Start Here by Trish Doller

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

Start Here by Trish DollerStart Here by Trish Doller
Published by Simon Pulse on August 13, 2019
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
AmazonThe Book Depository

Two teens go on a life-changing sailing trip as they deal with the grief of losing their best friend in this heartwrenching, hopeful novel from the author of Something Like Normal and In a Perfect World.

Willa and Taylor were supposed to spend the summer after high school sailing from Ohio to Key West with their best friend, Finley. But Finley died before graduation, leaving them with a twenty-five-foot sailboat, a list of clues leading them to destinations along the way, and a friendship that’s hanging by a thread.

Now, Willa and Taylor have two months and two thousand miles to discover how life works without Finley—and to decide if their own friendship is worth saving.

From acclaimed author Trish Doller comes a poignant tale of forgiveness, grief, and the brilliant discoveries we make within ourselves when we least expect it.

Trish Doller is one of my favorite authors who writes books that don’t necessarily sound like my thing. Emma Mills and Tessa Dare, for example, right books that sound 100% like books written for me. Doller’s tend to sound much more intense and darker, so, while obviously they’ve been interesting enough for me to pick up, it’s always accompanied by a frisson of nerves. Start Here unsurprisingly didn’t sound totally like my thing, but on the knowledge of how good all her prior books were, I downloaded a review copy. As expected, the book focuses less on romance and more on the emotional and physical journey, but it’s also very excellent.

The premise of Start Here is a familiar one: a dying friend left a list of clues for her friends to solve as they sail from Ohio to Key West on a trip meant to be for the three of them. There are not-quite-innumerable books about the grieving dead friends, lists left behind, and/or emotional journeys spurred on by directions from a loving friend. Though the premise itself didn’t feel particularly fresh, the way everything unravels does feel unique to the other narratives with a similar premise I’ve read.

That said, the one weakness of the book from my perspective was the character of Finley, who dies of cancer at the start, after a sole POV chapter where she’s planning the list. Finley doesn’t get enough development, and because both Taylor and Willa idolize her, she can feel like a manic pixie. Admittedly, many people might seem like manic pixies viewed through the lens of their best stories, so maybe that’s making an interesting point about memory? The other issue I had with Finley is that the clues seemed needlessly vague. The girls swear they know what she meant, but in some cases I really think they were guessing and could have been wrong. Doesn’t really matter for the emotional journey, though, which also may be part of the point.

Start Here uses dual third person limited POV’s (aside from Finley’s opening chapter), alternating between Taylor and Willa. The two were friends when the group was younger but later had a painful friendship breakup. The tensions between these two really drive the novel, and their character arcs are brilliant. That’s the central core of Start Here, and it’s a solid, emotional one.

Also, as anyone who has ever been in a friend group of three knows, that’s a very difficult dynamic to sustain. With three people, there’s usually either two who are closer leaving the third feeling left out or that one person the other two both have a closer bond to whose attention they compete for. The latter is true in this case. Finley’s the glue holding together Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (their friend group name and the name of their sailboat), but it’s ultimately jealousy over time spent with Finley that pushes Willa and Taylor apart.

Obviously Start Here is a book about grief, but it’s not focusing on the depression part of grief. Though the premise is sad, the overall vibe of the book is much more hopeful and inspirational. Having watched a friend grieve this year, the timeline seems a bit optimistic for them to be doing this well, but the emotions themselves do ring true. The journey does probably serve as a great distraction from some of the pain while also being a wonderful way to remember Finley.

There are serious road trip vibes to Start Here even though obviously it’s a boat trip. But they’re not isolated on the water, stopping regularly in towns and cities and even having visits from family and friends in a few places. Though many of the places they stop aren’t high profile or glamorous, the book definitely reminded me of how many cool places there are in the US and how you can find the fun anywhere if you look for it. I have a tendency to be more interested in places overseas, and I feel like Start Here was a nice perspective on what we have here.

There are romances in this book, which I was afraid there wouldn’t be, but they definitely are not on the forefront of the novel. In fact, they’re open-ended and mostly take place within a couple of chapters. Still, I will say that there’s one f/f romance (Taylor’s bisexual), which is cute, and I wanted more. Willa has a couple of love interests, and they’re both so well-written. Though it’s not a romance, this book made me want to read Doller’s romances again because I’d forgotten how amazing she was at writing sexual tension and chemistry. The small tidbits here reminded me hard. Maybe time to binge some backlist?

One slightly strange thing I really loved about Start Here is the tenuousness of Willa and Taylor’s relationship even at the end of the novel. They’ve rebuilt their relationship somewhat on a new foundation, but neither of them is totally sure they will continue to be friends from this point on. They might, but they also might find that they do not have much in common aside from Finley. Either way, though, they both understand it now, and they would grow apart with positive feelings rather than negative ones. It’s very much a fact of life that some friendships don’t survive high school, and these girls are, as the title says, only just starting out.

There’s a reason Trish Doller’s on my favorites list, and I always feel a bit more admiration when I love books I normally don’t think I would.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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