Review: Don’t Look Back by Jennifer Armentrout

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Don’t Look Back by Jennifer ArmentroutDon't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Disney Hyperion on April 15, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Thriller
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

Samantha is a stranger in her own life. Until the night she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said Sam had it all-popularity, wealth, and a dream boyfriend.

Sam has resurfaced, but she has no recollection of who she was or what happened to her that night. As she tries to piece together her life from before, she realizes it's one she no longer wants any part of. The old Sam took "mean girl" to a whole new level, and it's clear she and Cassie were more like best enemies. Sam is pretty sure that losing her memories is like winning the lottery. She's getting a second chance at being a better daughter, sister, and friend, and she's falling hard for Carson Ortiz, a boy who has always looked out for her-even if the old Sam treated him like trash.

But Cassie is still missing, and the facts about what happened to her that night isn't just buried deep inside of Sam's memory-someone else knows, someone who wants to make sure Sam stays quiet. All Sam wants is the truth, and if she can unlock her clouded memories of that fateful night, she can finally move on. But what if not remembering is the only thing keeping Sam alive?

Jennifer L. Armentrout is one of the few super popular YA authors I’d actually never read. Actually, I was a little scared (okay, a lot scared) to try her books, because I wasn’t sure if they would be my thing. Then Don’t Look Back showed up on my doorstep as part of the Summer of Chills marketing campaign. Even though I was doubly skeptical about liking it, since I also am not much of a mystery reader, I decided to give it a try, because why not right? Reading a few chapters won’t hurt me. Turns out, I had a whole lot of fun reading Don’t Look Back. Well, played Disney-Hyperion.

The reason I’m not generally much of a mystery reader is that they tend to be more plot-driven than character-driven. Mystery readers like the whodunit and the howdunit. There’s nothing wrong with being into that, but I happen not to be. Don’t Look Back is definitely character-driven. The plot was highly entertaining to me, but I’m a bit skeptical as to the resolution satisfying people in it for the mystery element, based on the fact that I cackled madly through the ending.

The hook of Don’t Look Back is pretty awesome though. Sam comes to as she’s walking all covered in cuts, and has no memory of anything before that. In the hospital, she’s introduced to parents she doesn’t know and asked about the whereabouts of her best friend, Cassie, who she doesn’t remember. Needless to say, amnesia under such circumstances is overwhelming.

The largest conflict of the book isn’t really the murder mystery so much as the conflict between who Sam was before and who she is now. Sam’s having to deal with the fact that the person she was isn’t someone that the her now would have liked. Sam treated people execrably. Everyone tells Sam that she’s acting more like she did as a child, and opinions are split on whether this is a good thing or not. The reader’s opinion will not be split though; amnesia is clearly the best thing to ever happen to Sam.

What made me such a fan of this book is how many typical YA tropes it not only side-steps but subtly face-punches. There’s a POC love interest (he’s latino), but he never speaks in Spanish. There is one use of “exotic” as a descriptor, but that’s the worst trespass. When one of Sam’s friends from before calls him Española, Sam calls the girl out for not calling him by his name and for being “freaking rude, like, on a disgusting level.” Though Sam used to be just like that girl, the new Sam is the kind of person who calls people out for bullying. She does something similar to defend a girl who one of her former friends called fat. I wanted to high five her constantly.

The other big difference is how slowly the romance progressed. There was definite chemistry, but Sam and Carson were actually fairly logical about jumping into anything. On some levels it was too easy, but I liked that they weren’t totally driven by hormones. When her ex-besties told Sam some rumors, Sam actually confronted him about them, rather than just judging him by slander which might not be true. Also, Carson refused to start anything until Sam dealt with her boyfriend from before the amnesia. She actually takes the time to see if she and Del could have anything, giving her past self a chance.

Throughout everything she’s dealing with, Sam is honest with Carson. She keeps him in the loop. It’s AMAZING. This basically never happens in fiction, with conflict driven by all the things people don’t tell one another. She trusts him enough to tell him she thinks she may be going crazy. She makes some mistakes and jumps to some conclusions, but she’s always up front about things, which I loved about her. Also, I thought it was awesome that she was determined to find the truth, even though she was afraid it would implicate her. The new Sam is such an honest and direct person. It was really refreshing.

Don’t Look Back was greatly entertaining and had enough suspense to keep me turning the pages, even if I didn’t love the resolution of the mystery. I’m definitely more curious to check out Armentrout’s other books now that this was such a success.

Favorite Quote:

“I’m not okay with the fact that he did that, Samantha, but he’s young and he’s a male. God knows this won’t be the last stupid choice he makes in his life.”

“It will be the last stupid choice he makes that involves me!”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

I did not expect to enjoy this just like this dog did not expect this trampoline

I did not expect to enjoy this just like this dog did not expect this trampoline

26 responses to “Review: Don’t Look Back by Jennifer Armentrout”

  1. Cool, I remember that you said in the haul video that you wasn’t sure about this book. It’s great when books surprise us 🙂 There is something interesting about books with amnesia. I recently read one and I like rediscovering everything through the eyes of the character. The romance also sounds like THE romance I look for in books. You’ve made me a lot more excited about this book now.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Early Review 249. Julie Kagawa – The forever song.My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Ha, yeah, I really didn’t think I would like Armentrout, but I also like to try the physical ARCs that come to me, so I thought it was worth a shot. Super fun. 🙂 I’m often annoyed by amnesia books, but this one was non-annoying. Oh really? The romance is a friendship to love sort of thing.

