Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that’s impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father’s unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn’t take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?
In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.
But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone’s heart survive?
If I was asked to name a novel about that moment when a teenager become a (young) adult, This is Not a Love Story would be one that immediately springs to mind. Keren David has a knack for writing books which are thoroughly contemporary and real, and I loved her previous titles, but this one feels even more special. Our two main characters find themselves away from their comfort zones and the atmosphere of safety that they have been brought up in and they learn to make decision for themselves, look out for others and, quite simply, grow up. Not in the sense that they were childish before, no, the real growing up you do when you have to leave the sheltered part of your life and become your own person. The setting of Amsterdam is a delightful addition and makes the book an even more fascinating read.
The story follows Kitty who is trying to reinvent herself in Amsterdam through the lens of her Instagram account and the approval of her newfound “fans”. She moves there when her mom gets a new job and she is trying to leave behind the girl with the heart condition who could drop dead any minute to become a more carefree girl who can be anyone she wants to be. In Amsterdam, Kitty meets Theo who has been shipped off to Amsterdam after embarrassing his family with his love life. In London, his family is anchored in a small Jewish community where everyone knows everyone else’s secrets and Theo’s secret isn’t so secret anymore. This is a bit of a spoiler (hopefully I won’t give too much away) but I can’t not talk about this aspect. I’ve seen a tendency in YA books to trivialise relationships between teenagers and adults and sometimes romanticise them and I was so relieved to read a book where the subject is talked about (as it should, because it happens in real life) in a realistic way that gives the scope of reactions people would have in this circumstance. Though we don’t see the story through his eyes, I loved the character of Ethan in the book whose story is intertwined with both main characters. Ethan is the son of Paul who is dating Kitty’s mom; he is also close to Theo.
Theo’s storyline was the one that really fascinated me and I was eager to read his chapters to see more about his feelings about religion, his family and himself. Theo is a bit troubled and doesn’t realise at first the gravity of what he got himself into. He is upset to be sent away, especially when his mom is having health issues. I genuinely loved to see him get used to his new life and try to assess his feelings away from the at times claustrophobic close-knit community he lived in in London. It was great to read about his religion and how he felt about it but also read about being Jewish in Amsterdam and how young Jewish teens today don’t always fully grasp what happened during the Second World War. Theo is experimenting with his personality and feelings and when he gets closer to Ethan, realises that there might just be a word for what he’s feeling. I found it so interesting how the theme of sexuality is developed and how undefined it first feels to Theo. Sometimes, one just needs to meet the right person in order to be able to put some feelings into words.
The diversity in the book is what gives me hope that YA (and in particular UK YA) can get out of the bland white straight Christian middle class cosmos it has been known to hover towards. There’s been the “characters who happen to be…” (and you know my opinion about that) movement, and the try-too-hard to make it diverse books that are sometimes very prejudicial. Where this book gives me hope is that the story is about people who have to deal with their lives. The characters are raw and real, they make mistakes and are reckless and their lives just aren’t going the way they planned. It is a testament to Keren’s talent that each character jumps off the page and comes alive in the story. I loved the cultural diversity that comes from being brought up in different circumstances and how linguistic or religious differences can be so crucial in our relationships with other people.
All in all, This is Not A Love Story is a well-written and realistic portrayal of self-discovery and growing up. As the title suggests, it might contain love but it isn’t a love story – though you might very well fall in love with the characters all the same.