I adore you, Ruby Oliver.
We are incredibly similar. I generally hate when people say that, but as someone who has been through a (very) similar panic-related badness, it's nice to have a book about the "us's" of the world. People who don't or can't deal with things sometimes, until all the not-dealing makes your brain explode.
I'm not saying I'm necessarily GLAD I can relate. But I can.
Anyway, I was quite afraid to read this book. I had so madly loved the last three books, (deeply, madly loved them), loved the arc that Lockhart had given Ruby, that part of me really wanted to leave it at the happy ending of book three. Particularly given the subtitle and blurb for this book, I was definitely prepared for some horrible stuff to happen.
The book is, as with all of the others, incredibly well written. There is not much enjoyable young adult fiction out there, and still less of it is actually well written. Lockhart's other books aren't up to much, in my opinion (in particular, the Frankie Landau-Banks book is a piece of fecal matter of epic propotions, but that's a story for another day), but these are... pretty masterful. If you ever, ever want to know what it really feels like to have panic attacks, read these books. If you ever, ever want to know what it's like to have bouts of anxiety so intense that you feel like it might be better if you just died on the spot, read these books. Ruby is one of the most believable protagonists I have ever read, and I mean in terms of all of the fiction I have read. She feels really real. Like I've mentioned, she is in large parts very similar to me. The parts of her that I don't see in myself I see in other people I've known. Other girls that I've known. That the experience of teenage girls is - for once - believably represented, is pretty important, given there are so many completely unrealistic and fantastical representations.
What is possibly even rarer is the accurate depiction of a teenage boy in Noel. Wonders never cease. Too much teenage fiction, especially for girls, seems to neglect the fact that boys aren't either meat people or gay - that they are PEOPLE JUST LIKE WE ARE. Obviously it's a bit harder for me to analyse his experience in terms of my own, but from what I've heard from the menfolk in my life, it seems fairly representative. He's believable. He's not perfect, he's not just a dick either, he's a bit messed up, but he's genuine, and he really likes Ruby, despite the crazy, because... because she's real. Because she is Ruby, and nobody else. I'm fond of Noel. I was routing from him from the start, before we knew whether we were "supposed" to (there's probably a better way of putting this, but it's very late so it stands).
That's not to downgrade the importance of the secondary characters in this book, because they are so amazing. I want to be friends with Meghan in real life because I think she might be the nicest person ever in a really blunt, yet oblivious, sort of way. Hutch is just amazing, even if he has horrible taste in music. And Nora... I'm glad SHE got the ending she deserved. I also love how these are all people I could actually imagine being real. SO MUCH young adult fiction is obviously written by adults who can't remember what being a teenager is like - or who don't know how to portray them in anything other than broad brush strokes. Lockhart... gets it right, at least in this series.
About half way through the book (it's not long, only about 220 pages) I was, obviously, desperate to know how it was going to end, and I was (again) becoming apprehensive. There were really only two set ups I could see Lockhart going for:
1. Gideon is the preferable boyfriend because he is stable and steady and nice to you and interested all the time and... yeah, whatever. Gideon seemed like he might have been interesting up until he opened his mouth in this book and turned into a muffin. A total, complete, muffin. I don't think he was satisfying as a character after the way he is in this book - everyone has problems. Everyone has things wrong with them. Gideon doesn't, and he doesn't feel real, and ultimately, not worthy of Roo, not really. Which is weird. I wonder if I really think that - that flaws ultimately make you a more "real" or better person? I don't think that's exactly what I'm saying. I just don't think he had enough of a personality in either direction, and that's not what Roo - or most people - really needs. Thankfully, this was not the direction in which Lockhart took it.
2. The other direction I thought was possible was that she might just go for Ruby leaving school having learned all these wonderful lessons about friendship and relationships, but not really getting what it was that the other three books make it seem like she wants. Mostly because I thought this would do a great disservice to Noel. To have had him continue just to be a dick for no reason, or to have had some way of explaining it without allowing either of them to be truly happy, would just have been a bit of a cop-out. Noel's character build up had been so good over the other books that for them not to be close again, after everything, would have made me incredibly sad. Also, it would have seemed kind of off for Ruby, as well, to suddenly not want to have Noel in her life. Also, narrative-wise, it would have felt too much like an anti-climax. I don't know, this is probably very unenlightened of me. But, as Ruby would say, "it's just how I feel".
I NEVER imagined what actually happened.
I won't waste it. But safe to say the last thirty or so pages of this book are entirely heart-breaking and uplifting in equal measure. Really. I mean, it's so completely unexpected the way she brings everything back together, into the happy ending that I can't imagine anyone not wanting for Ruby (not to be egotistical after I, you know, compared myself directly to her, but I assure you it was unintentional) but the route that she takes is so god damn sad that I actually felt like I'd been punched in the stomach when I read it. The "Tums" scene is easily one of the best things Lockhart has ever written. I have no idea how she manages to go from hilarious to gut-wrenching in so few words, but there is literally not a wasted word in this section of the book. I bow down to you, Lockhart. You have written some crap, but this is wonderful.
I have one complaint about this book, and it's a complaint I know many people who've read it share. What in the heavens happened to Ruby's mother? I've always found her hard to like, I have to admit, except for in patches in the first book, but in this book she was unbelievably vile. She DOES bully Ruby's dad (and everyone else), among other things. The bits with the meat were horrible as well. I mean, despite having been vegetarian for about a year, I don't GET vegetarianism. But the way that Ruby's mother goes out of her way to make her daughter miserable for telling the truth is nothing short of disgusting. I also hate how she goes away, and comes back, and none of her issues are ever addressed - when Ruby has to go through the wringer addressing EVERYTHING. All of this is made even worse by the state that Ruby's dad has gone into following his mother's death (NOT what makes this book so heartbreaking, FYI) and Ruby's mother just LEAVING RUBY TO DEAL WITH THAT. She's a horrific woman and I hope she falls off the house boat and drowns.
But mostly, this book was everything I could possibly ask for. I'm going to miss Ruby, but I'm glad she got the ending she deserved. CANNOT RECOMMEND ENOUGH!