#MHYALit Book Review: Meet Me Here by Bryan Bliss
In a single night—graduation night—Thomas has to decide: do what everyone has always expected of him, or forge an entirely new path? Bryan Bliss’s absorbing examination of one boy struggling with expectations and realities will appeal to readers of Sara Zarr and Chris Crutcher.
Thomas is supposed to leave for the Army in the morning. His father was Army. His brother, Jake, is Army—is a hero, even, with the medals to prove it. Everyone expects Thomas to follow in that fine tradition. But Jake came back from overseas a completely different person, and that has shaken Thomas’s certainty about his own future. And so when his long-estranged friend Mallory suggests one last night of adventure, Thomas takes her up on the distraction. Over the course of this single night, Thomas will lose, find, resolve, doubt, drive, explore, and leap off a bridge. He’ll also face the truth of his brother’s post-traumatic stress disorder and of his own courage. In Bryan Bliss’s deft hands, graduation night becomes a night to find yourself, to find each other, to find a path, and to know that you always have a place—and people—to come back to.
This book checks so many of the boxes of things I love in a novel: takes place in 24 hours, is a smart look at mental health, features a boy-girl friendship, has a vivid setting, and shows characters going against expectations. If you’re like, dang, that’s a lot of really specific stuff you’re into, whatever–you know you have a list of things you really enjoy the heck out of in a book. Also, I really liked the previous book by this author, No Parking at the End Times, and sorta figured going in that I’d dig this. And did I ever.
Thomas and Mallory have barely spoken in years. They haven’t really been friends for 7 years. But when Mallory needs a ride home, after punching her boyfriend at a party, he’s there for her. Even though he’s not really sure what she needs or why she turned to him for help, he’s there. What could have been a simple ride home—drop her off and be done—turns into an all-night adventure. It’s hard to tell if the timing couldn’t be better or couldn’t be worse. Goodness knows they both need a distraction. Thomas is supposed to leave for the Army in the morning, though he has no intention of actually going, a secret he reveals to Mallory and to a few others as the night wears on. And Mallory? She has her own reasons for freaking out and needing to focus on something else for a few hours. It’s graduation night. They should be elated. But both Thomas and Mallory are feeling the nearly unbearable weight of expectation and uncertainty as well as the desire to go away, do the unexpected, follow their own paths.
And then there’s Jake. Thomas can’t stop thinking about how broken his brother is, and how terrified he is that he might come back from his time in the Army just as broken. Injured in action, his brother comes home looking physically okay, but Thomas notes, “But he was messed up worse than any of us could have ever imagined. We just didn’t see it yet.” Thomas has been watching his brother, in the months since he’s been home, and knows that dying in combat isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen to a soldier. It’s enough to make him think that skipping his appointment at the recruiter’s and going as far away as his meager savings will take him has got to be a better choice than actually joining the Army.
Outside of trespassing in an old, allegedly haunted hotel at the start of their adventurous evening together, there’s not much about Thomas and Mallory’s night that’s lighthearted. When they dig up their time capsule and find their “Book of Adventures” notebook, I thought that maybe the story would turn into them checking off items on a bucket list or completing tasks that the childhood versions of themselves considered adventures. Instead they spend much of the evening pursuing and trying to figure out/help Jake. They go to parties, parking lots, a trailer park, and a field. They slowly reveal to each other some of what’s happening in their lives. They talk about why their friendship fell apart. They’re real and honest and nothing gets solved or fixed, but it seems like maybe, just maybe, Thomas and Mallory will get to be the masters of their own fate.
MEET ME HERE will inspire important conversations about post-traumatic stress disorder, expectations, friendship, and toxic masculinity. On the surface it could seem like Thomas and Mallory’s friendship just fizzled out, or like Jake just isn’t himself, or like our main characters are feeling an uncertainty about their futures that might come from it being graduation night— a time for endings, beginnings, and thoughts of the future. But Bliss infuses every one of those things with much deeper issues that get explored more thoroughly as the story goes on and as secrets are revealed. This well-written and affecting book is a must-have for every collection. Teen readers may not be in exactly the same situations as Thomas or Mallory but will recognize the feelings of uncertainty and the pressures of expectations as well as appreciate the quiet thread of hope woven throughout.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/31/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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