I remembered liking Love and Other Four-letter Words as a teen, but didn’t recall any details of the plot. If I had, I might not have picked a story about a young person rocked by their parents separation so soon after reviewing The Suitcase Kid. While the circumstances are similar, Love and Other Four-letter Words is a more mature, more rounded story, as befits Carolyn Mackler writing for an older audience. That said, the themes of friendship (both old and new) certainly recalled Best Friend Next Door.
As we unlaced our sneakers and waded into Cayuga Lake, a motorboat whipped by, towing a small boy on an oversized yellow inner tube. The kid, both hands gripping the plastic handles, had a frantic expression on his face as his pleas to stop were swallowed by the rumble of the horsepower. The spotter was consumed with smearing on sunblock, the driver consumed with bikini-clad women capsizing a Sunfish. Which left the boy with two options: to catapult himself into murky waters, or to get dragged along, completely out of his control, until the powers-that-be decided to terminate his joyride. He chose the latter.Love and Other Four-letter Words, Carolyn Mackler
I kept revisiting that image over the next few weeks, as I watched my life being disassembled, one familiarity at a time.
Sammie Davis was immediately sympathetic as a main character, her entire life changing around her and out of her control. Adult readers can see the places where she makes mistakes in how she handles things, but they are realistic errors given her age, and they build up to a satisfying emotional conclusion. Carolyn Mackler writes Sammie’s friends and family like real people, who all have their own lives going on, even when those lives aren’t particularly centred in the narrative.
The romance felt realistic, with all of that teenage held-breath excitement, without stealing focus from the rest of the story. There isn’t space for Sammie’s love interest to get a whole lot of personality, but he has enough for a book which is only about the very, very early stages of their relationship, and it’s nice that Sammie’s friendship with Phoebe gets more attention and feels like it has more of an impact on her life. Friendship is important and, as an author, Carolyn Mackler really seems to get that.
Love and Other Four-Letter Words is probably the reason I keep reading and rereading novels by Carolyn Mackler. None of the others quite live up to this level, yet, but I still have more to go so maybe I’ll discover another favourite.