REVIEW: Deeper by Robin York
Spoiler (Trigger Warnings): Show
Dear Ms. York,
I enjoyed several New Adult books when I first discovered the genre, but my interest faded pretty quickly and I began to feel like many of the books were so similar that I may as well just re-read my favorites. The premise of Deeper sounded interesting enough to give it a shot, however, and I’m glad I did.
Caroline Piasecki sees herself as a good girl, a driven student, with career ambitions and her life mapped out. Then at the beginning of her sophomore year in college, she gets a text, and a link, that changes everything: her ex-boyfriend has posted pornographic pictures of her online, along with identifying information. The pictures were consensual, but making them public was obviously not. Caroline had gone along with what her boyfriend wanted to do, even though she had reservations about some of it – and when the relationship ended, he used that to strike out at her.
You write in the author’s note that non-consensual pornography – better known as revenge porn – sucks, and it does. It is a horrible invasion of privacy, an attempt to embarrass and shame people (and especially women) about their sexuality, opens them to harassment (or worse), and can make it very difficult to trust people in the future. For Caroline, every interaction now carries a subtext: has this person seen me naked, having sex, do they think I’m a slut, are they judging me, are the pictures why this cute guy wants to talk to me? She gets emails with obscene photos and has a constant soundtrack in her head of men slut-shaming her. Caroline doesn’t want to be a victim, and she wants to move on in her life. Her challenge is in coming to terms with the fact that legally, she can’t do much, and the internet never forgets; she has to find her way to deal with what happened, and come out stronger in a different way.
Caroline’s first reaction is to try and make everything go away, which turns out to be a lost cause. But she doesn’t hide, though she does want to. She becomes closer to West Leavitt, whom she met when they first started college. He knows about the pictures, and she knows he’s seen them, but she feels right with him. Here’s how she describes it on one occasion:
Insomnia has made me her bitch, but it doesn’t matter so much when I can hang out with West and study in my little nook. I nap after class. I’m turning into a creature of the night. It’s all right, though. I guess I’d rather be Bella Swan hanging out at the Cullen place than, you know, school Bella—all pissy and defensive, clomping around Forks High, convinced everyone hates her.
West and Caroline had kept their distance from each other on purpose. She was in a relationship and had also promised her father to stay away from West; for West, there’s no place in his life for someone he could potentially feel strongly about. He’s seen his mother’s obsessive and unhealthy relationship with his father wreck her life, and he wants better things for himself: an education, a career, financial stability, and the ability to make a good life for himself and for his younger sister, Frankie. In his world,
Assuming you’re going to get into med school is like assuming you can walk on water. It’s a fairy tale, and people who believe in fairy tales are idiots.
To accomplish his goals, West will do just about anything: work multiple jobs, almost never sleep, deal drugs, do sex work – and all of it takes a toll. Still, I wasn’t as invested in West’s part of the story as in Caroline’s, and I felt at times as though you’d gone overboard with his difficult background and its effect on him. But Caroline only takes so much of his sending mixed signals and acting like a jerk before she starts calling him out on things, which was good. I could see how these two characters that came from very different places fit together, and I wanted them to find a way to be happy. Also, I liked that Caroline’s character arc wasn’t just about her relationship with West but also with her best friend and with the new friends she makes as she tries to figure out who and what she wants to be.
In addition to West’s background, a few other things didn’t quite work for me – one is the introductions to each chapter. In several of them, the character narrating would basically give a preview of what was about to happen, which I thought that was odd. Another is the various references to things being deeper, a deeper connection, etc. in the second half of the book. I get that this is the title and a major theme of the book, but it was repeated a few too many times. Finally, I felt that as the novel progressed, there was too much focus on Caroline and West’s sexual relationship than was needed to advance the plot, the relationship or the characters. Again, I can see why this was done: West is used to thinking of sex as a tool, Caroline wants to take charge of her sexuality after what happened to her, and both are figuring out their relationship as they go. But it was just a bit too much at times.
I should point out that Caroline and West do get a happily for now interlude, but the book does not have a happy resolution, and although the two care for each other, each of them has to head in a different direction. Their relationships with their families are also not settled, and Caroline still has to deal with the aftermath of her ex’s actions. Despite my reservations about certain aspects of this book, I’m interested enough to continue and see how things work out for them in the next one. Deeper gets a B.
