If I Tell by Janet Gurtler is a Contemporary novel about young Jasmine, a girl who feels stuck in the middle, always in some in-between place where nothing is satisfactorily resolved, there is no happy median and she's confused about what to do and how to feel. She's half black/half white and doesn't know how to reconcile the two halves of herself. She's shy and scared of the people around her (with good reason) so she ignores them but they ignore her too. She doesn't want to be friends with the people in her town, but she's desperately lonely, even though she tries to hide it. But worst and most terrible of all, is seeing her mother's boyfriend passionately kissing her best friend at a party and then having her mother tell her she's pregnant again. What is she to do? Tell her and ruin her happiness? Or keep silent and have it eat at her?
Jasmine is a strongly real character, even if she's not a particularly strong person. Which I liked. I love me some really strong female characters, but lets be honest. How many of the girls you knew in high school were really and truly strong. Jasmine does what she can with what she has and I seriously respected her a lot of the time, but she's very withdrawn and she doesn't have a lot of healthy ways of dealing with things. She tends to internalize her pain and then she dwells on it. While I don't agree with a lot of the decisions she made, and there are very obvious differences in our lives, that's how I dealt with a lot of stuff, especially in high school. I find it easier to pull the pain or sadness in and put up a front than to work through it, deal with it and let people help me. It was a conscious decision for me to start letting things go, to start finding healthier ways to deal with things, so I can certainly sympathize with how Jasmine felt through a lot of the novel. k
I was honestly surprised by just how much I really liked this book. Gurtler's writing is strong and realistic and very, very well done. I figured I would like it, enjoy a nice Contemporary, but I didn't expect to get quite so pulled into Jasmine's world. Knowing how torn up about things she was really got to me. I felt for her. Her mom's boyfriend, Simon, has been an important part of her life. Her own father walked away from her mom when they found out she was pregnant, and wants absolutely nothing to do with her. He has his own family now, and has still never acknowledged her. She has really struggled with this (as is expected) and Simon has helped fill that void for her, talking to her, being there for her and just being a solid rock that she can count on. He fits the role of both father and friend and they are incredibly close. Seeing him kissing her best friend (who is quite a few years older than Jasmine, so at least it's not like, young girl creepy) really tore her up and she can no longer stomach being around him, which makes it all the harder, given their previous closeness.
Everyone, her mother, Simon, her grandmother (who raised her since her mom was too young and... ya... to do it herself) all believe that she's just jealous of the new baby, especially because Simon has made it clear he won't abandon them. She's not. If she had found out about the baby before seeing Simon, she would have been thrilled. But how can she be happy now?! And how can she tell her mom what she saw when she's so miserably pregnant and insecure enough?
And right there is the only part of the book that I didn't really love. Jasmine decides in the beginning of the book that she is going to keep this from her mother, that there is no way she can tell her and ruin this for her. But a 16 year old girl should not have that responsibility, should not have to deal with something like that. And while, I understand the decisions she made throughout the book, while I get where she is coming from, that is also not something I believe you really have the right to keep from someone. For me personally, I would want to know. No matter what the situation, I would want to know. But, on the other hand, it's not really my right to judge what is best for someone else. And so, it bothered me on a personal level, but for the story, I completely understood it.
I can't finish off this review without saying more about the side characters. Although Jasmine doesn't have a lot of friends, she has Lacey, an older girl she works with who has been there for her for a long time (which is why it's again so devastating to see her kissing Simon), she has Ashley, a new friend (not sure how solid/strong they are quite yet) who doesn't demand anything from Jasmine and just wants to be friends and then Jackson, a new boy in town (super good looking) who is also interested in Jasmine and keeps trying to get her to open up to him. (Not to mention the memory of an awesome and loving Grandpa who Jasmine thinks about constantly when she's trying to figure out the right thing to do). I loved Jasmine's support system and I loved watching Jasmine begin to realize more and more that they were her support system, that they were there for her and that they cared about her. Simon and Lacey are also included in this group of friends, as is her mother, who has always been more of a sister/friend than a mom, but Jasmine pulls away from all of them (but especially Simon and Lacey) because she can't deal with the intense betrayal she feels.
This is a strong Contemporary read that has definitely piqued my interest in Ms. Gurtler and has me wanting to find a copy of her debut novel as well as watch for anything coming out in the future. I liked that this book didn't shy away from some of the hard stuff, and that Gurtler was brave enough to take this book in what could possibly be unpopular ways. Not everything is resolved to perfection, but it feels like real life, which is rarely tied neatly with a bow. It's a moving and complex story and one that will leave you with a lot to think about by the time you turn the last page.