Stowe-Away-by-Blythe-RipponStowe Away by Blythe Rippon is a new adult fiction that follows Samantha Latham from her freshman year at Yale through the beginning of medical school, and back home to the tiny town of Stowe, Vermont. I nearly stopped reading several times during the first half of Stowe Away, but I’m glad I persevered because it ended up being a beautiful story about rolling with the punches when life gets in the way of your plans.

Sam is brilliant, but her preference for books over people makes it difficult for her to make friends. Even still, she quickly becomes best friends with Natalie shortly after starting university and develops a crush on her that only grows as the years go by. Four years at Yale leads to beginning a split medicine and research degree in California, but her dreams come to an abrupt end when she has to go back to Stowe to become a caregiver for her mother after she has a stroke.

Her life and ambitions halted, Sam needs to figure out what her new future is going to look like. Thanks to a new friendship with Maria, an old high school colleague who runs the restaurant Stowe Away, maybe things don’t have to be as lonely as Sam thinks.

The Characters

So… I found Sam incredibly unlikeable in much of the first half of the book, mostly because of how she dealt with Natalie. The equal parts mooning over her and judging her as flighty and promiscuous was off-putting and the main reason I nearly bailed. But this is Sam’s book and her coming of age, and she is such a different person by the end. Her journey is poignant and worth following, and I was so proud of who she was by the end of Stowe Away, clearly an adult compared to the girl at the beginning.

There are three main ladies in Sam’s life: her best friend/mega crush, Natalie; her new friend and eventual girlfriend, Maria; and her mother, Eva. Because Stowe Away is told from Sam’s perspective, we only learn about them through her thoughts and interactions with them. Natalie is difficult to like because of Sam and what she wants out of their relationship, but it’s eventually through Maria that we can see how much she genuinely cares about Sam and their friendship. Maria is kind and generous, and teaches Sam that it’s possible to be brilliant and ambitious even without an Ivy league degree, but she really shines when she proves that she knows her own value and will only be with someone who sees it too.

Eva lives with the constant spectre of depression in the first half of the book, and although her stroke appears to have removed her mood disorder, she has to relearn skills like talking, walking, and creating her art. Eva and Sam’s relationship comes to its own new normal, built on love and understanding, and without any of the fear that was there when Eva lived with depression.

The Writing Style

I can’t tell if the pacing is slower in the first half, or if I was just so frustrated with Sam that it felt that way. It picked up for me in the second half, though, and then I couldn’t put it down. Stowe Away is well written, and Blythe Rippon particularly impressed me with her ability to clearly and compassionately show the difficult work it can take to rebuild your life when a crisis forces you to change directions.

The Pros

Stowe Away is a great example of how to do a new adult story that incorporates a romance without being a romance novel. The character work is done well, and I particularly loved Stowe as an example how community can emotionally feed you when you least expect it.

I also appreciated that Eva’s depression was depicted in a way that was honest, without being stigmatizing. Without giving away details, I will throw down a trigger warning for anyone who has an issue with reading about suicide attempts, although there is nothing graphic in the story.

The Cons

Is it fair to call Sam and her feelings about Natalie a con? They took away from my enjoyment of the book, but I don’t think we’re supposed to enjoy that part of the story, since that’s the place she needs to grow from. It’s certainly honest, just not attractive. Wait, did I just turn this con into a pro?!

The Conclusion

If you want something a little different with huge character growth, pick up a copy of Stowe Away. It challenged me and I’m so glad I read it. Now I need to go read Blythe Rippon’s first book.

Excerpt from Stowe Away by Blythe Rippon

It’s a bizarre thing to mourn a life lost when the person in question is still living, and Samantha Latham was mourning two.

The fact that her sense of loss— the loss of the life she had worked so hard to make for herself— felt commensurate with the physical loss her mother was living every day since being hospitalized , made Sam feel small and petty, but she couldn’t seem to stop. From the time she was twelve, she had designed a clear and specific future for herself, and only minor variations had altered that vision in the intervening decade. Now, she didn’t have it in her to imagine tomorrow. It wasn’t worth her time, really, since tomorrow would be the same as today.

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