I’m glad you reviewed this one. I picked it up when it was on sale but I don’t know how soon I’ll get to it. Her adult contemporary romances (written as Ruthie Knox) are a mixed bag; I’ve liked some of her books quite a bit but others disappointed me.
My take on Knox’s books is similar to yours. I’ve liked some of her books more than Deeper, but to me it was definitely better than the Camelot books that I’ve read. Revenge porn isn’t something I’ve seen addressed before in either romance or NA, and I felt that she handled that well.
I just finished this and thought it a really excellent reversal of the sexist themes often found in NA. I particularly liked Caroline’s embracing her right to get drunk and silly occasionally, and her finding safe spaces to party with women friends. My major issue with it is that West behaves really stupidly — selling drugs from his work? Having sex with his mentor’s wife? Not to mention the manioulative ways he gets rid of Caroline instead of being honest with her. From what I’ve read, this gets even worse in the next book, which makes me a little hesitant to read it.
@Willaful: I don’t know if West’s actions are stupid, though they are often self-destructive. He doesn’t see better options for himself, and the life he’s lived doesn’t really encourage him to see himself as having value and deserving the opportunity to make positive choices in his life – even his mentor, who is very helpful, has a specific vision of how West should live his life. As for his mentor’s wife, I don’t think that West was in any position to meaningfully consent to a sexual relationship when it began. At the very least, it’s clear that he was still a minor at the time. West has been through so much abuse and neglect growing up that it made sense to me that he would not be making the best choices.
Caroline has the more interesting story in this book, and a stronger character arc. I agree with you that it was great that she didn’t give up on being young and having fun. Whereas West at the end of the Deeper hasn’t really changed all that much from West at the beginning of the book. I do hope that York has something more interesting in store for him in the next book, though I’ll wait for the price to drop before finding out for myself.
@Rose: Those are all legitimate points, but it bothered me because he sees himself as very goal-oriented and not letting anything get in his way… he thinks a relationship is a bad idea, but not the other things he’s doing? I also think his taking the fall for his rich, privileged friend was ludicrous.
I suspect things are going from bad to worse in the second book… I’m tempted not to read it, though I probably won’t be able to hold out. Maybe I’ll wait til the third is published. (I’m assuming there’s a third, isn’t there always?)
@Willaful: He does see himself as ambitious and driven, but it didn’t read to me like he’d dealt with any of the psychological issues stemming from his childhood and adolescence, and he’s internalized a lot of things that aren’t conducive to good decision-making.
I think it’s supposed to be just the two books, but you never know these days.
I think that Knox portrays West in a very realistic way. Sometimes when people come from a certain background it is very hard for them to give it up instantly. Since, West didn’t decide to go to a far away school until later in his youthful life I think that he has a hard time letting go of all of his roots and one way to hold on is to deal drugs. Also, it is a way for him to keep at a distance from the other students -he wants to be known as the “dealer” instead of just another student. Then if he fails he can always fall back on that – like oh I was a drug dealer of course I wasn’t good at school- I think for the characters to work that they needed the bad boy and completely different from squeaky clean law abiding Caroline. She felt like she always did everything right and look what happened to me (my life was ruined) so she wanted to see what would happen if she lived just a little bit on the edge. West never deals a very large amount of drugs and right now in many states it is becoming legal to have marijuana which is all that he was selling. He quits as soon as they become serious and he thinks they might be headed somewhere, although the taking the rap thing is strange. Also, I think that the drugs, binge drinking, and discovery sex are all a part of what happens in college and early 20’s. I find it interesting that everyone is concerned that West is portrayed as breaking the law with selling drugs but no one addresses the drinking- most sophomores in college are 20 not 21 which is also breaking the law…they don’t go to the bar and hang out so I’m assuming that they are underage. Overall I liked the book.. I am interested in what happened next. I don’t mind when the books become a series and either the main characters are developed into a life or some of the side characters a re focused on in other books with a mention of these 2 main chacters mentioned. I would like to know the roommates stories, the sister and maybe the rugby team players ( Scott or the girl * I forgot her name). It was a new take on the Internet and how nothing goes away. If the sex was pared down it would be a good read for Jr high and and high school girls to think about. Many of these girls are sending sexts and not thinking anything about it. They forget that not only does that person have access have to your photos but anyone that they might happen to “share” it with or as the excuss Nate half assed used he lost his phone- it could happen and someone finds it and shares it.