As a teenager who never really “fit in” but who got along just fine with my peers because I was happy with myself and didn’t really care about what other people thought, my number one favorite kind of novel was about protagonists who didn’t fit in and didn’t really care either. You know how rare that was in YA fiction when I was growing up? Most heroines, especially if they had some God-given talent, just wanted to be “normal,” which is about the most soul-crushing thing I could ever think of.
Fast forward several decades, and you have books like Every Reason We Shouldn’t, with main characters who know they’re talented and are happy to spend their lives focusing on pursuing their ambitions instead of mooning over how they don’t “fit in” at the local high school. Don’t get me wrong, Olivia and Jonas aren’t assholes who think they’re better than their school friends. They just have different goals and I 100% love how Sara Fujimura shows that that’s okay. It’s especially refreshing because their goals aren’t academic either but sporting, which in a book about mostly Asian kids and parents is unusual but not at all unrealistic.
Anyway, Olivia Kennedy is the biracial daughter of Michael and Midori, an Olympic gold medalist pairs skating team who now own Ice Dreams, a rink in Phoenix, Arizona. An awful accident when Olivia was a toddler left Midori in crippling pain, tho she still puts on her game face in order to coach students now that she’s retired from pro skating. Meanwhile, Michael tours with Olympians On Ice in order to help pay for Midori’s mounting medical bills. Olivia and her own skating partner, Stuart Trout, showed a lot of potential at the juniors level but have struggled since graduating to the adult category. Stuart took off for college while 15 year-old Olivia quietly seethes at Ice Dreams, helping her mom and spending time with Mack, their jill-of-all-trades employee, who dropped out of college herself after having a baby less than a year before the book opens.
When Jonas Choi shows up, wanting to rent out Ice Dreams for his speed skating training, Olivia finds herself quickly attracted to this handsome, athletic guy who understands her in a way that the rest of her Phoenix friends don’t. As they try to balance high school with training on the ice, their relationship strengthens… but more importantly, so does Olivia’s faith in her own skating abilities.
ERWS eschews all the standard YA tropes to produce a delightfully lived in novel about a teenage girl determined to prove that she isn’t a has-been at fifteen. Olivia isn’t perfect — she’s mean to her mom over perceived slights because she’s sensitive to her mom’s true feelings about her talents, never mind the fact that her mother is practically an invalid — but I found her exceedingly easy to relate to, especially since her pride is mortified realistically and often. Ms Fujimura is writing for her own biracial kids, so that they’ll see people like themselves as the leads in contemporary literature, and I think she’s done a wonderful job of creating complex, lifelike characters who represent their Asian-American heritages without being caricatures.
My only thing is that I don’t really understand why this is the first in a series. The ending takes place a year after the bulk of the story, so unless the sequel chooses to focus on people who aren’t Olivia and Jonas, I kinda don’t get the point of the jump. I do hope the next book continues to focus on skating tho, as I haven’t read a fun series on the subject since the YA Silver Skates novels way back when. ERWS is way better tho. It could be a little more tightly written in places, but overall, it’s a really solid YA novel with excellent Asian-American representation.