This poignant book opens at a beery party that combines celebrating the high school graduation in Creek View, California, and greeting Josh Mitchell, once the town’s most famous ladies man, now home from Afghanistan after two years in the Marines. Witnessing the drunken, sex-obsessed graduates through the eyes of heroine Skylar Evans, the reader may assume that the “there” in the title is Creek View, just off Route 99, an hour’s drive from both Fresno and Bakersfield, surrounded by manure-smelling fields of cherries, strawberries, and vegetables, and consisting of a gas station, a run-down motel, a Taco Bell, a Subway, a street of run-down houses, and a trailer park.
For many of the graduates at the party, Creek View is “there.” They ask for no more than sex and booze – principally because they expect no more than low-paying jobs and double-wide trailers. Skylar’s best friend, Dylan, is an unwed mother, still living at home, and far more interested in maintaining teen cool than in considering long-term prospects for herself and her boyfriend. Skylar, on the other hand, sas a full scholarship to art school in San Francisco. Like her Hispanic friend Chris, who has been accepted at MIT, she has made herself a social outcast by taking “the pact” – no drinking or sex – to ensure getting out of town.
But as Demetrios eloquently demonstrates, Creek View is not “there.” The title comes from Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there,” and the plot concerns the struggles of Josh and Skylar to find a “field” where their slowly-developing, unexpected love can flourish. It’s a tough call. Josh has lost a leg – and worse, he has traumatically lost the Marine lieutenant whose friendship greatly expanded his intellectual and spiritual universe. Skylar’s art school future is threatened when her mother sinks into depression and drink after losing her job at Taco Bell. Burdened by dysfunctional families, continually beset by Creek View’s aura of failure, and facing Josh’s terrible PTSD flashbacks, the two of them manage to transcend their demons, in part by recognizing the hold their town has on them, and – in spite of everything – their attachment to it.
“I’ll Meet You There” is one of the few Young Adult books that looks beyond high school graduation into the choices facing 18-year-olds. Adults will find it a coming-of-age book set in a compellingly described landscape. Readers of all ages will find it a deeply moving tale about the imprisonment of small-town life, the boredom of poverty, and the temptation to use personal tragedy as a justification for wasting talent … and love.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington, and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.