  2. Oooo, this review makes me excited. I’m interested in the book and it’s good to see that this book surprised you, it’s the surprising ones that I take an interest in. The premise sounds fantastic and it sounds like it’s executed brilliantly! So glad you enjoyed this Christina, so so glad! 😀
    Amanda @ Book Badger recently posted…Book Review – Dark DaysMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I also love when books surprise me, at least in a good way. Sometimes I don’t love a book by a favorite author and I am sadprised, and that is no good at all.

  3. Kayla Beck says:

    I’ve never read Armentrout, but I’ve been seriously tempted by this book. (The others are a “no” for me.) Knowing how I am with mystery though, I’ll probably just read the first hundred pages and the last chapter. Too much suspense isn’t my thing.
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Review (Epic Recs): The Madman’s Daughter by Megan ShepherdMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Hmmmm, I would advise you on scariness, but books just don’t really scare me. I’m not a visual reader, so it’s all distant enough. Movies make me curl in a ball of screams and fear, though.

      • Kayla Beck says:

        Yeah, I don’t watch scary movies at all. Books generally don’t scare me unless it’s something psychological, but novels classified as YA that do that are few and far between. Well, religious horror also scares the snot out of me (I was raised as Baptist, so I’m doomed regardless), but I know to avoid that ish. *shudders*

        If there’s no Antichrist or Satan popping out of crap and snatching folks, I’m good.
        Kayla Beck recently posted…Author Interview: The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen KozeniewskiMy Profile

  4. I wouldn’t mind trying this book. I love YA mysteries, but haven’t found very many that I’ve LOVED. I tried starting Obsidian… but it was reminding me too much of Twilight, so I had to put it down. Hopefully this book is more mystery and less Edward 🙂 Great review!
    Michelle (Pink Polka Dot Book Blog) recently posted…Me Since You by Laura WiessMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      The mystery element isn’t the strongest part, at least the resolution isn’t, but I do think the mystery plot dominates the romance aspect. And the romance isn’t remotely Edward-Bella, so this one should go better for you. 🙂

  5. Oh reeeeeeeeally…

    I was not interested in this book. At all. Nope, not a bit, not even with it being from D*H, whom I usually love. And I was okay with that. But noooooo, you have to go and write a review that gets me all intrigued. 😛
    Shae/Shelver @ Shae Has Left The Room recently posted…#RBWL III: Return of the WishlistMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Hmmm, I’m not sure that this is a Shae book. BUT it was so much better than I ever thought it could be.

  6. Ebony says:

    I have yet to read an Armentrout book, and this one is quite intriguing to me…expecially after reading your great review!
    Ebony recently posted…Life of a Blogger #7My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      I think this one’s less romance-centric than her others. I’m definitely glad I started here, since I’m not sure how I’ll like the romance dynamics in the other ones.

  7. Nara says:

    Woah, this is definitely going higher up on my TBR list. The YA trope face-punching definitely deserves to be read asap. I mean, a Latino who doesn’t speak Spanish for every third word (don’t even get me started on querida and the like…god so overused) and a slow burning romance where the characters don’t randomly jump to conclusions? HECK YES.
    Nara recently posted…How to get into the mood… for the DIVERGENT movie!My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Yeah, I mean, I love foreign languages, but it’s so rare that a character with Latin ancestry isn’t constantly swearing or flirting in Spanish. Either have actual conversations with a family member in Spanish or just don’t. I do have a soft spot for querida because of Meg Cabot, but I read that way back when. I mean, she does jump to some conclusions, but then she asks about them. It’s pretty amazing.

  8. I’m so glad you liked Don’t Look back. I’ve read a ton of JLA books, and I’ve pretty much enjoyed them all. But this might be my favorite. I’m not sure if you would like the other books by her, though. There are definitely some tropes in her other books, but, hoenstly, they never bothered me too much.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Hmmmm, I like some tropes, but not a lot of the ones that crop up in paranormal romances. I’ll be trying the Lux books, but I’m a bit scared of them still. We’ll see. I now know her writing is fine, so that’s promising.

  9. Gillian says:

    Ooooo. *lifts one eyebrow, because I can do zat* Color me intrigued now. Much intrigued. Very curiosity. Such review.
    Gillian recently posted…Feeling En-Titled: Blood Daughter of the Shadow City of Stars and FireMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Way to rub your talented eyebrows in my face.

      *stops to ponder weird mental image*

      Very laughing. Such comment.

  10. fakesteph says:

    I haven’t read anything by Armentrout, but this sounds pretty great, so I may have to take a peek. Also, your reviews always make me laugh (“amnesia is clearly the best thing to ever happen to Sam.”).
    fakesteph recently posted…Fool Moon by Jim ButcherMy Profile

  11. I have not read any JLA yet either so you are not alone. I am not sure this will be my first but I am more interested in this one after reading your review than I was before. Maybe not for the murder-mystery but Sam sounds pretty great!
    Nicole @ The Quiet Concert recently posted…The Falconer by Elizabeth MayMy Profile

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