Title: On the Fence
For sixteen-year-old Charlotte Reynolds,
aka Charlie, being raised by a single dad and three older brothers has its perks. She can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows—including her longtime neighbor and honorary fourth brother, Braden. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn’t know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world of makeup, lacy skirts, and BeDazzlers. Even stranger, she’s spending time with a boy who has never seen her tear it up in a pickup game.
To cope with the stress of faking her way through this new reality, Charlie seeks late-night refuge in her backyard, talking out her problems with Braden by the fence that separates them. But their Fence Chats can’t solve Charlie’s biggest problem: she’s falling for Braden. Hard. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.
If you’ve heard of Kasie West in the book blogging community before, you’ve probably heard her referred to as the Queen of Fluff or something similar. Don’t think of that as a put-down – that’s a compliment of the highest order, and definitely shouldn’t be seen as anything bad. West doesn’t just write fluff, though – she mixes some important issues into that fluff as well. With this book, there’s issues of gender (mainly, what it means to be a “true” girl) and dealing with the death of a parent long after they’re gone.
I had a little trouble warming up to Charlie at first. She wasn’t hostile to other girls or anything, but she definitely acted like more of a “typical” boy in terms of her humor and interests and such. I’m not a very girly girl and used to hate wearing dresses and such just as much as she did, but I’m much more comfortable with things that are seen as “girly,” so I didn’t really connect with Charlie. I didn’t dislike her, I just wasn’t truly connected with her – yet.
This book is mainly about Charlie’s lessons in figuring out who she is and accepting her more feminine side. I was really glad that Charlie was able to embrace things like wearing a skirt every once in a while and actually having fun hanging out with girls without losing her love of sports and her close relationship with her brothers. It never felt like Charlie was compromising a part of herself – she was simply growing. The book was definitely about this growth, as well as her changing feelings toward her deceased mother and the boy next door (with a name like On the Fence, it’s a safe bet that the fence – and the person on the other side – might play an important role).
There are some interesting side characters, like Charlie’s eccentric new boss and some of the girls Charlie meets through her new job, but it feels like they could have used more screen time. I wanted to see more of them – they didn’t seem too under-developed, but they were interesting in the scenes they did show up in and I would have liked to see more of those scenes! There was also a nice cameo from Camden’s best friend from The Distance Between Us, Skye, who was basically a supporting character in this book as well as that one.
As I write this, I see that the majority of the supporting cast are female – which makes sense, since Charlie comes from a large family of boys and she’s learning to accept her feminine side, so I didn’t mind the unevenness.
I was a little more conflicted about the brothers, though. I wanted to like them, and much of the time I really did, but there were scenes where they rubbed me the wrong way because they got overly-involved in Charlie’s love life (they threatened all of the boys they knew if they even dared ask her out, which led to some moments of bad self-esteem for poor Charlie) or they made her feel bad about herself by suggesting that she wasn’t pretty or the right kind of girl because she was sporty and “masculine.” They got better toward the end, but it seemed like things were slightly unresolved.
The Adult Situation
It’s not surprising that a book with a dead mother and a live father who doesn’t know how to deal with his one daughter has some parent issues, but I didn’t know just how much. You can tell that Charlie’s dad cares for her, but he doesn’t know how to help her or understand her at all, constantly relying on Carol, a co-worker who is apparently the only other woman he knows and the one who is stuck telling him that his daughter just might need a bra at some point, and he relies too much on the other boys in her life to take care of her. It was frustrating when he only wanted to let his daughter go to a baseball game (with two other people – so, she wouldn’t be alone) because her male neighbour would be going along with them. So, their dad suffered from the same gender issues as Charlie’s brother. There was also a plot involving Charlie’s mother that had me really tearing up by the time it was all wrapped up – or as well as you can wrap up a story involving death and loss.
The love interest suffered from some of the same gender issues as Charlie, but I did like the ship for the most part. There’s another side romance for when Charlie is just starting to explore her feminine side, but you know from the beginning that the boy next door and the girl next door are going to end up with plenty of romantic drama.
I finished the book late at night, with plenty of emotions from the storyline-involving-Charlie’s-mother to the way I really began to sympathize with and care for poor Charlie who had to deal with a lot both inside and out of her family. There’s plenty of drama, but there are plenty of light moments as well – this is more of a fluffy book than an “issues book,” after all, despite all the deeper issues I have touched on in this longer-than-expected review.
Although I had some problems with many of the male characters at times, I really did like the latest from West. She manages to mix fluffy and deepness quite well, and I look forward to whatever she writes in the future, contemporary or paranormal.