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On The Shelf: ‘On The Way To You’ by Kandi Steiner

‘Sup readers? It’s that time again— actually, it’s a day early! If you read last week’s On The Shelf column, this week’s offering won’t be a surprise. But just in case this is your first time reading On The Shelf, this is Fanfest’s regular book column, wherein I, your friendly neighbourhood reviewer, take a look at a new piece of literature and dissect it. I’ll let you know whether it deserves a place in your space, if it’s best to stick it on your ereader, or even if it’s maybe not worth a second glance at all. Life is too short to be ensnared by crap books, and with the holidays coming up, deciding between something that’s fantastic and something that’s just “meh,” at best is helpful for those who are related to bookworms.

So, this week’s book is new adult romance, On The Way To You by Kandi Steiner. On The Way To You follows Cooper Owens, an Alabama native whose small town life is both tragic and sheltered at once. The daughter of volatile, neglectful drug addict parents, Cooper is also an amputee, who has been taking care of herself since she “was old enough to pour her own cereal.” But she has big dreams that include leaving Alabama and getting into her dream school across the country. She just has to save up enough cash flow— and get the acceptance letter!— first. Cooper is a waitress at a diner, where she meets Emery, an enigmatic, handsome man with a nice car who has one question for her: “What makes you happy?” Cooper is too stunned to say anything, but that seems to be answer enough for Emery, who asks Cooper if she’d like to come with him on a cross-country road trip. In a leap of faith and impulse, Cooper gets into his car and leaves her life behind for a journey with a mysterious man on the open road. But when she discovers and snoops through Emery’s journal, Cooper makes it her mission to save him from himself, no matter the cost.

I’m just going to flat out say it. There are spoilers ahead, and, this book was almost okay. Cooper is a cool main character who chooses to remain positive throughout life’s ups and (for her, many) downs. I don’t regularly see disabled protagonists, so I appreciate that Cooper’s disability was part of her everyday life, while not being front and center. I liked her enough to root for her throughout the story (which felt like a brick, despite its 329-page length) and hope she would get everything she needed, even if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted. The plot itself is a really fun one, the idea reminiscent of one of those mobile Episode games, but that’s where my praise of On The Way To You flat-out ends because, while the idea was promising, the execution was lacking.

I’m not a fan of romance books in general. I’ve realized this is because, for me, since the relationship between two people is the ultimate focus, the characters have to be something special, and their chemistry has to read as something that would genuinely work off the page. The problem with On The Way To You rests solely on the shoulders of main male character Emery— a macho love interest struggling with ongoing depression, who scoffs at materialism but is driving across the country in the fancy car his parents bought him, staying in expensive hotels charged to their credit card, and buying road-trip essentials on their dime. Depression is a very real issue, and it’s touched most of the population at one point or another. But Emery is a blend of his depression and that stereotypical, asshole new adult lead. He expects Cooper to drop everything to cater to his moods, with only a precursory “oh, sorry, it was a bad day yesterday,” afterwards. Also, Emery’s depression was not handled well at all. It read like Steiner copied and pasted a pamphlet on depression over the narcissist that is Emery Reed (which is a shame, because Steiner’s author note suggested raw personal experience with her own mental health battle. I didn’t see that in her fiction). Emery’s character growth was virtually nonexistent for me, and it became clear that Cooper should run fast and run far. Emery is an asshole, plain and simple. He’d be an asshole without the depression, and what’s more, it felt like Steiner wrote him with depression because otherwise, he’d be boring as hell. A boring asshole. I finished the book, but my opinion of him, formed somewhere before page 100, never changed or wavered. Every time he was sweet to her, it rang insincere. His eventual redemptive arc was way too little, way too late. I wanted Cooper to win, but mostly I wanted one of the friends she regularly texts to burst onto the scene and point out that she deserves better. I’m sure she’d protest, but like…

There is nothing romantic about trying to “save” someone from mental illness. Cooper may not find Prince Charming, but a guy who treats her well and puts her first sometimes isn’t that much to ask for.

Still, this is one of those books that literally everyone else seems to love, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. I obviously can’t recommend it for your shelf, but if it sounds like your thing, you can get it here.

On the bright side, this has kicked off a new reader’s quest: I am determined to find a romance novel that doesn’t annoy me, or ring all the wrong bells.

On The Shelf rating: 2 flat tires out of a possible 5 luxury vehicles.

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