Published by Blink on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
NO PLACE LIKE HERE Review
Christina June’s No Place Like Here is an engaging YA contemporary story about Ashlyn Zanotti, a young woman who lives in the shadow of an overbearing father who criticizes everything she does and tries to control every aspect of her life. When the story opens, Ashlyn has just returned home from boarding school for the summer and is immediately hit with a bombshell – her father has been found guilty of tax evasion and is going to prison, and her mother, who suffers from depression, has checked herself into a treatment facility. True to form, however, before being carted off to prison, Ashlyn’s father has dictated how Ashlyn will spend her entire summer. Instead of spending it poolside with her friends, Ashlyn is being shipped off to live with family she hasn’t seen in over a decade and will work at a remote wilderness retreat. Ashlyn is furious and frustrated, but as always, feels she has no say in the matter and passively accepts her father’s orders.
My favorite part of No Place Like Here is how much Ashlyn grows throughout the story. I think Ashlyn’s situation is one that will resonate with many readers – low self-esteem, overbearing parents, not feeling like you have any control over your life, etc. I just felt so bad for Ashlyn at the beginning because she seems almost beaten down by her father’s constant berating. She’s quiet and reserved, not really wanting to draw any attention to herself. I really loved the transformation that she undergoes once she is able to get out from under her father’s shadow. She makes friends, gains self-confidence, and finds her voice, even taking on leadership roles at the retreat. For the first time, she actually feels proud of herself and the work she’s doing.
I felt like a proud parent watching Ashlyn discover her own potential. While working at the retreat, for example, an inquiry from one of the guests inspires her to organize offsite tours for guests who would like to explore the surrounding area while staying at the retreat. She really takes ownership of the idea too, doing all the research and coordinating with local businesses to bring the project to life. In addition to that, she also stands up to the incredibly unqualified woman who has been hired to manage the retreat. When she realizes the woman is consistently being negligible in ways that could endanger guests, Ashlyn starts gathering evidence to take to the owners to help get the situation under control before someone gets hurt. Ashlyn’s growth and her determination to stand up for what’s right had me really cheering her on and hoping that when she and her father finally meet again, she will stand up to him as well.
I also really loved the way the author handled Ashlyn’s mom and her depression. It was done in a very positive way to show there’s absolutely no shame in seeking help when you’re struggling. I think that’s such an important message, so I was glad it was presented in such a way. I especially liked the conversations between Ashlyn and her mom where her mom discusses effective strategies she’s being taught to better help her cope once she has returned home.
The one thing about No Place Like Here that had me scratching my head was that I went into it thinking it was a Hansel and Gretel retelling based on something I had read about the book. I kept trying to bend the story in my mind to make it work as a retelling and just didn’t see it. After I finished, I saw a comment from the author where she describes No Place Like Here as loosely inspired by Hansel and Gretel and that’s a more apt description. I wish I had seen her comment prior to reading the book. It would have saved me some head scratching, haha.
Even with my misinformed belief that this was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, I still really enjoyed No Place Like Here overall. It’s a wonderful coming of age story, and with its wilderness retreat and summertime setting, it’s also the perfect beach read.
Ashlyn Zanotti has big plans for the summer. She’s just spent a year at boarding school and can’t wait to get home. But when Ashlyn’s father is arrested for tax evasion and her mother enters a rehab facility for “exhaustion,” a.k.a. depression, her life is turned upside down.
The cherry on top? Ashlyn’s father sends her to work with a cousin she doesn’t even know at a rustic team-building retreat center in the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed “indoor girl,” not even Ash’s habit of leaving breadcrumb quotes—inspirational sayings she scribbles everywhere—can help her cope.
With a dangerously careless camp manager doling out grunt work, an overbearing father trying to control her even from prison, and more than a little boy drama to struggle with, the summer is full of challenges. And Ashlyn must make the toughest decision of her life: keep quiet and follow her dad’s marching orders, or find the courage to finally stand up to her father to have any hope of finding her way back home.