When you’re poor, dreams are really all you’ve got.
The Perfect Escape is a YA romance, and I have read my fair share of those, with Eleanor and Park and Love, Simon being my absolute favourites in the genre. While Suzanne Park’s novel isn’t really on that level, it’s unique in the way it navigates the genre.
Firstly, the love story isn’t really the big, defining thing in The Perfect Escape. Nate and Kate (it’s cute how their names rhyme, a fact I did not notice until I typed them out) may be developing feelings for each other, but that is all rather secondary to the issues that they have to deal with in their lives.
Nate’s family is struggling financially. His father has lost his job, the bank isn’t going to support a loan for the mortgage, and if he doesn’t hustle academically as well as in his extracurriculars, then he might not even get to go to college. Kate is dealing with more emotional issues, with a distant father who seems determined to force her down a path that isn’t something she wants.
As an arts person who loves theatre, I felt myself getting triggered by her father’s view that the arts are a soft option and that there’s no future in it. As much as we think this is a dated perception, as an educator I deal with this stereotype all the time.
On the flipside, it does seem that the two have rather a lot of baggage to deal with, and the struggles really do seem endless, almost hyperbolic at times. Are they merely the sum of the problems they have to deal with? Sometimes it does feel that way, but hopefully it’s an issue that Park will be able to remedy as she gains more experience as a writer – this is after all her debut.
When you first begin your journey into the novel, it comes across as a typical rom-com type of book (this is also how it is being marketed), with the meet-cute being one of the first tropes we encounter. But it becomes so much more than that. The more I read, the more I could feel the distinctness in Nate and Kate’s narrative voices. It’s certainly a bold choice for Park to structure her novel with two narrators, but it is a stylistic choice that really pays off.
While Nate is Korean, we aren’t constantly hit over the head with his ethnicity every single moment. There are references that come up from time to time that remind me, like the fusion food comments, or whenever his family is around. His ethnicity doesn’t become his defining trait, and that really stood out for me as something quite wonderful. This isn’t a love story about a Korean boy who falls in love with an American girl. This is a story about Nate and Kate, regular teenagers trying to navigate the curveballs life has thrown at them, and finding solace and comfort with each other.
I definitely liked the semi callback to The Hunger Games, as the two take part in a zombie apocalypse type competition, where Kate’s survival skills are praised alongside Nate’s agility and quick thinking. While YA romances tend to get all intense and angst-filled as the protagonists fall in love, The Perfect Escape comes across as more real, reminding me of my own memories of having a crush and the analysis of every little moment that comes after.
There are times where Nate and Kate don’t even speak to each other for a period of time, which is certainly normal. However, sometimes fiction needs to offer me something fictional (for a lack of a better word). Too great a dose of real life can result in a boring narrative that gives me nothing to hold on to. The Perfect Escape needed something to draw the reader further into its world, because unfortunately, at the end of it all, I was only in its peripheries.
Review copy provided by PR.
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The Perfect Escape is different from the typical YA romance and does go out of its way to avoiding being just a rom-com cliche, but ends up being a bit lackluster in the romance department.
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