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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
Two-Way Street - Lauren Barnholdt 2.5 stars Maybe it’s the onset of summer, or maybe it’s just my perpetually itchy feet, but I find myself drawn to road trip books recently. Having just finished and enjoyed Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, I went looking for another road-romance read and came up with Two Way Street. However, while there’s certainly a road in it, I’m not sure I’d classify this as a roadtrip book. I’d probably classify it under “Books That Really Irritated Me And Yet I Couldn’t Put Down.” Hmm. It seems I don’t have a shelf for that. Perhaps I should make one. The “forced into a confined space with another person” device has been used to various, though similar, effects in both fiction and film: a truth-serum/confessional scenario, a set up for, er, “resolving” some unresolved sexual tension, or just giving a faltering relationship a final shove in one direction or the other. In this case, recently broken up Courtney and Jordan are obliged to spend three days in each other’s company travelling to college, through complicated circumstances which are gradually revealed. Though we meet Courtney masking her raw hurt with snarky bravado, and Jordan being insensitive and apparently deliberately provoking, you just know all is not as it initially seems. Compelled into close proximity, the truth is going to come out, one way or another. I’ll start with the good. The structure of Two Way Street was really effective and well orchestrated. Barnholdt uses dual narratives, the story passing between Courtney and Jordan’s viewpoints. In addition, they recount not only the events of the trip as it happens, but also flashbacks of their relationship as it commences, then ultimately breaks up. In a sense, the story is moving both horizontally (between the narrators) and vertically (up and down along the timeline of their relationship) which pulls the story together into a tight weave of their perceptions and the underlying truth. I’ve probably made that sound a lot more complicated than it actually is – what I mean to say is that this is case where dual perspectives work really well, especially in terms of characterisation. Jordan, who initially comes across as a posturing player with a distinctly cavalier attitude towards his hook-ups and a distasteful habit of playing girls off one another in order to score, is eventually revealed to be a fairly decent guy who genuinely cares about his girlfriend. Courtney, riding high on her righteous anger at allegedly being dumped for a nameless MySpace girl MySpace, haha!, eventually comes to understand that she needs to address her true feelings instead of ignoring them. Additionally, I think that Two Way Street does tension well. The style in which the story is told means that the full picture of Courtney and Jordan’s relationship becomes steadily clearer, and as more information is revealed, the pressure between them mounts. It’s a fast moving story, helped along by Barnholdt’s measured hand with disclosing and withholding aspects of the full story. And the bad? Two Way Street just kept serving up a stream of stereotypes and high school clichés that I found hard to stomach. I’m not saying I don’t believe that there really are people who speak and treat each other like this. It was a while ago, but I was at high school once, so yeah, I get it. But sometimes it feels like lazy characterisation, and I’m left questioning whether it’s really necessary to keep perpetuating things like the token “slutty cheerleader” trope. Also, this: Preach, Tina Fey Ms Norbury! I liked Barnholdt’s writing and the style in which the story pulled together from different angles. I’ll definitely read more of her work, because while I didn’t particularly enjoy these characters, I did enjoy the way the author crafted their conflict. Similarly, though the drama seemed a little too over the top every now and then, there were some moments that felt genuinely (and familiarly) teenager-ish and were well articulated. Not totally won over by this one, but I’m optimistic that I’ll find another Barnholdt book I’ll connect to better.