180 Seconds by Jessica Park
Published by: Skyscape
Released: April 25
Read: April 22 2017
180 Seconds attempts to celebrate what’s good and positive about social media. While it also shows its ugly and vicious side, it tries to say most people are good, and if when given a chance, they will show kindness and care.
Esben Baylor is a social media celebrity. His social experiments reach out to strangers and exposes life in its grimness and glory. He doesn’t seem to gain any financial rewards, but Park is evasive about that. We see him through the eyes of the protagonist Allison, an anxious college student who spends most of her days alone and lonely. She faces the world by placing impenetrable walls around herself. Apart from her fierce best friend Steffi, who lives on the other side of the country, and her adoptive father Simon, Allison keeps everyone else at a distance. Then she meets Esben, and everything changes for her.
While we watch Esben and Allison fall for each other, there is a sense of inevitable disaster. There is too much happy, too much going right. Allison realises her boyfriend is a social media superhero, someone who embraces all that’s good in the world. She has never been on these networks, so her naivety is romantic and a novelty. The trope of the love interest showing the innocent new and wonderful ways to experience the world is strong in romance novels. Esben is thoughtful and humble, and exactly what a lot of readers want in their love interests. He does hide some secrets which have impacted on his life choices, but the author sets him up as the ideal antidote for Allison’s wariness and regimented life.
Their relationship is portrayed as strong and unbending. Which means of course, it will break. In the meantime, it is excellent to see Allison be brave and reach out to Esben’s sister Kerry, and a college roommate, Carmen. She is rewarded with two new strong friendships. Another positive element is Allison’s realisation of how much fatherly love Simon provides, and by just acknowledging his efforts and finally calling him ‘dad’, she can return his affection. Sometimes it’s that simple.
But the disaster, when it finally arrives, is predictable yet jarring. I found Steffi’s demands unrealistic. I understand the reasons why the author takes this route, and I was moved by the subsequent scenes, but I also felt a bit manipulated. Despite this, I cried a lot. Some of it is quite powerful. It’s hard to talk about what happens without giving away spoilers, but many readers will work it out themselves, and maybe save themselves tissues.
My copy was provided by publisher via Netgalley and read with thanks. Recommended to readers who have previously enjoyed Park’s other novels, and to romantics who like their stories full of perfect relationships, and drama that is explained and resolved. I would argue this is New Adult because the characters are in college. There are references to sex and a rape that occurred in the past, and the characters drink (underage by American standards).
180 Seconds is out on April 25th.