When I started this blog, I specifically stated I did not want it to be like a lot of other author blogs where I talked about the process of writing or passed along tips on how to be a more effective writer. I also mentioned I wasn’t much interested in becoming a book review blog. I’m still not.
So when I was approached about possibly reviewing books, I was a little leery. I stated emphatically that I would not do it very often and when I did, I would be pretty selective about which books I reviewed. In other words, I acted like a diva.
But, since the request came from my publisher, I admitted that I was curious about one of their October releases that came out this past Tuesday entitled, Mile 21. Mile 21 is a novel by Sarah Dunster and the reason it intrigued me was due to the similar themes it had to my own book, The Reluctant Blogger.
The story centers on Abish Cavendish, a twenty-year-old student at BYU-Idaho who also just happens to be a widow. The book begins almost a year after the loss of her husband and follows her efforts to overcome depression, re-enter single college life (including roommates), and come to grips with the possibility of a relationship.
Sound familiar? I know. It’s The Reluctant Blogger, only 15 to 18 years earlier.
Except it’s not. And that’s why doing a review of this book is so difficult for me. I couldn’t help comparing and contrasting it to my book the entire time I was reading it.
Nevertheless, I will try and share my feelings about Mile 21 with as little influence from my own book as possible.
-This is a very well written story. Ms. Dunster does an incredible job of helping you feel what Abish is feeling. Sadly, that’s not always a very good place to be. Also, the author was very effective at shining a light on the ridiculousness of the LDS college singles’ scene, especially at a Church-owned institution. I thought when I attended Eastern Arizona College that it must be very similar to the experience I would have had at BYU or BYU-Idaho. Not so. Several times, Abish finds herself in deep trouble for things that were far less egregious than things I did at EAC. Needless to say, I am so glad I never had to worry about a curfew. Anyway, Ms. Dunster’s descriptions about college life in Rexburg were fascinating to me, an LDS outsider who experienced college at Arizona State (a one-time headliner on the list of top party schools in the nation).
-This book was not predictable. I mean, yes, you can probably guess where things will end up, but the journey getting there is not what I expected at all. And I enjoyed that. Some of the things that happened to Abish felt a little over the top, but again, because of Ms. Dunster’s ability to so clearly describe life in Rexburg, I had little trouble accepting them as reality at the time they were happening to Abish.
-I liked her main love interest. There isn’t much more to say except that often times this is the hardest character to get right. And Ms. Dunster succeeds mainly because she isn’t afraid to make Abish the bad guy. It’s much easier to make your love interest sympathetic yet real if you are willing to let your protagonist be an idiot sometimes. And Ms. Dunster handles this very well.
-I appreciated that Ms. Dunster delved into subject matter that isn’t fun for LDS people to talk about. I believe this makes for a realistic story and leads to meaningful conversations that are beneficial to our culture.
-This is a personal thing that I can’t handle in real life, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Too many conversations ended before they were done. Abish likes to throw verbal hand grenades that should lead to further conversation/confrontation, but then they don’t. It is understandable for the character because she prefers to put up walls between herself and other people. But I was often frustrated that not any other character ever called her on it. They simply let her walk away. I would have enjoyed a good blowout that forced Abish to either back up what she said or back down.
-The book is sad and frustrating and at times, downright depressing. It leaves you happy, but you have to be ready to wade through a lot to get there. If you aren’t ready to do that, this book isn’t for you.
Overall, I would recommend Mile 21 highly to someone who wants an entertaining read of LDS fiction that isn’t a glossy recruitment pamphlet for the faith or for BYU-Idaho. It emphasizes the need for family, friends and faith, but it isn’t afraid to explore some of the underbelly that goes along with our culture. For me, the experience was truly enjoyable.
Mile 21 is available on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever LDS books are sold.
I was provided a free electronic copy of Mile 21 in exchange for an honest review. Nothing more, nothing less.