Albert Kim starts the summer after his sophomore year of high school as someone who has given up on having any kind of social life for the rest of high school. Bad experiences in the past and moving to a new town when he had finally established himself in the social hierarchy of the old one has left him thinking that contact with others will be futile. Things start to change for him when his parents allow him to choose what he wants to do for the summer and he decides to get a job working at a local hotel where he meets fellow classmate Mia Stone. Though Mia tries to befriend Albert, his complete lack of social skills alienate Mia, but miraculously as the summer progresses they are able to bridge the communication gap to have “something”. They barely get a chance to explore what the “something” is when Mia’s ex-boyfriend, popular jock Ryan Stackhouse, is diagnosed with cancer and needs Mia’s constant attention and support.
I liked Albert through most of this book. He is witty and makes astute social observations about the life he has withdrawn from. Socially awkward, Albert still hangs around with sixth graders as a part of his daily routine. They are at a stage in life that he understands- video games. I liked seeing his attempts to step out of his shell and rejoin the world after his summer success at making a connection with Mia. He had gained just enough confidence to again begin engaging with the world, but it was very frustrating to watch him bumble along because for the most part he did more harm to himself than good. However, as the story progressed, Albert became almost un-rootable in his unwavering lack of change. He almost seemed pathologically committed to stunting his own growth. It’s quite possible that this was entirely realistic and the point of his escapades,but it started to wear me down. Maybe I had become too invested with these characters, but I really, really wanted them to at least start making different choices.
The characterization and the struggle of Mia to balance the new life and path that she wanted to take with Albert were very real, and I sympathized with her attempts to balance her old life and to still retain parts of her new one, but I also wanted her to be less gullible toward the people in her life out to manipulate circumstances. I realize that guilt played a big part in her actions but it seemed so extreme that she too just plain annoyed me after awhile. I think I felt that way with a lot of the characters, their emotions were real to me and realistic but the situations in which they were placed were so extreme that the situations felt insincere and came off as contrived ways to steer the plot in a particular direction.
As the novel progressed I lost what had made the characters so endearing and special and became bogged down in unrealistic situations and decisions which didn’t see as in line with the characters that I had come to know. They seemed a lot smarter to me than the spiral downward into the same old miscommunication and no communication, and that was a huge disappointment. The confrontations in which Albert engaged erred on the side of camp (and not in a good way).
I also can’t help thinking that this might have been helped if the book were a shorter one. The summer had a good pace, but the school year seemed to drag- note that I liked everyone a little less by then so it’s possible that those feelings affected my perceptions. One thing that I really enjoyed was seeing a love story from the male perspective, something that I don’t often come across in reading; however, the novelty of that experience wore thin as did my patience with Albert and his co-horts. I started out loving this book, but by the end I just wanted to see how it ended so that I could call it a day.
Maybe I just need to have more patience with them?