Whitley Johnson's dream summer with her divorced dad has turned into a nightmare. She's just met his new fiancee and her kids. The fiancee's son? Whitley's one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin' great.
Worse, she totally doesn't fit in with her dad's perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn't even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she's ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn't "do" friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn't her stepbrother...at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.
Filled with authenticity and raw emotion, Whitley is Kody Keplinger's most compelling character to date: a cynical Holden Caulfield-esque girl you will wholly care about.
There are aspects of this book that I really liked and aspects I really did not. Whitley is a difficult protagonist. She’s on the brink of insufferable. She’s very bratty and basically has a drinking problem. But at the same time, you get why. She has selfish parents and she’s neglected. When tough, cynical Whitley focuses on family- how much she wishes she had one, how glad she is to finally be getting one- I loved her. When she’s snapping “Whatever” at her perfectly nice future step-family, I kind of wanted to shake her.
The emotional progression of the story is expected but very sweet. Whitley finds all the things you want her to find. Love, family, home, a best friend. She learns to stop harming herself. She learns to confront her absolutely terrible father. He didn't tell her he was remarrying until they arrive at the fiancee's house and he says, "Surprise!". He forgets about her, neglects her, and makes it clear he prefers his new family to her.
I greatly enjoyed Keplinger’s first book, The DUFF. Nightmare is pretty similar but somehow not quite as excellent. Keplinger’s writing is to the point, honest, and unafraid. She delves into how teens really are. They’re messy and messed up. She’s low on plot and high on character development, which is why I suppose Nightmare just didn’t set me on fire.
It didn’t surprise me. It was a fun, quick read that went exactly to formula. It was a retread of Carmen’s section of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants- admittedly a sexier, darker retread. Whitley’s bond with her new stepsister is cute. Her romance with her new stepbrother is appropriately steamy if slightly under-earned. Whitley has her moments of snark that made me laugh, and I always sympathized with her, even if I didn’t always like her.
Then came the cyber-bullying. I won’t give what happens away, but it was a plot point that I couldn’t quite get a handle on. I wanted it to be a slightly bigger deal than it was. Everybody got over it very, very quickly.
This review sounds a lot less positive than I meant it to. At the end of the day, I liked this book. I like Keplinger as a writer. I would recommend The DUFF. Nightmare is probably a good summer-ish read if you want romance, a slightly dangerous, raunchy protagonist, and a plot that dabbles in a lot of teen issues. It doesn’t cut as deeply as The DUFF did, emotionally speaking. The romance isn’t as developed, the issues don’t feel as fleshed out. Whitley is a different sort of character, and I ended up enjoying her, but I don’t think her story delivered all that it could have.
Note: while I don’t mind books that are “unclean”, be warned that this book is very open about sex, drinking, and swearing (f words, s words, b words, d words). It’s not graphic but it certainly alludes to teenagers hooking up.