“Don’t pretend to know what I’m thinking based on your experiences.”
I really wanted to like By Your Side by Kasie West. The description described a scene where a boy and a girl were stuck in a library for a weekend and from that moment I was immediately sold. I mean, what more could a book lover want than to be trapped in a library? Surely a story about an event like that would be fantastic! Well, unfortunately it wasn’t.
So, as the plot goes, Autumn finds herself locked in the library after returning to go to the bathroom. She soon learns that she’s not the only person stuck in the library as a foster kid boy, Dax, she goes to school with has been locked in as well, though he had remained behind intentionally. She spends her weekend there rather than escaping because the boy doesn’t want anyone to know he’s there. Later, her long time crush (flirtationship?), Jeff, gets into a car accident presumably on his way back to get her after realizing she’s not with the group, and winds up in a coma.
The first thing to realize about this book is that there is a level of realism that one must ignore in order to accept the trapped in the library excuse. The mere idea that it is impossible to unlock the doors and step out is somewhat ludicrous and in the event that the main character has crippling anxiety–which she does, though it is not portrayed realistically–and does not want to deal with the alarm going off, there are a number of other ways to address the situation.
To her credit, Kasie addresses a few of them as the main character’s bag (which includes her cell phone) was already packed away in a car when she had to go to the bathroom and return to the library. But that doesn’t account for the fact that doors don’t lock in a manner that makes it impossible to unlock them nor does it account for the fact that libraries do have phones themselves as well as computers with internet access. Even if the router is turned off and the computer is password protected (guest access, anyone?) it is rather easy to turn a router back on and even easier to find computer passwords for a public library.
But, ultimately, I was fully willing and ready to look past all these holes and simply enjoy the story. It was a little disappointing to see that the main character had very little interest in all the books she was surrounded by, and I suppose as a reader I shouldn’t have assumed that the main character would be a reader simply by virtue of the plot of the book being that she had gotten herself trapped in a library, but I just kind of did. What was the point of the place being a library if literally no one cared about the books?
At the end of the day, though, my largest complaints came from the somewhat uncomfortable feeling I got from the way the author described Autumn’s anxiety and the sheer hatred I felt for her in the face of the love triangle. As the story progressed, Autumn became less and less likable, especially where Jeff was concerned. Her anxiety felt included solely to progress the plot, for when it came down to it, the anxiety never seemed to persist the way it would have for a person who really was triggered by being locked in a library.
And then, as if in a direct attempt to make readers absolutely hate Autumn, West proceeds with one of the most hurtful and ridiculous plot points I’ve ever experienced. She uses the boy she met in the library as a “distraction from her anxiety” so that she is better able to be there for the boy in a coma. What?
I had a lot of issues with her as a character and the way West pushes readers to sympathize with her. The most jarring of this all lies in the fact that nearly every single one of Autumn’s friends are absolute jerks who don’t seem to give a damn about her. It was very difficult to reconcile the annoyance I felt Autumn and the disgust I felt for her friends.
The story itself was just okay. It wasn’t good or great. It was okay. I got bored often. I was regularly frustrated by Autumn’s actions and I rarely felt sympathy for her. I had to repeatedly give up my understanding of what is realistic in a multitude of situations, including the first half of the book that was spent in the library and perhaps the most glaring of them all being Jeff’s mother and her rather ridiculous insistence that Autumn was going to be the reason Jeff might wake up. Give me a break.
Now, I won’t say this is a bad book because I don’t really think it is. It’s definitely a fluff piece and the main character really could use some work, but I recognize that this is probably a book I would have loved when I was eight or nine.