What if your high school boyfriend – the one who abandoned you right before prom, who was your first love and shattered your heart - grew up and became a famous rock star? What if the millions of dollars he made all came from songs based on you, your relationship, your friends and family? And now you
have the chance to confront him? Would you be out
for revenge? For closure? In Dedication, authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus put Kate Hollis in just such a situation and leave her to fumble her way through the answers to these and many more questions.
The pair’s writing is comfortable - they’re also the authors of the much-acclaimed The Nanny Diaries - and they’ve come up with a reasonably jumbled way to tell this unique tale: by interweaving the present day (Christmas time 2005) with Kate’s growing-up years.
This technique is well presented and enables the reader to see just how relevant a person’s backstory remains in
her present, everyday life.
For thirteen years, she’s been followed by his songs, mocked by his lyrics, angry, hurt, and just plain wondering why Jake Sharpe walked away one day and left her behind. Now that he’s back in their hometown, Kate must decide what to do about it. Her original plan – to make him regret his entire existence – is not going exactly as she’d wished. When she sees him, will she be able to give him the satisfying cut-down that he so rightfully deserves? And how will she deal with all the feelings that have been resurrected just by being near him again? Will she leave her whole life behind? What happens to the accomplished activist/independent woman that Katie has become when she’s confronting both her past and her future – not to mention Jake’s place in both of those?
The best quality of this story is just how truly it is written – from the awkwardness and ‘almost-ness’ (that feeling of being on the edge, of being so close to…
something) of middle school, to the highs and lows, the invincibility, immediacy and seeming eternity of adolescence, and through the years of being an adult but not actually feeling or particularly acting like an adult - the authors’ keen observational eyes manage to capture the aura of each age.
Even though I loathe to use the word nostalgic to describe something so recent as the 1980s and
'90s, that’s exactly what it is: from the Johnny Depp memorabilia littering her walls to the Pogues and Guns and Roses playing in her walkman
- if you were a teenager during the last 20 years, you’ll have no difficulty recognizing most of these pop culture references. And the authors don’t just throw them in there randomly; for the most part, they enhance the story by giving a more intricately detailed setting and providing nuggets of information about the characters. There’s also a richness to each of the
characters, from Kate’s (far from perfect but absolutely loving) parents and Jake’s (less than loving but perfect seeming) parents to Laura (Kate’s best friend, confidant, and sister-of-the-heart since middle school), each of the supporting characters is as human and intriguing as the leads. The interactions and relationships between them all are a reason that Dedication is exhausting, complete, and utterly hilarious.
They’re also a part of what keeps this book from being
clichéd. As in life, you find yourself being logical and illogical at the same time: You can detest Jake and still feel sorry for him; you can be frustrated with Kate for not moving on and still understand her obsessive need for closure. Throughout, the authors show you, make you feel the different perspectives of each of the characters, so that by about mid-point, you’re not really sure what kind of conclusion would be the most satisfying. The massive scope of Jake’s betrayal – not only of Kate, but also of her family (whose marital troubles become Jake’s muse), and their other high school friends (who Jake fails to acknowledge as co-writers of his first - and biggest – hit) - should make him a character that is easy to hate, but McLaughlin and Kraus don’t give you that opportunity. As we see so much of Kate
and Jake’s initial relationship, we begin to understand just why Kate could love him so much and recognize that that love blinded her to some major flaws right from the beginning.
Although it’s likely to be marketed as ‘chick lit,’ I wouldn’t say that Dedication is a lighthearted or particularly easy read. Its format – the back and forth between the past and the present - its complex characters and its detailed plot all elevate it several steps above what I’d consider a fluffy beach
read. There were a few bumps in the road – some
Dedication is an absorbing and entertaining read.