Rites of Spring (Break) – Diana Peterfreund
The third in what will be a series of four books (Tap and Gown is coming next summer), the majority of this one took place during a private island, spring break getaway. But setting up all that plot is the time spent on campus during an icy, rainy winter. Secret Society Rose and Grave concocts a break-and-enter plan to get back a stolen artifact from a rival society. This sets in motion elaborate acts of revenge against Amy, identified because of the distinctive footwear she was wearing. There is also an old romantic interest who should have moved on but is having second thoughts and Amy is all too willing to help him dysfunctionally work out his relationship problems. And most deliciously of all, a strange alliance formed during last semester’s emergency is slowly turning into what might be loosely described as a friendship. But once they arrive at the society’s private island for a relaxing spring break (actually, starting on the boat ride over) things are going wrong and it’s obvious that the Diggers of club D177 are once again being sabotaged.
I am super, 100% enjoying these books. For the first time in the series, honest to goodness romance plays a big part in the story, and to repeat myself, it is completely delicious. I was a bundle of nerves and anticipation and speedreading and giggling on the subway. I’ve never been shy about liking Jennifer Crusie, (even when I was all about classic Russian literature and literary short stories and serious books that weren’t even slightly embarrassing to read on the subway) and I often feel a similar thrill when reading Peterfreund. I don’t feel like I’m being pandered to, but I am having fun. And then about 15 pages from the end, I wanted to chuck the book across the room. And then, the last couple pages made it a little better, as did the preview for the next book. But I immediately posted on the author’s blog about how upset I was, and how I felt betrayed, and I was probably melodramatic, who knows. (None of this sounds like me, or maybe it scarily does, I can’t tell.) But early this morning I had a very thoughtful response from the author, and then a little later another longer response by email. And I have to say that I’ve been mollified. My problem was similar to a problem I had with the last book, that I was taking Amy’s inability to realize something as a flaw. In that book, she realizes her mistake by the end. In this book, she makes the mistake at the very end. But I have been assured that Peterfreund indeed knows Amy is being ridiculous. And that the next book will take on some of these issues. I promise that it’s not just that my ego has been stroked, but that I have been well-convinced that the rug was not pulled out from under me.
Each book follows a similar arc, but at the end there is no neat resolution. Consequences are sometimes only felt the next time around, and the same goes for rewards being reaped. There is a lot going on in terms of taking on gender and discrimination, but also what it means to belong and what people are willing to sacrifice for that. There’s a lot of sympathy for characters with different viewpoints, and there are a few wonderful antihero characters. There is also a lot of forgiveness and second chances. And many of the large cast of characters are on the receiving end of this authorial largess. In the way it explores character and group dynamics, there is a very BtVS feeling to the series.
Other than the ending, I think I enjoyed this book the most of the series. And there was sexual tension and making out, but none of the explicit sex of the last one (though I’m pretty sure that aspect will be back in the next one.) So while these don’t quite belong in the YA section, they’re worth hand-selling to the right readers. I don’t have much hope that I’ll be able to convince the men in my life that they’d enjoy this, but if it were a television series, I promise we’d all be watching it together on TV night.