‘The Problem With Forever’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I want to say a huge thank you to Mira Ink for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide. 

‘Forever was something we all took for granted, but the problem with forever was that it didn’t really exist.’ 

 ‘Dusty, empty shoe boxes, stacked taller and wider than her slim body, wobbled as she pressed her back against them, tucking her bony knees into her chest.

Breathe. Just Breathe. Breathe.’

This opening sentence was the start of the prologue, and it was just too wordy for me. When you compare it to the first sentence of chapter one

‘A lot could change in four years.’

it’s not as effective. That short, snappy sentence leaves you wondering exactly what has happened in the past four years, and what we’re going to learn about our protagonist. Based on what we learn in the prologue, it’s obvious that she’s been through a heck of a lot, but knowing that the situation has changed gives you a certain amount of hope.

Mallory’s childhood was spent in a foster home with Miss Becky and Mr Henry. Both abusive drunkards, Mallory’s only respite was Rider Stark, her best friend and foster brother. When Mr Henry flew into a rage Rider would do anything to protect Mallory, despite the risk of him getting seriously beaten. 

One fateful night, Rider finds himself locked out of the house, leaving Mallory to fend for herself against Mr Henry. He ends up punishing her – throwing her prized possession, a doll named Velvet, in to the fireplace – but in her desperation Mallory dives into the fire after her doll. Rider can hear her screams from outside and managed to convince a neighbour to call the police, who take the children away from the situation, separating them from each other for the first time in their lives. 
Four years later, Mallory is on the mend. She’s living with her adoptive parents, Carl and Rosa Rivas, both doctors. Unbearably shy and uncomfortable speaking, Mallory wants to be able to move on with her life and become more independent, so decides to stop home schooling and finally enroll in the local high school.
What she’s not expecting is to be sat in class on her first day, and for Rider Stark himself to walk through the door. 

As soon as I pick up a contemporary and see that it’s nearly 500 pages, I die a little bit inside. It’s obvious that Mallory and Rider are going to end up together – come on, did you not see that coming from the recap? Do you even read YA?! – and taking that long to get to such an inevitable conclusion? Yawn. 
So I hadn’t expected to love this book as much as I did. There’s just so much going on! While the relationship is still quite obviously the main plot, there are so many absorbing subplots that I found myself flying through it (well, when I picked it up again – I read a large chunk of it a few months ago, but for some reason it just didn’t click with me like it did this time around).
This book deals with family relationships, friendships, social anxiety, illness and death, to name but a few.
Mallory’s relationship with her adoptive parents develops as she changes as a person: when she gets more confident, through her friends at school and her relationship with Rider, they learn to treat her as an individual and not to press her to follow their dreams for her. Rider doesn’t feel like a part of his foster family, even though Hector and Jayden – the grandchildren of his foster carer, and his best friends – see him as a brother. It really makes you think about what makes a family. It’s definitely not just blood.
Even though Mallory’s friendship with Rider develops into more, we also get to read the brilliant friendship between her and Ainsley – her best friend, who was also home schooled. Ainsley is amazing: I wish she could be my best friend. Hector is Puerto Rican, and he says some derogatory things to Rider in front of Ainsley, and she’s not afraid to call him out on the fact that he assumed the white girl wouldn’t be able to speak another language. She’s fiery and passionate (and brilliantly feminist!), but she also has her own plot – she’s rapidly losing her eyesight, and her loss teaches Mallory not to take things in life for granted.
The other thing that convinces Mallory to start living her life is the death of Jayden. He’s only 15, but because he gets involved with drug dealing he ends up getting murdered. Right in front of Mallory and Rider. Seeing potential snuffed out like that shakes Mallory to the core: Jayden was the first person who was nice to her at school, and he didn’t deserve to be murdered so horrifically. There’s a lot of judgment based on the neighbourhood that he lived in – people assume that he had no prospects anyway – and when Carl and Rosa use it as a reason for Mallory to stop hanging out with Rider, she passionately defends him. The life she has with the Rivas’s is all down to luck: why should people who have been less fortunate than her be judged for that?
It makes you ask yourself exactly how you react to people. Mallory’s judged instantly because of her shyness, but no one knows where she came from. Rider is judged for being a foster kid, when not many people realise that Mallory is also adopted. Hector and Jayden are judged based on their race and their neighbourhood. This book makes you want to take back every snap judgement you’ve made. It smashes apart stereotypes.
I’m trying not to mention the romance too much, because it’s standard fare. Girl meets boy, boy defends girl, boy and girl are separated and reconnect after years apart when they thought they’d never see each other again. It’s not ground-breaking stuff. However, I do want to give props to Jennifer for having Mallory and Rider discuss protection. They can’t have sex because they don’t have a condom, and they don’t take unnecessary risks in the heat of the moment – they make the sensible decision to do stuff, but not it. The logistics of sexual intercourse aren’t discussed often in YA because it’s seen to make things awkward – a brief break in the heat of the scene, fumbling with a condom – so I always applaud it when it’s included. It makes things much more realistic, and shows teens that your first time is not necessarily going to be a scene straight out of a movie.

This is only the second Jennifer L. Armentrout book I’ve read, and I didn’t really enjoy the first one. I’ve been wanting to give her writing another try since meeting her last month, so I’m glad I managed to get around to doing that. I keep hesitating about starting the Lux series, but it’s time to kick myself up the bum and get on with it, because I’m sure I’m going to love it.
If you like your contemporaries with a lot of swooning, some passionate kissing and a lot of serious moral questions, this will definitely appeal to you. Just keep the tissues close by, because it’ll get you emotional…