Has To Be Love is a book that allows its characters to make mistakes, and I kind of respect that. I wasn’t in love with this book, but it did have some pretty positive messages and a satisfactory resolution. It will appeal most to YA readers who are facing the big decisions that come with the end of high school.
Years ago, Clara survived a vicious bear attack. She’s used to getting sympathetic looks around town, but meeting strangers is a different story. Yet her dreams go far beyond Knik, Alaska, and now she’s got a secret that’s both thrilling and terrifying–an acceptance letter from Columbia University. But it turns out her scars aren’t as fixable as she hoped, and when her boyfriend begins to press for a forever commitment, she has second thoughts about New York. Then Rhodes, a student teacher in her English class, forces her to acknowledge her writing talent, and everything becomes even more confusing–especially with the feelings she’s starting to have about him. Now all Clara wants to do is hide from the tough choices she has to make. When her world comes crashing down around her, Clara has to confront her problems and find her way to a decision. Will she choose the life of her dreams or the life that someone she loves has chosen? Which choice is scarier?
I liked this book because it felt realistic in terms of the inner conflicts that the protagonist must face. While her battles are unique in some ways, they are still universal – God? Intimacy? Love? Leaving or staying? Most teens nearing the cusp of their own graduation will relate to Clara’s feelings as she begins to make the big life decisions that will decide what direction her life will take. I was happy to see characters making good and bad choices and having to deal with the consequences – that felt very real to me. There are things I think will give some readers pause. The story does frequently insert moral and religious beliefs. It wasn’t invasive, but it was a Mormon faith focused book, so if you don’t like your books to incorporate specific faiths, you might skip this one. There is a relationship between a student and a long term substitute (they call him a student teacher in the book, but that isn’t really what he is because he isn’t under another teacher’s supervision and he isn’t a certified teacher). As a teacher, I was uncomfortable with that from the start and I think that the entire situation was kind of a mess prompted by a variety of bad decisions on the part of several characters. Ugh. Clara is a little bit immature, and she is hyper-focused on her number one priority – her facial scarring. I’m sure that would be my all-consuming thought as well, but it is a bit tedious to read about. Overall, readers who can connect with the pressures Clara faces will have the best chance of enjoying this book. Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.