Dual Review: Similar Themes, Different Results

I ended up somehow reading Has to Be Love and Truest back to back. I really had no idea that they were so similar, because I generally don’t bother reading synopses after I acquire a book. But they were alike, in several of their themes. How did they differ? Well, for one, I loved one and hated the other! But for the sake of this post, I will make a chart of some kind with their similarities. Or something.

Untitled drawing (1)

So now that you know the similarities, we’ll get into the reviews, so you can see why they’re different 😉

Dual Review: Similar Themes, Different Results Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on September 1st 2015
Pages: 384

Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck's small-town life. Brand new to town, Silas is different than the guys in Green Lake. He's curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening-- and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister-- and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers.


Ah, Truest, how I adored thee. Ah, West, how I relate to thee. See, West is a bit lost in life. Things are okay, not great but not horrible either. She has a boyfriend who’s nice enough, her own part-time car detailing gig, and a best friend who just went away to be a camp counselor. She lives with her family- her pastor dad, her kind of push-over mom, and her two siblings (who are adorable, by the by)- in a small Minnesota town, and she’s basically floundering. I feel you, West. The struggle is real.

West needs some help with her detailing business, and while she and Pastor Dad are visiting a new family in town, Pastor Dad ends up roping Silas, the new neighbor, to work for her. Neither is thrilled with this arrangement, but it is happening anyway. Of course, they start to become friends, as they end up having a lot in common and introduce each other to new hobbies, books, shows, etc. West ends up befriending Silas’s sister Laurel as well, even though Laurel has some secrets of her own.

But Elliott, the boyfriend since elementary school, is not thrilled with any of this. West has all kinds of decisions to make, and it isn’t easy. This is where the beauty of the book comes in. Basically, it’s so, so real. You have to make choices in life, and you have to live with them. In making them, you often discover who you are and who you want to be.

What else did I like about Truest?

  • The characters were multifaceted and phenomenal. This includes West, but is not limited to her. Silas, Elliott, Laurel, the parents, and Gordon, oh my goodness, my love for Gordon knows no bounds. Just read the book to learn all about Gordon, ‘kay? But Gordon, who is blind, said this, which basically blew me away:

    “‘Unfortunately’, said Gordon with considerable kindness, ‘I don’t have the luxury of seeing people’s faces, which forces me to see their hearts.'”

  • The romance situation is tricky, but not really a typical “triangle”.  I don’t want to say much, but I really think it was handled beautifully.
  • My emotions ran the gamut in this book. I laughed out loud. I was angry. I sobbed. I smiled. I swooned a lot. Again, like real life, Truest shows the ups and downs of real life. West goes through it all during the course of this book, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and everywhere in between. She learns, and she grows into a better version of herself. It’s quite breathtaking, really.
  • Yes, there is religion in this book, which scares a lot of people (present company included!) but it is done is wonderfully. Even though West’s father is a pastor, there is absolutely nothing being preached or forced down the reader’s throat. It’s just his occupation, and a part of their family’s identity, not their entire existence.
  • There were so many other relationships featured other than romantic ones. West coming to terms with her best friend’s absence, finding a friend in Laurel, navigating friendships with past romantic interests, and a lot of trying to wrestle with family interactions and dynamics. The parents in this book, both West’s and Silas and Laurel’s, and even Elliott’s, were ever present. Definitely no Parent-in-YA Syndrome in this book! The families were absolutely far from perfect, but they were present, and their struggles were completely realistic.

Bottom Line: There’s not a thing I didn’t like about Truest. It’s about love, loss, friendships, family,  growing up, finding yourself… it’s about lifeTruest is a stunning debut, and one of the rare books that I know I’ll be rereading in the future.



Dual Review: Similar Themes, Different Results Has to Be Love by Jolene Perry
Published by AW Teen on September 1st 2015
Pages: 272

Years ago, Clara survived a vicious bear attack. She's used to getting sympathetic looks around town, but meeting strangers is a different story. Yet her dreams go far beyond Knik, Alaska, and now she's got a secret that's both thrilling and terrifying--an acceptance letter from Columbia University. But it turns out her scars aren't as fixable as she hoped, and when her boyfriend begins to press for a forever commitment, she has second thoughts about New York. Then Rhodes, a student teacher in her English class, forces her to acknowledge her writing talent, and everything becomes even more confusing--especially with the feelings she's starting to have about him.

Now all Clara wants to do is hide from the tough choices she has to make. When her world comes crashing down around her, Clara has to confront her problems and find her way to a decision. Will she choose the life of her dreams or the life that someone she loves has chosen? Which choice is scarier?


