Book Review: Gap Life by John Coy
But it’s not.
All Cray knows is that what’s expected of him doesn’t feel right. The pressure to make a decision—from his family, his friends—is huge. Until he meets Rayne, a girl who is taking a gap year, and who helps him find his first real job, at a home of four adults with developmental disabilities. What he learns about himself and others will turn out to be more than any university could teach him—and twice as difficult.
Here’s a thing I liked about this book right off the bat: the premise. That’s specific, right? What I mean is, I liked the idea of a story about a teen who is pretty sure that heading right to college isn’t the right track for him. We don’t see a whole lot of this in YA and I certainly know plenty of teenagers who took a gap year, or a few gap years, or have decided that maybe college isn’t for them at this point in their lives. It’s nice to see this feeling in YA. I hesitate to say something like “it’s nice to see this uncertainty” because Cray, the main character, isn’t necessarily uncertain. He certainly knows he doesn’t want to be forced to attend the college both his dad and grandpa did and become a doctor just like they did—just like nearly everyone in his family does. And really, if there’s a time to feel really uncertain, and to reclaim that word as, if not positive, then at least okay, it’s when high school is ending. Everything you’ve ever known is changing, it’s likely you’re about to be on your own (to varying degrees) for the first time ever, and, no pressure, you’re also supposed to be figuring out exactly what it is you want to do with the rest of your entire life. It’s okay to feel like maybe you need to step back and figure out what it is that you want, which is exactly what Cray does.
The plot is pretty well summed up in the publisher’s description above, so I’m just going to talk some more about other specifics that I liked. It takes a lot of guts for Cray to walk away from what his parents have planned for him–a fully paid for education and other benefits, like a new car. He’s led a very privileged life, and to be able to walk away from these things is also coming from a place of privilege, but he’s determined to make his own way. His controlling father demands Cray get a job and pay rent, which Cray promptly does. Cray’s choice to overrule his parents’ plans for his future leaves them feeling mad, disappointed, betrayed, and humiliated. Cray’s work at the group home turns out to be harder but more interesting than he originally thought (his initial summation of working overnights at this job as being “paid to sleep” turns out to not exactly be accurate). The members of the house he works at are great, well-developed secondary characters. The guiding principle of their house is helping people live as independently as possible, which of course also becomes the ideal that Cray begins to work toward in his own life. Part of me couldn’t quite buy that Cray, who’s inexperienced, would land a job like this, but then I started to think of all the young adults I know around Cray’s age who’ve held these exact jobs. I also really appreciated seeing so many teenagers in this book with jobs of all kinds.
We only really get to see Cray’s life for a short chunk of weeks, just over the summer. Because this is a short, fast read, some details are dealt with on a pretty surface level. A longer book would’ve allowed more exploration of his relationship (or potential relationship) with free-spirit Rayne, who’s also taking a gap year, or his falling out with a close friend (and more about why Jett and Nora dislike Rayne so much). That said, the quick pace works for this story, because it keeps the focus tightly on Cray and his struggle over what to do with the next year. During the summer, Cray makes some serious missteps, whether it’s being unprofessional at his new job or misjudging things with Rayne, all of which further reinforce how young Cray is and how little he really knows yet about anything.
Teen readers will find plenty to discuss and relate to in Gap Life as Cray tries to figure out the future and worries that maybe his gap year will become a gap life. An honest and unique look at forging your own way and embracing uncertainty.
Full disclosure: John and I share an agent, the fantastic Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Literary Agency.
Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 11/22/2016
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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