When we first meet Holly, she is jammed into the backseat of a car, losing her virginity to Paul, a popular guy from school who she hardly knows. She assumes it to be a one-night-stand because she’s not his type and he already has an on-again-off-again girlfriend. When Paul comes back for more, they start having secret sex in her bedroom late at night. She desperately wants to feel good – to fill the emotional void left after her mother’s death – and her relationship with Paul helps her to feel desired and loved. The sex is exciting for her at first, but their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as Holly gets to know and like Paul’s on-again girlfriend Saskia and as he proves to be creepy and controlling. And it is hard keeping things from her best friend Nils, whose relationship with Holly is seemingly platonic but hints at the possibility of becoming more.
He kissed me. And it wasn’t like last time, in the car. Last time felt wrong, but this time felt great. So funny, how something so wrong can feel so right. How before at the beach it all felt so empty, and how now, hating him and wanting him and feeling guilty about Saskia all rolled into one really wonderful feeling. (p. 56)
Holly is a complex character. The reader can feel for her and root for her, while at the same time Holly’s making some pretty awful mistakes that could hurt some of the people that she cares for the most. At some point, like Holly surely did, you just kind of wish that Paul would go away and you could forget that anything happened and Holly, Nils, and Saskia could be BFFs forever. In Nothing Like You, Strasnick sought to explore the mystique of the “other woman” – how when you develop an interest in someone, a special “other” in your crush’s life can pique your curiosity. Paul adds to Saskia’s intriguing otherness by informing Holly that she is nothing like her (hence the title). This makes Holly feel both special and insufficient, depending on which young woman Paul’s attention is directed towards. His statement also makes her wonder, who is Saskia, and if she’s nothing like Holly, who is Holly? As the two young women get to know one another, Holly realizes that they have more in common than Paul would have her believe. Saskia is sweet and it warms (yet also breaks) my heart when Holly admits to feeling love for her. Nils’ and Holly’s little clubhouse friendship is very endearing and brings up memories of fearing that romance/sex could affect “the way things are”. Paul, on the other hand, is a manipulative jerk who clearly doesn’t care about Holly or Saskia. It is frustratingly sad that Holly gets herself stuck in a situation where she is risking her friendships with two truly decent individuals by hooking up with such an awful person. Some readers may be unsatisfied with the conclusion of the story, but I respect Strasnick for staying true to her characters and concluding Holly’s journey in a realistic and not at all drawn-out way.
Feel free to check out Nora’s interview with Lauren Strasnick about her latest book Her and Me and You. Strasnick is also currently the reigning champion in my informal YA book trailer competition. I find that most book trailers are reminiscent of poorly produced fan videos, while others tell far too much of the story or fail to grab my interest. Strasnick’s is cute, attention-grabbing, and sums up the plot without giving too much away. Well done, Lauren!