By Your Side by Kasie West
HarperTeen, 2017, 352 pages
Young Adult Fiction/Romance

In Kasie West’s By Your Side, Autumn has plans to head out to a cabin with her friends for the weekend and is about to hop in her crush’s car when she realizes she has to use the restroom. She runs back into the library — only to be locked inside. And what’s worse, it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, so she’ll be in there until Tuesday morning. It’s bad enough to be trapped in a library, but things take another dive when Autumn discovers she’s not alone. Dax, the local troubled kid, is there, too. With three days stuck together, Autumn and Dax have plenty to learn about each other and plenty more to sort through once they’re free.

Look, I’m a librarian. Books about books and/or libraries is for me what catnip is to my cat. (Probably one of my favorite episodes of Arthur is “Locked in the Library!”) So when I saw my local library had a copy of this book on order, I immediately placed a hold on it and waited with anticipatory glee until it arrived, was processed, and placed neatly on the holdshelf for yours, truly. I have some disappointing news for my fellow books-about-books lovers: By Your Side is not a book about books or even a book, really, about being trapped in a library. While a good deal of the plot takes place in the public library, most of it does not — and the parts of it that do are pretty devoid of all things libraries.

I could forgive that. We all know (at least those of us in public libraries know) that getting teens into the library and, y’know, reading, is hard. So it’s not totally unreasonable that fictional teenagers trapped in a library for a three-day weekend might be more concerned with food and warmth than they are with books. I guess. (I kid.) But the primary issue I had with the plot was that it was totally implausible. West runs her two teens through a whole series of attempts to escape — they consider pulling the fire alarm to get fire trucks, and therefore adults, at the scene; they pull at the bells in a tower to alert nearby individuals that there are people inside; they yearn for their cell phones, which are conveniently unavailable or out of minutes; they look for a panic button under the circulation desk. But it never occurs to them to either put a sign in the window or use a landline. I realize landlines are a bit archaic (again, I kid), but if Autumn went behind the circulation desk to look for a panic button, I’m just not willing to believe she didn’t see a phone. Yeah, okay, maybe she would have had to dial the 9 to make an outgoing call (though she might’ve just called 911 and the whole thing would have been wrapped up), but there’s really no way around this. I try to suspend my disbelief for fiction, I really do — but this was just too absurd to me.

But moving on. Autumn and Dax, despite having three full days to get to know each other and expose their personalities, are kind of flat and boring individuals. Autumn’s defining feature is her apparently-clinical anxiety and Dax’s, his troubled-and-mysterious past. And, really, that’s about it. Autumn does not seem to have any significant interest in anything beyond her relationship with her crush, Jeff, and Dax’s interest extends only to escaping his foster home when he turns eighteen. Either of these might be interesting in depth, but the superficiality with which West explores these characteristics leaves Autumn and Dax two-dimensional and any potential chemistry between them is all the more diminished for it. (I also have to note that West apparently named Autumn after one of her daughters, which I just couldn’t get out of my head as I read, thanks to the dedication of the book. So uncomfortable.) The simplicity of the characters ultimately made for some pretty predictable content, too.

West’s prose in By Your Side is basic and unremarkable. Though easy to read and straightforward (perhaps an option for reluctant readers who seek something that is really very basic), for the bookworms this novel might pretend to appeal to in its marketing, the writing disappoints. There are no significant faux pas in the style, it’s just bland and uninspiring.

West has several other YA romances (you’ll notice the covers are all variations of the same image) and, while I haven’t read them, I get the sense from By Your Side that they’re probably pretty generic and formulaic. It’s hard to do that kind of thing well, but West’s work here really suffered. Though a few moments (particularly a late scene with Jeff) stood out as well-done, By Your Side is overall not as pretty inside as its cover. This one gets one-and-a-half hearts.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