I am going to try to stay away from spoilers, however some of the stuff that made me the angriest probably falls into spoiler territory. I’ll try to mark them, but… proceed with caution.

When I started Has to Be Love, I didn’t hate it, didn’t love it. I didn’t feel much of a connection to Clara, nor did I feel that I knew a lot about her, other than “likes to write” and “bear attack facial scar”.  She wants to leave Alaska, but how can she possibly, with something as awful as a scar?!

This is going to sound insensitive, and I assure you it is not. I understand her insecurity and apprehension, that makes sense. But I’d like to think that there’s more to a person than a facial scar? I mean, as a parent of a kid with a facial scar, I hope not? Granted, Clara’s is more severe, but again, the fixation was over the top. I don’t remember if she was in counseling (if she was, it wasn’t a huge plot point) but she needed all the counseling, for real. Like, the bear attack itself was horrible, and traumatic and killed her damn mom, but she was more concerned about the scar. I… don’t get it.


Some background: Clara’s best friend is at her mom or dad’s house (whoever the non-custodial parent is, I don’t remember), and so she’s not there for Clara to whine to. Clara’s dad… I don’t really know what his problem is, but they need some kind of communication system (again, counseling would be helpful). She’s gotten into Columbia, but doesn’t tell anyone. For reasons. And Elias is building a house so they can get married right after high school (gag) and live in a quaint Alaskan town making babies for the rest of time.

Enter Rhodes. He’s visiting his aunt and student-teaching for the rest of the semester. Where’s Rhodes from? Unrealistic coincidence time! Columbia, of course. Rhodes is enamored with Clara, I guess because she’s a writer? I don’t even know, it was pretty insta-lovey. At first, I didn’t even mind the thought of them getting together if it’d rid us of Elias. But then I realized that Rhodes was a complete asshat as well.


So. Now we have Clara’s inappropriate teacher crush coupled with the fact that he is now her dad’s new bestie. Waiting to be repulsively committed at 17 is Elias View Spoiler » and he is not to fond of the blatant attention Rhodes is giving Clara. Let’s break these two down, visually:

2-Circle Venn Diagram (Gradient) - Gradient

I’ll expand, if you’re curious! Rhodes is everywhere, seeing everything that Clara does. It’s weird and unsettling. Elias… well, you know, he is way too committed for a seventeen year old dude. The irony is, his religion precludes him from basically even touching Clara. Rhodes does not have these same views. Rhodes is kind of full of himself, thinking he’s so worldly because he is from Columbia and he’s traveled. And I guess we’re supposed to be impressed? ezgif-3826612207

Yeah… no. Now, here’s where things get dicey and kind of spoilery. Clara has to make some decisions, obviously. Some about college, some about her relationships, and some about her scars. And she does a brilliant job of waffling, going back and forth, and pissing me off. But even that I could get past, because she is a teenager, and I can’t make decisions as an adult, so I get it.

But here’s where the story lost me for good, and there was no coming back:

  • Religion was used as a plot device without explanation. Elias uses it for his explanation of not doing anything more than kissing Clara, even though he wants to marry her. View Spoiler » There’s no furthering of these themes as far as reasoning, it’s just “I shouldn’t” or “it’s bad to…”, which really angered me. If you have beliefs, so be it, but they can’t just show up for five minutes and then run the hell away.
  • This is the worst for me. The worstand the reason for such a low rating. I am a pretty generous rater in general, but this made me so angry that I actually yelled at an inanimate object (my Kindle). It’s a spoiler though, so I shall hide it as such. View Spoiler » So much rage. original
  • My problems with the book never resolved. I am not saying that the plot didn’t resolve, I am saying my issues didn’t. Clara was bland, unlikable, and indecisive, and I still knew nothing about her by the end. Other than her need for a mental health professional (I don’t mean this offhandedly, I am serious). The guys were still annoying me. Things started happening very quickly and randomly toward the end too, to the point where I was certain that I’d missed a few chapters or something.

Bottom Line: Do you need one? I’ll spare you further tirades and outbursts and just call it a day. I guess it could be worse, I do have half and zero star graphics…? 1s

What say you, dear readers? Have you read either of these? Also, fun to note: I think this is my first one-star review, olé!

Posted August 31, 2015 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Dual, Review / 28 Comments

28 responses to “Dual Review: Similar Themes, Different Results

  1. Truest sounds good and love that cover. Has to Be Love was one that I kind of liked and didn’t bother me nearly as much. I think I looked at a lot of the stuff differently. I kind of liked Elias and thought he meant well. I agree that some major counseling was needed though. Great reviews!!

