Summary: Growing up, Mallory Dodge learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. Now, after four years of homeschooling, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at a public high school. But she never imagined she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood. It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded.
Yet soon it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory must make a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants and the truths that need to be heard.
Genre: young adult, romance, contemporary
Rating: 2.5/3 stars
The young-adult contemporary genre is so difficult for me, because it’s often extremely hit or miss. Sometimes I love reading stories of high schoolers with OCD or bipolar disorder who meet a boy who accepts them for who they are. Sometimes I read stories about teenage boys who are battling schizoaffective disorder that made my heart ache. I cried vicious tears during The Hate U Give.
So I really thought I would enjoy a young-adult contemporary about a girl who escapes an abusive foster home and rekindles a relationship with a boy from her past while overcoming that trauma from her childhood. Sadly, I felt like The Problem with Forever focused so heavily on the wrong aspects of this story until the very end, which made it hard to enjoy.
Goodreads users classify this book first as young adult and second as romance. I figured I could handle that because the topic of foster care and abuse seemed so prevalent in the beginning. I don’t mind having some romance in a book, but I definitely never seek out books that are all about romance. Unfortunately I felt like that’s all this book was about, and then the author remembered there was supposed to be some other important factor, so she threw that in at the end in a rush. The story mostly focuses on Mallory rekindling a friendship with Rider, a boy who was in the same abusive foster care, and realizing they harbor stronger feelings for each other. Toward the end of the book, Mallory gets a glimpse into the “bad boy” life that Rider leads, and when something drastic happens, she finally finds her voice to defend Rider despite how troubled his life may look to others.
I will say that watching Mallory break out of her shell and overcome her childhood trauma was impressive and heartwarming, but the only reason she ever does so is because of a boy, which annoyed me. She spent years in therapy and getting love and encouragement from her newly adopted parents, and the book leads me to believe she never would have made any progress unless it was for Rider, which seems a bit unrealistic and cliched. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the scenes with Rider encouraging Mallory to give a presentation in front of her entire class, or to speak up for herself, but every other source of support in her life was thrown out the window because it wasn’t Rider.
Rider is one giant ball of cliché. To start with, his name is Rider Stark, which made me roll my eyes immediately. He’s a stereotypical bad boy who skips school, does graffiti art in his spare time, has dark swoopy hair that falls over his eyes (I honestly don’t remember what he looks like, but I’m sure he’s in a leather jacket most of the time). He doesn’t ever go to class or do any of his homework, but he has the highest grades in his year because he tests well. There’s just no way test scores will make you valedictorian no matter how smart your teachers say you are or how well you do on tests. He used to sell drugs, thinks he’s a total outcast and that no one cares about him, ad nauseam.
Mallory, or Mouse (arguably the WORST NICKNAME you could give a character, especially when it’s said by her love interest throughout the entire book), sees Rider as a damaged soul and vows to protect and fix him. She pushes him to apply for colleges and follow the path she thinks is right, and since this is a YA novel, that’s exactly what he does. Their relationship was so painful because it was so cliché and boring. Any fights they get into are immediately resolved, and Rider does whatever he wants, which makes Mallory assume the absolute worst has happened, and she forgives him because she loves him. Phew, no thanks. I know I was melodramatic as a teenager and thought the first boy I loved was my end-all be-all, that my entire world revolved around him and I couldn’t survive without him, but I don’t ever remember it being so stupid.
Despite disliking the characters and finding the plot to be so cliché, the biggest grievances I had about this book was the writing style. The story is told from Mallory’s perspective, first-person, so in the beginning there are lots of ellipses and breaks in the middle of sentences as she struggles with her words. It’s written the way she talks, and over the course of the book, as she breaks free of what holds her back, there’s less hesitancy in her perspective. That I was completely fine with, but I felt that the rest of the writing and style felt so childish and immature.
Mallory says things like “holy crap balls.” She recaps a story to her friend and “was periodically interrupted by her OMGs and squees.” There’s a scene where Mallory is sitting at lunch with some friends and joins in the conversation. This is her explanation of that:
“My eyes widened. Holy crap. I’d spoken without hesitation at lunch! Holy crap! No one recognized my internal freak-out over it, but I couldn’t believe it. I sat there and spoke with no problem. I needed to give myself a cookie.”
It was borderline insufferable to have this told from her perspective, and maybe I would have enjoyed this more had I not been reading about her “squee”ing over how totally hot Rider looked in a button-up shirt and jeans or how her heart totally fluttered and gave her butterflies that made her want to vomit when he kissed her cheek. And let’s not forget that their entire relationship is built on them being in the same foster home together, which would almost leave the reader with the impression that their relationship is more along the lines of siblings than romantic, but I digress.