REVIEW: Where the Road Leads Us by Robin Reul
Sometimes the best path is the unexpected one.
Jack is on the verge for leaving for college, but before he does, he wants to track down his estranged brother, Alex and find some closure in the wake of their father’s death. Meanwhile, Hallie has just found out some upsetting news about a friend in Oregon, and she has a small window to go see him before it’s too late.
Jack and Hallie are practically strangers. They shared a class together years ago and haven’t seen each other since, though they have more in common than they’d ever imagine. And when fate puts them into the same rideshare to the bus terminal, it kicks off an unconventional and hilarious adventure that may lead them to their own true selves…and maybe to each other.
Dear Ms. Reul,
When I looked into requesting the arc for this book, what I initially thought I might get was a fun YA road trip with some humor, some clashes and snark, plus a little bit of pathos. Then after investigating a bit I realized it would be more than that. I ended up liking it, despite a bit of predictability.
Jack appears as if he ought to have everything. He’s the valedictorian of his high school and headed to Columbia while other classmates are going to UCLA and Stanford. His mother is on a nationwide book tour to promote her bestseller and tomorrow Jack will fly to NYC for a summer internship. Life should be wonderful. But it’s also his birthday and his mother has made no effort to be home for either event. Then his long time girlfriend breaks up with him. So no, not a great day.
Hallie desperately wants to head up to Medford, Oregon to meet a guy she’s never seen in person before. Owen has been there for her on the chat group they’re both members of but his health has taken a turn for the worse (expected) and with the clock ticking, she knows she has only a narrow window of opportunity to get there. Still she hesitates in lying to her parents about where she’ll be over the weekend, taking some money from her mother to fund the trip, and about her feelings regarding the emotions that she might get hit up with when she gets there.
She’s seriously rethinking the whole thing while sitting in her rideshare on the way to the Greyhound bus station when the door opens and in steps the guy she recognized earlier in the day from her high school. Jack was just going to hang out at the bus station as a place to escape from everyone he knows but soon he and Hallie plus their driver Oscar the wannabe actor are on a road trip to San Francisco all for reasons of their own.
This was the funniest part of the book for me. Things turned hilarious, scary, and surreal all together and I’m sure when they found out about it, Hallie’s parents and Jack’s mother were horrified but it did sound like something that would be fun in the telling of once it was all over. After that events became more serious.
Both Hallie and Jack are dealing with long standing issues. Jack’s father died suddenly and Jack is still grieving for that as well as for the loss of his brother whom his parents sent to another rehab facility after Jack found Alex overdosing. Jack’s had no contact with his brother, who didn’t even come to their dad’s funeral, since. Hallie dropped out of their high school two years before and tells Jack it’s because of her diagnosis and treatment for cancer. Her friend in Oregon has terminal cancer and, because of rapidly failing health, has decided to end his life on his own terms hence the need for speed for her to get there.
In the cocoon of space and time during the trip and once they reach San Francisco – where Jack has discovered Alex is living and Hallie can hopefully catch a bus since the ones in LA were delayed due to summer wildfires – Jack and Hallie are totally honest with each other about all this and about how they’re groping for what they want to do with their lives. Hallie isn’t even sure she’ll have much of a future while Jack is questioning the path that his parents had laid out for him.
A lot of this section is nice but standard coming of age questioning. While the angst isn’t loaded on I did wonder at a turn that Hallie’s story arc takes and how little it appears to affect her. I also wasn’t that surprised at how Jack’s quest turns out. It’s realistic but not anything new. The fallout each faces once they get home is fairly light considering how the weekend and their choices would probably appear to their parents – regardless of the fact that Jack and Hallie are both eighteen. Jack’s counseling and treatment for depression also appears to fizzle out.
The story didn’t go down some paths I thought it would. Neither were all the threads tied up or finished off at the end. Jack and Hallie come to some realizations about their lives and – thank goodness – end up talking with their parents about their fears, worries, and wishes. Their relationship ends not with a romance but with friendship that maybe, at some point in the future, might lead to more. But they both grow as people as they work out what they want for their futures. Still the story will probably seem a bit predictable for some readers. C+