This is a story about a love triangle. I seriously didn’t know when I started on it, because I didn’t bother reading the synopsis first. All I knew going in was that (1) it’s by Katie Cotugno, who wrote the equally good and frustrating How to Love, and (2) it’s a YA contemporary with probably a lot of romance, going by the cover and Cotugno’s previous book.
So. The protagonist is Molly Barlow, who has 99 days before she leaves for college. The first day is disheartening – her house is egged by Julia Donelly, ex-friend, whose family Molly supposedly destroyed, by being in a long-term relationship with Julia’s brother Patrick and then ruining it by having an affair with Julia’s other brother, Gabe. That isn’t even the worst part; Molly mother, after being confided in, writes everything, turning it into a bestselling novel. Now everyone in town knows, and Molly is an outcast. One of the first people to be nice to her when she returns is Gabe. The other is Patrick’s new girlfriend (who didn’t know who Molly was at first), who also happens to be Molly’s ex-best friend’s new best friend. Basically, Molly is facing what might have been the worst summer in her life.
The story is told with each chapter describing a day in Molly’s life, or at least important events that occur within that day. As the first month winds down, Molly begins to settle again, rekindling a sort of relationship with Gabe, and making friends. I had really felt for Molly in the first half of the book, and was angry with the town for their slut shaming – Gabe had made a good point when he said to Molly that TWO of them did what they did, but no one was treating him the same way they treated her. As the story went on, and Molly made some really bad decisions (knowing that they were bad), my empathy for her kind of sizzled away. I don’t care what she did with Patrick and Gabe, but the way she betrayed a girl who trusted her, who had given her a chance when others wouldn’t, that she had considered a friend? That was too much for me. But the thing that made me strike Molly off my “protagonists I like” list that’s also the thing that made me pay closer attention to this story, because Molly is deeply flawed and selfish, but also very layered, and real. I was talking with a colleague about how unlikable female characters are rare and important, and Molly is one of them.
The consequences of her actions also makes the boys’ intentions clearer – Molly had been thinking of herself as this bad person who hurt Patrick, who led Gabe on, but towards the end she realises that they’ve both been using her to get at each other. When I read How to Love I was completely into the story, but hated Sawyer, the love interest. Well, 99 Days tops Cotugno’s debut in that I now hate Patrick and Gabe more than Sawyer. It was hard reading a book with characters that do such despicable things to each other, but at the same time, I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a good read, in its own messy, ugly way. I like how this book shows how different Molly is treated for her involvement with Patrick and Gabe, compared to how Gabe or Patrick were treated for what they did to her. I didn’t like how the book ended, because I’m not as quick to forgive as Molly seems to be. I had thought that this was going to be another light read, but it ended up challenging my thoughts on several fronts – it’s one of those books people will either love or hate.