Stray – Joni Johnson – Independently Published – published 22 March 2017
Lila Baxter, 17, is abandoned at a gas station in a small town when her father, who was taking her to live with her grandmother, has a lapse in sobriety. Lila is left alone, unsure of where she is, with no money, and no cell phone. Gas station cashier Vance Larson, 18, offers to help the unwanted girl. And how does Lila repay him? By unwittingly unhinging Vance’s whole life. Fixing the trouble she’s caused is next to impossible. And will any of it matter when her father returns?
Stray’s synopsis promised exactly what I love in YA fiction – tortured teens and a touch of romance. It reminded me of a story I read and loved many years ago by Cindy C. Bennett.
Lila has just graduated high school. She knows she only has a few days until she must find her own place to live, but she doesn’t expect her father to pack her into his truck and drive halfway across the country. And, despite his disinterest over the past years, nor does she expect him to abandon her in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Alone and unsure what to do she accepts the help of Vance, a (admittedly handsome) guy she meets, who takes her home. There she experiences the love of a family for the first time as Vance and his mother, Vicki, welcome Lila into their home and lives.
The pacing of Stray is rather slow. It does make the story drag a little, but the slow pace was nice in some ways, setting the tone of the book. The feel of the book is one of quiet contemplation, as Lila struggles with everything life throws at her. And there is a bit of action and plenty of drama in the story towards the end.
I felt for Lila. It can’t be easy growing up in a home where there is no love, only neglect. However I did find her character to be a little inconsistent. The majority of the time she is shy and unassuming. She keeps her head down and eyes averted, and yet other times she springs into conflict. She is also a tad hypocritical, judging other girls for the way they try to attract a boy’s attention and yet she herself openly admits to being good at getting a guy’s attention, even using a white nightgown and a directing question to do so. There is also a bit of name calling of the aforementioned girls, which I didn’t like.
The story begins with Lila’s last day at school and life at home, followed by her journey with her father. This certainly gives the reader a strong indication of how life has been for Lila in the past, but I thought the story became more interesting once Lila meets Vance and moves into his home. I particularly liked Vance’s mother, who is as strong as she is caring and motherly – exactly what Lila needs. Vance is also kind and caring, but wrestles with his past and the impact it has had on his family. There is also no shortage of drama, particularly involving an ex-girlfriend, as Vance and Lila quickly develop feelings for each other and Lila comes to terms with her new life.
Stray had a number of grammatical errors and inconsistencies throughout the book. There is nothing quite like a misplaced apostrophe to grab my attention away from the storyline! I believe that Stray would read a lot better after a really good edit.
I was pleased with the ending and how it didn’t discount Lila and Vance’s feelings, yet left room for them both to take control of their own lives. Overall, Stray is a sweet contemporary romance that, while it didn’t grab my heart, will suit readers who like complicated romances and stories about teens overcoming hardship.
The author provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Family, romance, abandonment, college, neglect, high school, relationships.
Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.
Advisory: Sexual references, vague references to a character’s past sexual relationship, references to desire, character assumes main characters have slept together. Occasional coarse language, wh***, bit**. Hand-to-hand fighting, references to previous physical abuse and past fist fights.
Published: 22 March 2017, independently published by the author.
Format: Paperback, ebook. 336 pages.