Star Bound Books, 2013
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Paige is a runaway foster kid, living on the street, dreaming of finding a way to a better life once she's old enough not to be sent back. She steals when she has to but keeps a record of everything she takes so she can pay it back someday. When she takes on Noah, a new addition to the local homeless population, as an apprentice and partner in survival, the two of them get to work on making those dreams a reality together, but it's going to take raising their criminal ambitions.
The editing's noticeably rough (according to the author, a re-edited re-release is in the works). There are some issues with excessive telling rather than showing. Both Paige and Noah tend to announce their thoughts in a formal, matter of fact way that matches the tone of Paige's internal narration and drains them of some live human feel. Noah's choice to become a transient rather than return home to Greece is underexplored, and beyond being the decent, innocent guy Paige learns to open up to and trust, he's a little flat. The treatment of homeless people by the background characters feels a little over the top to me at times. Ignoring them, fearing them, watching them closer if you're store security, sure, but who the hell goes out of their way to throw trash at them? Do I have too much faith in humanity here?
Paige is much better realized. She’s a sexual abuse survivor who doesn't instantly forget what happened to her when it becomes inconvenient to the plot, fall blithely into the next available man's arms, and live happily ever after, which is very refreshing. We see her through a long, difficult process of taking back her life with Noah.
Her internal clash of practicality and idealism under the pressures of her life and the guilt of being unable to take care of herself by legal, normal means are very relatable. There's a beautifully sad moment where she's the closest she's ever been to normality since ending up in the foster system, with a roof over her head and (stolen) money in her pocket, and she realizes she doesn't know how to work a washing machine, that will resonate with anyone in the midst of, or who remembers, the struggle to get on your feet as an young adult, even with the support of a normal family.
Young adult or not, Life on Loan challenges any reader to look at everyday joys, a partner, food, a hot shower, with fresh eyes, in a very nice Christmas classic sort of way. (Also it takes place at Christmas.)
This didn't feel like a book that was going to have a happy ending. It felt like a tragedy in which the heroes' increasingly gray actions for good reasons eventually lead them to total ruin. I really didn't expect Paige and Noah to make it to that better life by robbing ATMs. I won't go so far as to call it unsatisfying; they're likeable enough and have been through so much that it's sweet watching things work out, but if that's the end we get, I would have liked to see one more thought given at the end to the chance they'll soon have to start paying their debts, wrapping up the whole Life on Loan theme.
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