Ryan manages to pry Emily's attention away from Derek Masters, the dreamy captain of the basketball team, with whom most of the girls are in love. They really seem to hit it off, but then his jackass best friend Michael gets completely wasted and manages to ruin the party. Ryan tries to make amends and drags Michael out of the country club. He leaves him standing by the stairwell and tells him to not move. He has to just tell Emily something, hoping to salvage whatever kind of a connection they had started prior to the disruption. Michael looks at him and says, "Soldier Rock!" and mentions he has something important to tell him, as Ryan walks away.
When Ryan returns to the stairwell, Michael is gone. Somehow he has managed to get his keys and to take off in the car. The next morning, Ryan finds out that his best friend crashed his car and is dead.
He blames himself for the accident, having left Michael alone while he went after Emily. Had he just taken him home at that moment, Michael would probably still be alive. Never mind his past history of substance abuse.
Despite the ruined party, Emily finds herself falling hard for Ryan. The two of them enter into a hot and heavy relationship. They begin to have difficulty, though, as Ryan finally figures out Michael's secret and vows to take care of Michael's unfinished business. Ryan feels torn between the love of his life and loyalty to his dead best friend. Because he feels responsible for Michael's death, it feels wrong that he is carrying on. Had he not been pursuing Emily, this would not have happened. (At least not at this point in time.) At the same time, he tries to salvage his damaged relationship with his own family.
I loved this book. It was honest and heartwrenching and refreshing to have such a story being told from a male character for once. The emotions being shared by the characters seemed valid and true, even if their situations are not going to be as familiar to most readers. After all, how many teenagers live in the lap of luxury with an Oscar-winning director for a father and parties at country clubs? But teens ruining their lives with drugs and having intense relationships are surely familiar topics. Being torn between love and responsibility is something that we can struggle with all of the way through adulthood. And everyone battles their parents, especially during the teenage years.
Ryan's devotion to his friend, to Emily, and to Michael's secret are admirable. He has to make a lot of difficult decisions along his journey. Sometimes they probably weren't always the right ones, but he learns a lot as he goes through them. He has to learn how to forgive himself and his best friend. I think he could be a good role model. While many will not find themselves in this exact situation, his journey can be thought-provoking. It's a love story that will be enjoyed by both adults and young adults. I had a hard time putting it down and want to read it again.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookRooster in exchange for my honest review.