By Ekta R. Garg
February 15, 2018
Release date: January 30, 2018
Genre: YA mystery
Rated: Bypass it
When a teen goes missing, his girlfriend refuses to believe he’s run away. Instead she focuses on the positive and begins documenting the search for him, hoping to share it with him when he returns. Author Kim Purcell recounts this tale for teens by using the unusual choice of second person point of view that ultimately weakens her novel This Is Not A Love Letter.
Jessie Doone loves her boyfriend, baseball star Chris Kirk, but lately Chris has gotten clingy. He wants to get married before they both graduate from high school, and while Jessie can’t imagine her life without Chris she also wants a chance at pursuing her own dreams outside their small town. She wants to leave it all behind: her mother who struggles with hoarding and the prejudiced residents of Pendling, Washington, who look at her and Chris and see only a biracial couple.
Chris supports her goals of studying the environment in college, but he’s begun pressuring Jessie for a decision on getting married. Jessie finally hits her limit and asks Chris for a break. Just a week, she says, of no contact, to give them both time to think about their futures. Surely, she reasons, a week apart can only yield good results.
Then Jessie gets the news: Chris has gone missing. Unlike other times when Chris would take some time for himself, he has left no note. No one knows where he’s gone.
The police think Chris has run away. Jessie thinks something more sinister is possible. Just weeks earlier, several other baseball players beat up Chris because he’s black. Chris believes deeply in nonviolent forms of protest and didn’t fight back. Now Jessie wishes he had.
Jessie decides to keep a record of the search for him. In her journal entries, she talks directly to Chris in the hopes that sending out her love in strong waves will bring him home. The longer he’s gone, however, the less positive the people around Jessie remain that Chris will come back safe and sound.
Author Kim Purcell presents her story with an unusual choice of point of view: she tells the story in second person, which means the main character addresses the reader as “you” in telling the story. In the case of This Is Not A Love Letter, Jessie tells the story to Chris as she waits for some news of him. She tells him several times throughout the book how much she loves and misses him and wonders why he left. In some ways, the second person point of view might make sense. Unfortunately it doesn’t work.
Because Jessie spends the entire book “talking” to Chris, the majority of the conversation turns into how she feels about him and their relationship. Jessie also spends plenty of time detailing life in Pendling with a mother who can barely leave the house because of her issues with hoarding. What readers won’t get is much time with Chris or anyone else in the book, and because the story contains a mystery at its heart the essential elements for that mystery never get shared.
Chris and Jessie’s friends hint at issues Chris may have, but readers get only those hints. More astute members of the target readership will probably figure out early on what happened to Chris, but receiving confirmation of a correct guess comes with little satisfaction. At a key point in the story, one of the secondary characters reprimands Jessie. Not everything about Chris missing, the character says, is about Jessie. Yet the choice of point of view and the heavy doses of teenage melodrama give readers the distinct feeling that Chris going missing is about Jessie’s feelings.
The book tries to raise some serious issues teens face today, including racism and what it’s like to live with a hoarding family member, but it doesn’t do much justice to any of them. I recommend readers Bypass This Is Not A Love Letter.