15-year-old Gloria Jade Ellis is bored. Bored of school, bored of a family that seems disconnected, bored of friends that do the same thing every day, bored of a predictable future of university, marriage, job, and 2 kids. But what is there to do but drift?
Then one day Uman walks into class. He is different than anyone she has ever known, a breath of fresh air in a life that seems so stifling. And Gloria discovers that are things she can do to change things. She can challenge authority, she can bend the rules, she can rediscover the girl that was a free spirit and did her own thing, once upon a time. But is that a realistic way to live a life? And will it be too late when she decides yes or no?
I sat on this review for quite awhile. It took me some time to form an opinion about this novel, and I’m not sure that I have come to a concrete conclusion yet. It is not quite what it starts out as, but it finds its way regardless.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a story about a spoiled bored teen who isn’t getting what she wants, feels ignored, and selfishly takes off to “find herself,” and escape an unremarkable existence. And there are elements of that in the story. Both Uman and Gloria are self-absorbed and not entirely likeable. But it does go deeper. Gloria is finding her voice, finding a way to be who she is, finding her path to the future.
She is an interesting character. Bored and unable to see beyond a life of predictability, she is also recognizable. Who hasn’t stood at a train station or airport or sat in the driver’s seat of the car and thought about buying an open ticket or randomly picking a flight or not taking the turn-off to home? Who hasn’t thought about what it would be like to leave behind responsibility and start fresh if there were no consequences?
But of course there always are.
The book does not hide anything. Told from Gloria’s point of view through a police interview after she returns from her two-week disappearance, she is first questioned as a victim. But as details are revealed through her answers, it becomes apparent that events are not what they first appeared to be – a theme that runs throughout the story. The questions Gloria must answer reveal not only her motivations for her absence and disenchantment with her life, but also force her family members to confront their own directions and decisions.
The connection between Uman and Gloria is at the heart of the story. Their immediate attraction and growing relationship, the chemistry that is evident in their banter, how they run away together and discovered their own paths while ultimately looking for the same place.
I liked that even though Gloria knew it was right to come home when she did, she still acknowledged, at least to herself, that had Uman waited for her, had woken her and asked her one more time, she quite likely would have gone with him.
I hesitate to label the parts of the story I didn’t connect with as weaknesses. Rather, I think the story was unexpected, although not suspenseful or dramatic. There are no real surprises except maybe that there are no real surprises. It is a story of a girl and a boy each escaping their pasts and discovering their path to maturity.
The ending is perfect for the story. Completely open to interpretation, it is up to the reader to decide what Gloria learned from her adventure, and what she is willing to risk.
This book is appropriate for the entire YA range. It is a compelling read that looks at the time in our lives when we think we are grown-up enough to make all our own decisions, but maybe still too young to recognize the consequences.
Twenty Questions for Gloria was published April 12th, 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House.