Review: I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

Friday, January 30, 2015
Title: I'll Meet You There
Author:Heather Demetrios
Genre: contemporary fiction
Series: none
Pages: 400
Published: Expected Feb 3, 2015
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

I’m so lucky to have read I’ll Meet You There in January. It’s a breathtaking novel that makes you feel the heartache of veterans and the tragedy of poverty, without cliches or misery porn. And while I think I’ll always relate to Sky, I couldn’t have appreciated Josh half as much a few months ago.

I grew up in a small town, not unlike Sky. We got a lot of recruiters and about a quarter of the boys in my graduating class chose to enlist. So I thought I understood. And then I married into a military family. My husband and I were dating when his cousin and best friend chose to enlist in the Marines, after losing his scholarship due to some bad decisions. It was hard knowing he was over there, but we’d only met a handful of times and his decisions had kept us from being close. He was set to be a groomsman at our wedding, when we got the call that he was being shipped back for a second tour, just days before. This Christmas was the first time I’d seen him since he came home.

My father-in-law is dying from cancer linked to exposure he suffered while in the military. His brother lost seven fingers and an eye diving on a grenade in Panama. I have seen what war does to families, but I have never seen anything sadder than a twenty-six year old father telling me, over Christmas dinner, that he lives for his Reserve duty, because it’s when he matters. I cried a lot while reading this book. For Josh and for my cousin and for my beloved coblogger’s brother and for all the men and women war effects.

And yet, the Marines saved my cousin’s life. He’s not the dickhead who copped a feel and smoked up at Thanksgiving all those years ago. He’s not in legal trouble or doing drugs or ganged up. He happily served three tours and he’ll serve a dozen more if asked. He’s married, adopted his son, and repaired a lot of relationships. He has friends, a passion for survivalism, and a fine job. I found myself admiring him, and Josh, for pulling through.

Of course, this book is far more than just Josh and the military’s story. Skylar has been granted a full scholarship to arts school, thanks in part to a “no boys” pact she’s made with her best friend to keep them focused. She’s going to get out of Creek View and live in San Francisco and date cute art boys in coffee shops and everything is going to be perfect. Until her mom falls off the wagon when she loses her job.

The book deals with a lot of mental illnesses. Josh suffers from PTSD, depression, and survivor’s guilt, illustrated by his chapters, which are letters to his dead squad mate. Sky’s mom suffers from depression and alcoholism, stemming from her husband’s death. If you’re sensitive to these subjects, beware, as they’re extremely nuanced, realistic portrayals and upsetting to read. They’re also powerful and moving.

Demetrios’ skill lies in gradually bringing beauty to the ugliness in Sky and Josh’s lives. Through a combination of growing up, art, and love, the town gradually shifts from a prison that defines them to just a part of the whole. Like Skylar’s collages, the pain is just one piece. There’s family and friends and excitement in a small town.

I’ll Meet You There is the best novel I’ve read in a long time and I haven’t been so deeply affected since This Song Will Save Your Life. The language is authentic, the settings are highly believable, and the characters are real and raw and a joy to read. It tortured my emotions until I was sobbing and laughing at the same time. It sticks with you. It’s not often I say this, but there is not a single thing I would change. Without hesitation, a five star read.

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