  2. I’m very skeptical in reading Truest. I’ve read a few negative reviews that have me pushing it back. Now, for Has to Be Love, i don’t recal reading a review but wow. Thank you for writing this review. I was interested in it and now, HELL NO. Very happy I didn’t request this one. I read the spoilers and yep, not reading it. Awesome review for both!

  3. I really love the chart you made and oh those last two differences…

    I’m really interested in Truest now! I wasn’t before, but since you like the characters a lot and the book,I’ll give it a chance. 🙂 Aw, I love that quote from Gordon!

    As for Has To Be Love (after reading the spoilers), er…I’ll be passing that one by.

  4. Okay Truest sounds AMAZING and Has to be Love just sounds awful. I went ahead and viewed those spoilers. I think I could tell in the first paragraph that it was not something I would enjoy either. Seriously, the attitudes about sex would just bug the crap out of me. And not because I object to people wanting to wait until marriage. But the whole attitude that sex or ANY kind of physical attraction is dirty and wrong makes me mad. That whole book makes me mad and I didn’t even read it. Great reviews!

    • Basically! That pretty much sums it up perfectly! And I agree- I don’t have ANY problems with someone having a legit desire and/or belief to wait until whenever they damn well please. But the way it was so random, and like, associating so much negativity, that is what bothered me. Thanks so much 🙂

  5. Yay! I saw this in my e-mail this morning and I was like oh goodness, please let Truest be the one that was good. I have been dying to read this one and seeing that you really enjoyed it makes me super happy. The other book just sounds so awful -.- Yuck.

  6. First, I love love love how you did these reviews! it’s pure genius to compare them and so cool/weird that you read them so close together without even knowing they were so similar! It’s really interesting to see how two books with such similar themes can be so different. Having read both reviews (and the spoilers, you can’t dangle spoiler tags in front of me, Shannon!) I can honestly say I wouldn’t touch Has To Be Love with a ten foot pole(or whatever that saying is). My biggest turn off with it is that this 17-year-old boy is building a house for them to live in???? WHAT!? You’re only seventeen! Truest on the other hand, I would consider. I tend to stay away from religion related books but at least it’s not overly preachy.

    • Aw thank you! I know- and it scared the CRAP out of me when I realized that Truest was similar! Because well, history hahha. And I know, so many people can’t resist spoilers, but they had to be done.

      YEP- who does that!? And did you read the other spoiler about him? THE HELL!? And Truest was very much NOT preachy, which is refreshing in a book that contains mainstream religion. I am really glad I didn’t know about the religion beforehand, because I might not have read it, and I would have missed out on a great book!

  7. Ok so I am glad that you loved Truest, and then I read your spoilers for the OTHER BOOK and oh man that just sounds like a pain to get through. Well thanks for reading the book for me, and I will probably never pick it up. 🙂

  8. I love your charts! So adorable!
    The religious angle in Has to be Love completely turns me off. As does the mention of two boys LOL. Not sure about Truest. I think I’d be really bothered by the romance. :/ But I’m glad you loved that one! I’ve heard good things about the writing.

    Great reviews, girl!

    • Aw thanks! Dude, you would have HATED Has to Be Love. Like, all the hate. Truest was a little better in that regard, in that it was more upfront- BUT I still think you may have issues with it, if I am being honest. But definitely check out whatever the author does next, because it was GOOD, I think you’d like that part of it! The characters were awesome too!

  9. I read Truest yesterday and was so pleasantly surprised by the characters. I mean Silas! *swoons* Do I need to say any more? I agree with everything you said in your review and although it wasn’t a 5 out of 5 star read for me, I am super, SUPER excited at the thought of more Jackie Lea Sommers books. *squeals* I’m really nervous about Has To Be Love now though. I didn’t want to review your review because of the spoiler warning but if it was similar but a bad similar,, I don’t know what to do ’cause that doesn’t sound very good and I have an ARC to read too…

  10. SO agree about Truest – I’m really glad I looked at this post (but didn’t really read it right away) because it reminded me that I needed to read it and the fact that you loved it gave me hope – I was feeling rather slumpish. Now that I’ve read and reviewed the book I came back to see your thoughts – and YES! (And thanks for warning me about that other one. 🙂

  11. Yes, I’ve been holding the email with this post in my inbox for *two weeks* just waiting until I had time to catch up. A whole week of jury duty really hosed up my schedule and I’m still trying to get thru my email inbox and get caught up. (Damn that civic duty!) You and I have discussed Has To Be Love before and have similar feelings… although it got you a bit more ragey than it did me. LOL I won’t reiterate what we’ve already discussed… but the book just wasn’t good. BUT… I’m totally looking forward a palate cleanser with Truest. I’m #2 on the hold list at my library so I should have it any day now. 🙂

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