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    Incredibly, beautifully real

    Darcy's rather charmed life is falling apart. The father she was always close to seems to have gone on sabbatical, and it doesn't look like he'll be back any time soon. In the meantime, her car's been repossessed, her wealthy schoolmates are circling like sharks who smell blood in the water, and her stay at home mom is struggling to reenter the workforce. But then Darcy's estranged uncle reaches out, offering not money but a comforting distraction and all the moral support Darcy could want. It's not the part of town she's used to, but it's true family, true friends, and a heart-stoppingly gorgeous boy who makes her forget all her troubles, if only just for a few hours. The Verdict: I've had some pretty awesome luck with YA stories lately, but I think this one outshines them all. Everything about it feels so incredibly real that it's more like a look inside a teenager's chaotic life than a work of someone's imagination. Darcy has led a rather priviledged life, but she's quickly disillusioned when it all begins to crumble. Her father's left town, and no one is sure where he's gone or if he's coming back. His company is failing without him, Darcy's car has been repossessed, and it looks like they're going to lose the house as well. And Darcy's mother, who hasn't been employed in forever, is drinking away her troubles while trying to make ends meet by working for a woman who makes snide comments behind her back. Darcy is quite understandably devastated, but she's also resilient, even if she doesn't quite realize it yet. When her uncle, a man who hasn't seen her since she was a little girl, reaches out to her in the midst of all the upheaval, Darcy doesn't hesitate to visit. He can't solve their financial woes, but he becomes a stable, loving force in her life when she most needs it. With his emotional support, she finds her place in his downtrodden neighborhood, becoming friends with the boy who works for him and finding a job across the street. Her uncle Mike and his employee Lucas have trouble getting Darcy to really open up about everything, but they help her out in every way they can. The entire story is really an amazing journey. Darcy grows up, takes responsibility even when the burden isn't hers, and refuses to shrink away in the face of all her family's problems. Lucas is refreshingly real as well, looking the part of the bad boy but never really playing it, and while it's clear he cares for Darcy on some level, as is often the case with teenage boys, his interest is difficult to define for a while. Just as important as everything wonderful the story has are all the things it doesn't have. No cliches, no love triangles, no giant dramatic moments that seem too contrived to be real. Aside from the juvenile snobbishness of her schoolmates, there are no groups of mean girls waiting to pounce around every corner, no perfectly timed attack that gives Lucas an excuse to rescue her. The drama is much more subtle and in that way so much more powerful. Darcy may be one of the most realistic and admirable teenage girls in fiction, and while there is certainly strong chemistry between her and Lucas, it's not overly sexualized. As an adult, I certainly don't mind reading about the more adult nature of relationships, but I also don't think that has to be major part of the plot in YA stories, and it was wonderful to read one of the rare books in the genre that manages to strike the perfect, age-appropriate balance. How (Not) to Fall in Love is one book I would absolutely recommend to readers of all ages. For teens, it doesn't cross any lines, and for adults, the story is so perfectly written, the characters so profoundly real, that it doesn't feel like anything is missing. It's an incredible story of growing up, facing life's troubles, falling in love, reconnecting with family, and finding what's truly important in life. That this is the only book on Lisa Brown Roberts's shelf is unbelievable, and if this is what a debut looks like, I can only imagine how quickly I'll be blown away by what's to come. Needless to say, I'm already a fan for life.
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