Book Review: 99 Days

99 Days
Published By: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Page Count: 384
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult/New Adult - Contemporary

I love Katie Cotugno's debut novel, How to Love, so I was super excited to snag an early copy of 99 Days. Cotugno takes love and shines a light on the messy and complicated parts. Sure, we all want love to be the perfect fairy tale, but how many people really have those sorts of relationships? Young love is often the most brutal experience in one's life, but the tempest of emotion also leaves lasting scars that impact our adult relationships. I value Cotugno's work because it isn't all sunshine and roses. 

Molly had a seemingly perfect life before a huge mistake when she was fifteen derailed her life plan. She had the perfect boyfriend, Patrick, who had started out as the perfect best friend. Molly isn't sure where things started to fall apart, but an argument with Patrick leads to a break up which leads to Molly finding solace in the arms of his older brother, Gabe. Molly is frustrated with her choice and terrified that Patrick will find out and break up with her. She chooses to keep what happened between her and Gabe a secret, but secrets have a way of climbing to the surface to make themselves known. Molly's secret comes to life vividly and publicly when her mother uses it to write a best selling novel. Everyone in town knows the book is about Molly, Patrick, and Gabe. Molly doesn't get a chance to share her side of the story before Patrick breaks up with her and the town turns against her. Patrick's sister, Julia, is one of the worst after the incident. Her constant torment and bullying forces Julia to pack up and head to Arizona to boarding school.

Molly spends her Senior year alone in the desert without a friend and without a hometown. When summer break approaches, Molly knows she has to go back Star Lake until its time to move to Boston in the fall for college. The torment kicks back into full gear the moment people realize that Molly has come home. She must find a way to endure the 99 days until she can shake the dust of Star Lake of her heels for good.

While my heart broke for Molly throughout the course of this novel, I was frustrated by some of her choices. I don't condone cheating EVER so that was hard for me swallow, but in her defense Molly is not alone in these issues. The double standard for Molly and the boys made me livid. I don't understand why everyone in town chose to make her life miserable when she was a victim more so than the guys at times. There is never an excuse for bullying and slut shaming. Sure, she could have stopped things, but ultimately she was a pawn in a war the brothers waged against one another. I ultimately was okay with Molly because she is a dynamic character who uses her experiences to make herself into a better, more thoughtful person. I felt like the Molly at the end of the novel was someone who could make good choices and forge her way brilliantly through life, blazing a trail that would make people stop and notice. I enjoyed this incarnation of Molly far more than the one who wallowed in self pity and allowed others to determine her self worth.

The romance in this one was difficult as I had problems with both Gabe and Patrick. Also, a love triangle involving two brothers was colored with weird and awkward moments. It was hard to decide which one was better for Molly. Ultimately, all of those involved in the triangle can't see past their own selfishness a majority of the time to truly understand how a relationship should work. There were moments of true romance, but this is more a collage of the dysfunctional than anything to be emulated.

Romance aside, I really enjoyed the friendship dynamic between Molly and Imogen. These girls have had some problems, but it was nice to see them rise above those. I found that they were the symbol of how a positive relationship should work and I envied their communication by the end of the novel. I'm not sure that as a teen I had many friends that I could talk to the way these two girls converse. There was no judgment - only support and advice. Even when Imogen knows Molly is in the wrong she still stands by her friend and encourages her to do the right thing. We could all use someone like Imogen in our lives.

Relationships dominate 99 Days which made this novel highly appealing to me. I enjoy watching as the ebb and flow of life happens to characters. I found the resentment between Molly and her mom to be realistic and heart breaking; I kept rooting for some resolution between these two. I wanted to understand how Molly's mom could choose to use her daughter's dirty laundry as a literary fodder. It seemed wrong to break a trust and broadcast it to millions of readers. On the other hand, Molly should have been honest from the beginning. It's a complicated ethical issue; I'm interested to see other readers' reactions to this one.

Due to the age of the characters there was some behavior that would make this harder to recommend to younger YA readers - sexual situations, cursing, teen drinking.

Overall, I loved watching Molly work through the ghosts of her past and start to make plans for a better future. This one will really come down to how you see Molly. If you're firmly on her side as I was (in spite of her moments of bad judgment) then you'll enjoy the novel, but if you don't see her in that light you may have some trouble sticking with this one. I had to separate my choices and values from Molly's. Once I did that and decided to trust Cotugno's vision for the character, I lost myself in the complicated place that is Star Lake. 

One Last Gripe: I mentioned this in the review, but I can't stand the double standard for guys and girls in situations like this. Gabe and Patrick were not innocent victims. Molly did not deserve the sole blame nor did her actions in any warrant the way she is treated by people in town - particularly the other girls.

Favorite Thing About This Book: The complicated relationships

First Sentence: Julia Donnelly eggs my house the first night I'm back in Star Lake, and that's how I know everyone still remembers everything.

Favorite Character: Imogen - she is the one constant positive presence

Least Favorite Character: Each of the Donnelly siblings takes a turn in this role.

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.