school or at home working on his computer.
Julie finds herself drawn to Celeste and her odd companion and wants to help her become less shy around other people, and to act more “normal” around her classmates and teachers. But nobody will tell Julie anything about the life-size Flat Finn. Matt just keeps telling her to leave the whole subject alone. Even Finn, who Julie flirts with via email, won’t tell her about his cardboard counterpart.
If everyone wanted to act as though it was perfectly ordinary to hang out with a flat, replicated family member, it was fine by her. After all, he was polite, not at all bad to look at, and didn’t hog more than his fair share of the Thai dumplings. Granted, his conversational skills were lacking, but he was probably just shy around new people…
The characters are real people who I would totally hang out with after school. They are well-rounded and believable people in an odd situation. Though I’ve never met someone who had a stand-in family member, I can imagine that this would be how they would act. I really came to care about these people and wanted to genuinely know what happened to them.
The dialogue was funny and witty and I loved the verbal sparring between Julie and Matt.
There was definitely an element of mystery here, as in WTH is up with Flat Finn? At one point, I thought I had it figured out, then I was wrong, then I knew what was going on, then I didn’t. It was fun to try to understand everything without having all of the clues.
There was romance in spades here, but I can’t really tell you about it without giving some secrets away, so just trust me on this one.
Jessica Park is the author of the young adult novels FLAT-OUT LOVE and RELATIVELY FAMOUS; five Gourmet Girl mysteries (written as Jessica Conant-Park with her mother, mystery author Susan Conant); and the e-shorts FACEBOOKING RICK SPRINGFIELD and WHAT THE KID SAYS (Parts 1 & 2).
Jessica grew up in the Boston area and attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. After spending four years in the frigid north, including suffering through one memorable Halloween blizzard, Jessica hightailed it back to the east coast. She now lives in (relatively balmy) New Hampshire with her husband, son, bananas dog named Fritzy, and two selfish cats. When not writing, Jessica indulges her healthy addictions to Facebook, Rick Springfield, and super-sweet coffee beverages.