The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden by Jessica Sorensen. Grand Central Publishing. 2013. Personal copy.
The Plot: Callie and Kayden grew up in the same small town, but weren’t what you’d call friends. Kayden was the popular football player; Callie was the outcast with no friends.
One early summer night, Callie sees Kayden’s father hit him. Rather than run away, she interrupts — and just by her presence, his father backs off.
Callie and Kayden don’t see each other again until four months later, when both are at the same Wyoming college.
Both are looking for new starts and to leave their pasts behind them. Kayden is not just grateful for what Callie did to help him; he’s impressed with her, because no one had ever stuck up to his father that way. He finds himself falling for her.
Callie has spent the last six years keeping the world at arm’s length, but being at college has given her a second chance. Things aren’t perfect; but they’re getting better. Part of that “getting better” is not just how attracted she is to Kayden; it’s also that she allows herself to be attracted, and to act on it.
Together, Callie and Kayden tell their story.
The Good: As part of my preparation for the ALA Conversation Starter I’m doing with Sophie Brookover and Kelly Jensen, I’m reading a lot about what “New Adult” is or isn’t, what is or isn’t being published, and, of course, reading some of the books that have the “New Adult” designation. Briefly, New Adult is primarily for a readership of ages 18 to 25.
One of the descriptions I’ve read of New Adult is, a young adult book with sexytimes. This meets that definition: the general plot of the story, and the age of the characters (while on the high end as college freshman), reminded me of young adult books. And yes, the physical relationship between Callie and Kayden is important and described. I’d say the sexytime scenes are more than what I’d see in a typical Young Adult book; but less than what I’ve read in most romance novels.
I’ve also seen that the setting — college or college age, or post college age — is part of what is essential to New Adult. Callie and Kayden are both starting college. Callie actually began a few months early, because she had such a strong desire to leave high school behind and start reinventing herself. Yes, that is their age, that is the setting, but to be honest, if someone was looking for a “what will college be like” type of novel, this isn’t what I’d pick.
The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden had many elements of what I see in young adult books: fast paced and a page turner; absence, in one way or another, of parents or adults; emphasis on peers; growing independence of the main characters; and it was a quick read. What’s interesting to me is that the major traumas that both Callie and Kayden have suffered took place while both were still at home. So this isn’t, “the kids are in college and that’s why the adults are all gone”; even when they were 8, 12, 16, the adults in their lives (parents, teachers, coaches) let them down in various ways. For whatever reasons, it’s not until Callie and Kayden are no longer home that each begins to deal with their own painful pasts.
And now, the past and those reinventions. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that when she was in sixth grade, Callie was raped, causing her to withdraw from everything around her. Callie doesn’t admit it to the reader, or Kayden, until pretty far along in the book but it’s pretty obvious to the reader. At college, Callie makes her first new friend in ages, Seth. Seth is “safe” for her, because he is gay, so not a sexual threat; he is also a sympathetic ear because he has his own tragic backstory. He “knows” where she is coming from. Together, they offer each other support. Part of it is by creating “lists”, the small (and big) steps to, well, rejoining the world.
One thing I liked about Callie and Kayden is that this “recovery program” is something Callie does herself, by her own initiative; and that she is already in the process of “saving herself” so that Kayden is not saving her.
That said, I kept thinking throughout this whole book, are there no therapists or psychiatrists in Wyoming? It’s not just that Callie’s own obvious suffering has been ignored for six some years; it’s that the physical abuse suffered by Kayden and his brothers is likewise never noticed, or if noticed, ignored. I kept going back and forth in my head about this because I honestly found it a little unbelievable; then I told myself that it was Callie and Kayden telling their story, and it was their reality and that, yes, even today, abused children and teens don’t get the help they want or need. But then I’d think, Kayden was a football player and not one team mate or coach noticed the scars and bruises? So round and round in my head it went. And while therapists and counseling are not some magic band-aid, stepping back, Callie and Kayden are doing only a so-so job of saving themselves, because Callie forces herself to vomit as some type of mental defense mechanism (her list with Seth doesn’t include stopping that) and Kayden doesn’t cut the ties to his own abusive parents.
But. But. I had to remind myself what type of book this is: and at it’s heart, it’s a hurt/comfort romance book. In this instance, both Callie and Kayden are hurt, and both are comforting each other, and Callie and Kayden delivers this and more. Any type of professional counseling is totally at odds to what a hurt/comfort story does, so of course, it’s not here. Also, I personally saw this as not so much realistic as soap-opera; in other words, stop worrying about non-existent therapists but instead just go with the flow of emotions and will-they/won’t they for Callie and Kayden.
While Callie and Kayden are fully drawn, most of the other characters are not. Seth is basically the Sassy Gay Friend. Luke is supposed to have his own Issues but they never gelled together for me to make him real. As mentioned, the parents are either abusive or useless. Kayden has a girlfriend, Daisy, who relentlessly bullies Callie and Daisy’s motivation seems to be just that Daisy is a bitch. That the reader can still feel sympathetic to Kayden despite the fact that he’s stood by while Daisy tormented Callie is a credit to Sorensen’s ability to show us Kayden’s own tortured thoughts and defense mechanisms. It’s also a good truth: Kayden was so wrapped up in his own pain that he didn’t see Callie’s. The “bitchy girlfriend” is also a trope I remember well from all the Harlequin and similar romances I read in high school.
And this, perhaps, is one of the things that struck me about Callie and Kayden: it’s not my type of book now. (As you can tell, I was a bit too much ‘GET INTO THERAPY ALREADY’, in addition to a few other things.) But then? As a teenager or young twentysomething? In many ways, it was very much like the romance type of books I read back then, so of course I can see why people are reading then now. Except for that ending. ARGH. Not to get all spoilery, but I want my romances to have a happy ever after, thank you, and NOT a cliff hanger.
Final librarian thoughts? I’d put this in adult fiction, using booklists and cataloging to make sure the people looking for it found it. While I can see the style of young adult books being present here, ultimately, it felt more like an adult book to me.
Other reviews: Dear Author; Good Books, Good Wine; Good Choice Reading; Under the Covers.