REVIEW: The Accidentals by Sarina Bowen
Dear Ms. Bowen,
I’ve enjoyed most of your NA novels; in my opinion, you write your strongest books when you focus on coming-of-age themes. So, when I saw that your first YA novel, The Accidentals, was out, I took a chance and bought it.
It’s the summer before senior year and seventeen-year-old Rachel Kress should be concentrating on grades, friends, and having fun. Instead, Rachel is grieving for her mom.
Rachel’s mother never spoke of her father at all. Rachel was in third grade when she realized that the man who sent the child support checks must be Frederick Richards, aka Freddy Ricks, whose songs caused her mom to turn off the radio. Rachel has long been her father’s fan, but she’s never been his daughter before.
Now, with her mom dead of cancer, Rachel is living in a children’s home. Hannah, the social worker assigned to her case, has contacted Frederick at Rachel’s mother’s last request, and for the first time in Rachel’s life, Frederick shows up.
Frederick, whose name was not on the birth certificate, pursues getting custody. But Rachel’s oldest friend, a boy named Haze, tells her not to trust her father, and Rachel is unsure if she can. After all, he’s been absent for all her seventeen years.
Before her mother’s death, Rachel begged to be allowed to spend senior year attending Claiborne Preparatory Academy in Claiborne, New Hampshire—the town where her parents first met. Rachel thought she could uncover their past there and learn what caused her father’s abandonment of her.
Rachel has been accepted to Claiborne, but Haze, who wants to be more than Rachel’s friend, doesn’t want her to leave Orlando—not for Claiborne, and not for her father’s Los Angeles home before that. Since his own father committed suicide, Rachel and her mom have been Haze’s port in the storm.
Then there’s Jake, the nerdy boy who is Rachel’s peer liaison at Claiborne, and who emails Rachel to roll out the welcome mat. Jake’s emails are a much-needed distraction from grief and confusion, so Rachel doesn’t tell him about her mother’s death, her father’s fame, or that she and her dad are strangers.
The conversations between Rachel and Frederick are awkward and tentative. His house in California, when Rachel arrives there, feels oddly empty, except when his fellow musicians fill it, or when a wild party is taking place. Rachel also learns she has relatives that she never knew about. She can’t tell if her father doesn’t know how to be a parent, or if he doesn’t care enough about her.
Soon, Rachel is headed to Claiborne, and Frederick surprises her by following her there. In Claiborne, Rachel will meet Jake, Aurora, a new roommate from Spain, and join an a cappella singing group, all while negotiating her fragile and fraught relationship with her father.
Will Rachel ever recover from her grief? Will she ever feel safe enough to show the anger she feels to her father? Can she tell him that she too, has a love of music? What is going on with her roommate’s relationship? Who will Rachel choose between Haze and Jake? And will she ever get the nerve to ask her father what happened between him and her mother, and why he left?
The Accidentals was so tender and moving that I think it’s one of your best books, up there with Understatement of the Year, my previous favorite. Like some of the best YA novels, this is an initiation story as well as a coming-of-age story, except that Rachel is initiated into two different worlds—both her father’s world of being a rock star, and Claiborne Academy.
Rachel asks the questions that young people her age have asked since time immemorial—Who am I? Who do I want to be? And she feels that her very identity is tied up with her mother and father’s unknown past.
Her need to be loved and accepted by her only remaining parent is wrenching at times. There is an aloneness, a loneliness to Rachel, and a yearning that only a loving father can fill. She and Frederick take one step back for every two steps forward as her fear of Frederick’s rejection wars with her need to believe in him.
Frederick has never really had to fully grow up, and whether he can do it now, for Rachel’s sake and his own, is a question that remains open for much of the book. I thought that his character, though necessarily not quite as compelling as Rachel’s, was still touching, and served his role in her story very well.
The love triangle Rachel found herself in the midst of was a bit different than the typical YA love triangle, because it was clear right off the bat which of the guys Rachel should choose. This aspect of the book was well-handled, too.
Caveats? I have a few. Henry, a member in Frederick’s entourage, had a confusing role. At times he bossed Frederick, and at others, Frederick treated him as an errand boy. Henry said he worked for Frederick’s management company, but he seemed more like an amalgam of manager and personal assistant, and I would have found Frederick’s world a touch more convincing if rather than one person standing in for these two roles, there were two.
Each chapter began with the definition of a musical term. Many of these had nothing to do with rock music, so at first this was jarring. But once Rachel started taking a music theory class at Claiborne, it all made sense.
I caught a handful of copyediting errors, including four or five tense inconsistencies, such as “Together, the three of us eat out, shopped for winter coats, and watch the Christmas decorations go up on Newbury Street” or “It’s the beginning of a long night that I didn’t know how to handle,” and one spelling error — “Look, I get that the promoter has your balls in a vice.”
I also guessed a couple of characters’ secrets in advance.
All these were minor issues. The Accidentals was a well-executed young adult novel, and age appropriate as well. It has only one fade-to-black love scene, so I think it’s a good book for older teens to read.
Reading it, I was reminded of one of my favorite early Nora Roberts books from the 1990s, Public Secrets. Both books have heroines with rock star dads, coming of age elements, a romantic triangle, and an adorable, supportive love interest. The Roberts also deals with loss and grief, though it is a romantic suspense novel, and not a YA.
In The Accidentals, the romantic relationship was equally delightful and the parent/child relationship was similarly riveting. I hope there will be more YA novels from you. In the meantime, The Accidentals earns a B/B+ from me.