Title: Speed of Life
Author: J.M. Kelly
Published: October 11, 2016 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Contemporary
For Fans of: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
*Book received from Book Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Goodreads in exchange for review
Crystal and Amber are twins who want to be the first in their family to graduate high school, despite their poverty and family circumstances. When one of them gets pregnant and has a baby, they agree to raise it together and not reveal who the mother is. They have a plan for their future, where both of them use their part-time jobs to move into an apartment in a better neighbourhood where they can raise their daughter Natalie. During their final year of high school, Crystal, a car buff who works at a gas station, discovers a college that has a degree in automotive restoration. Her acceptance jeopardizes their plans, and both Crystal and Amber struggle to chose the best path for them and Natalie.
As a narrator, Crystal was enjoyable. To the point and outspoken, it was easy to empathize and feel immersed in her life. I liked seeing how she interacted with the other characters in the story. She had a super strong relationship with her sister, as you would expect from twins, and they used their different strengths to help each other throughout the story. My favourite secondary character would probably Jimmy, the owner of the gas station. He was one of those people who’s tough on the outside, but a really genuine, kind person on the inside.
My favourite thing about Speed of Life was that there was NO romance. Do you know how hard it is to find books in any genre without romance, let alone YA contemporary? It’s almost impossible. Speed of Life had multiple female/male friendships, which I liked, and I was glad to see that they didn’t become anything more. Not every girl needs to/will be in a relationship, come on people!
I love that Crystal was into cars, and that it was a big part of her character. A lot of YA books have girls with super stereotypical interests, like being into music or playing volleyball or something (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it doesn’t represent everyone). It’s nice to see a protagonist with an atypical interest, as it helps normalize hobbies that might seem “uncool” or “masculine” to many teenage girls. The icing on top of the cake was the fact that not a single character in Speed of Life made a big deal about her interest in cars. There was no sexist comments or questions about her future goals, it was just accepted, which was awesome.
The description of Crystal and Amber’s family relationships was also a highlight for me. While their mother and stepfather were FAR from model parents, they did occasionally do little things to show that they existed and weren’t totally terrible. Crystal and Amber also do little things to show that they care in return. It was a nice, realistic middle ground between having perfect, cookie cutter parents and the horrible, abusive parents that are sometimes shown in YA books about tough stuff.
My main complaint with Speed of Life was that the “shocking reveal” late in the book was pretty transparent (I called it a few chapters in). It didn’t ruin the story or anything, but I really hate when the plot is that predictable. The book was also a bit too dramatic for my taste, and certain parts (like literally not a single person asking whether the baby was Natalie’s or Crystal’s) seemed a bit too convenient.
Overall, I enjoyed Speed of Life more than I thought I would. While covering some difficult topics, it remained a quick and fairly light read. That said, it didn’t sugarcoat anything, and it definitely realistic. Would definitely recommend for those who like contemporary YA and books without romance.