She’s With Me
She’s With Me
“But where we going now?” I ask, already knowing but dreading to hear the answer.
“To challenge Ryan and take his money,” he says simply.
What if Dave’s there and said something? I don’t think he will because if he wanted to fight Aiden, he would’ve gone to him directly instead of beating up his girl to get to him. I freeze and Aiden looks at me funny before I shake my head to clear it and continue walking beside him.
I said his girl.
And the weird part? I like it. I like the sound of his girl.
Oh my God, I like Aiden. Like, more than a friend. Eff. My. Life. What is happening to me?
Aiden looks down at me and tenderly strokes my hand with his thumb, thinking that my racing pulse and tight grip is due to my nervousness about being near Ryan and the Silvers, not because of my terrifying revelation.
As we get closer to them, I know that I should feel more worried or nervous, especially since Dave and his friends assaulted me moments ago, but I’m not. I’m comforted by Aiden’s presence, and somehow I know that if shit gets crazy, Aiden‘s first priority will be to keep me safe.
Ryan leans against his Mustang, talking to some other Silvers. Dave is there, sporting a newly split lip and freshly bruising black eye, courtesy of Luke, and I feel my blood turn to fiery lava in my veins. I want to strut right up to him and castrate him where he stands. What kind of coward has his friend restrain a girl so that he can beat her up? Plus, he’s an even bigger coward because he only beat me up to hurt Aiden, since he’s too scared to face him one on one (which he should be, Aiden would totally kick his ass).
Amelia Collins is starting at a new high school and has the good/bad luck to literally run into handsome, mysterious, bad boy Aiden Parker on her first day. After a rocky start, (an incident which sends her to the hospital), Amelia is eagerly befriended by Aiden’s social circle. As the two are increasingly thrown together, she realizes that there is much more to Aiden than the vacuous jock she initially believed him to be. Though she is desperate to avoid personal entanglements, Amelia is drawn to Aiden and becomes entangled in major drama with his vindictive ex-girlfriend and with enemies at the rival high school. While she tries to savor her new social life, Amelia is haunted by a traumatic past and her critical need to maintain a low profile.
She’s With Me was originally published in 2015 on Wattpad, the successful Canadian online publishing platform where mostly amateur writers share their work for free. The novel and its sequels have attracted over a million reads. The print publication of this novel is part of a recent concerted effort by Wattpad to monetize their content, using traditional publishing, paid online stories, ad revenue and, especially, deals to provide content material for screen development. Will readers, libraries and schools pay for this series which has so far seen success only as a freebie? Perhaps. The target audience is a little narrow, really only teen girls from about 13-16 who are looking for escapism, but the combination of romance and thriller might be a winning commercial combination.
The major flaw of She’s With Me is the extreme melodrama of the story. Even when understood as a campy soap opera, many aspects of the narrative remain over the top. The novel includes an irredeemably evil bitchy villain, an abusive stepfather in jail, frequent fist-fights, clandestine nocturnal car races, menacing junkie brothers, deaths caused by drunk drivers, and a murderous stalker. This long list of plot features suggests an element of humour, but the book takes itself pretty seriously. It is the kind of story often written by teens, and it reminded me of cultural critic Tara Ariano’s hilarious novel Untitled: A Bad Teen Novel, written when she was thirteen. The story is pounded out as if by a sledgehammer, without nuance or subtlety, but this has not been a problem for many readers. The book ends, predictably, with a murder, an arrest and a cliffhanger. By this time, many readers will be hooked by the non-stop action and eager to find out what happens next in the sequel.
The major strength of She’s With Me is Amelia, a heroine who captivates readers, perhaps because she lives in heightened circumstances, but she is also a regular, conventional pretty girl anyone could aspire to be. She has all of the more typical worries and cares of a teen girl -- failed calculus tests, dealing with attention from boys, putting together a cute outfit -- as well as more extraordinary troubles, such as an absent mom, a dead dad, a tragic past and a killer stalking her. Jessica Cunsolo does an excellent job of balancing these two aspects and composes Amelia as a slate onto which many desires can be projected. Amelia is pretty and witty and a tough customer, an aspirational figure and a decent role model. Her character is well-developed, although the hints about her past often crop up in somewhat clumsy references.
There are a lot of similarities to the wildly popular, but often critically-disdained, “Twilight” series. She’s With Me is also the story of a special girl who moves to a small town and charms the most distant and beautiful boy. Like Edward, the vampire hero of Twilight, Aiden is sexy, secretive, smart, mysterious and protective. The main difference between the two books is that Twilight focuses on emotion while She’s With Me focuses on plot. Additionally, Amelia is tough and can usually stand up for herself, although there are so many disasters happening in her life that she can’t stay alive without being rescued. The way the romance is developed is deft and delivers what readers want from a love story playing out against a tense backdrop.
There are too many threats and dangers crowded together in this book. Many could have been removed while still maintaining the sense of peril and urgency. A party scene includes Amelia being almost sexually assaulted and multiple brawls which send a friend to the hospital with a head wound. When the teens head out to deserted rural roads to earn cash by drag racing, Amelia is beaten up and the police arrive, causing pandemonium. Some of this drama is reminiscent of the teen classic melodrama The Outsiders, and, with a little more subtlety, I think Cunsolo could have told a profound story about trying to navigate the difficulty and desperation of teen years.
She’s With Me is melodramatic and cliched, but, if you can look beyond the sometimes clumsy writing and inadequate editing, it is not hard to see what draws people in. The snappy wit of the outsider observer too good for everyone. A young woman who is not scared by high school popularity politics because she has bigger problems. A thrillingly mysterious secret. The opening chapter is quite bumpy, but, if readers persevere, it is easy to be entertained by this readable book.
Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent, editor and cultural critic in Vancouver, British Columbia.