BOOK REVIEW: THE ONLY ONE BY MAGAN VERNON

 The Only One on Goodreads


Honor student, manager at the campus coffee shop, owner of an impressive sweater collection – Melanie Wilder has it all together. Then John “John Boy” Walden strolls into her life wearing nothing more than an impish grin and all-too-revealing loin cloth.

Soon, make-out sessions replace homework, lust triumphs over work. And to further crumble her perfect world, an unexpected phone call threatens to take away everything she’s worked for. 

Now, as Melanie struggles to pick up the pieces, she realizes that John may be the only one to put her life back together…unless he shatters it first.



Free copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Spoilers ahead.



Out of the blue.

It's a rare occurrence when I find it possible to accurately sum up a book in one word/phrase. "The Only One" presented me with just such an eventuality. I found everything about this book to be out of the blue. The choices characters made seemed out of the blue. The situations that occurred were out of the blue. The occasional change of heart? Out of the blue.

The flow of the story, therefore, utterly escaped me.

*

"The Only One" follows Melanie, a 19 year old college student who goes to a Halloween party in a frat house. Meets a guy (in a loincloth). Exchanges a couple of sentences with him. And doesn't stop thinking about him for a second afterward. I wish I were exaggerating on this point, but I don't feel like I am. Melanie struck me as a character whose life begins on the first page of the novel - like her entire back story is non-existent or entirely irrelevant to the person she's become. Moreover, nothing whatsoever seemed to be going on in her life the moment she meets Mr. Loincloth. Yes, she does go to school, has perfect attendance, studies, gets good grades, works in a coffee shop, has friends, reads, talks to her family and occasionally goes out. But the moment Melanie lays eyes on her future love interest, every activity and thought will revolve around him. Her best friend will make several completely non-memorable appearances through the entirety of the book, and each time it will serve the purpose of discussing Melanie's love life more than anything else. The same goes for her family. Her job will suddenly feature the love interest on the other side of the counter. The only time a side character is mentioned is either when a girl is grinding against the love interest, or when a guy is giving Melanie the eye.

This is a story about Melanie and John Boy. No, really. It's a story about Melanie and John Boy and virtually nothing else.

Which is why I was utterly shocked when 20% into the book, Melanie finds out that she has cancer. Everything I thought I knew about where the story was headed seemed to be wrong. I thought that perhaps this wouldn't be a Melanie/John-Boy story, but a Melanie/John-Green story. And I'll readily admit that reading about cancer is very much outside of my comfort zone, for personal reasons. But I was curious enough to see how the author tackled such a serious topic.

So, Melanie has cancer. It's stage-one, though, and she is told that she has very good chances of going into remission after having surgery. The fact that the remainder of the book (including Melanie's innermost thoughts) centers around Melanie and John Boy can be interpreted in one or two ways:
1. She is in severe denial and wishes to avoid the merest thought of her illness;
2. This is the story about Melanie and John Boy and not Melanie and cancer.
I found both to be true, to an extent. The cancer arc was far from mishandled, there was nothing inherently wrong about it, it just wasn't given much prominence. Melanie's entire family, in fact, is in a state of denial, because even when they visit to be by her side as she has her surgery, and to be around as she recovers, the main topic of conversation will be - you guessed it - John Boy.

And it might have worked as a romance (because it's certainly not a Serious Issue type of story), if the characters would have been better developed. But I found both Melanie and John-Boy to lack that third dimension that would make them memorable or that would make their actions seem sensible and logical. We are never privy to their intrinsic motivators. We never get to witness what makes them act a certain way. What little there is in terms of personality is on a tell-rather-than-show basis, so Melanie keeps insisting that she is a rational, sensible type of person, and John keeps insisting that she is sheltered. But we are never given any actual proof of any of those things. Most of the time, their actions are the exact opposite. Based on one meeting, Melanie has categorized John Boy as "the guy she could fall in love with, but who'd break her heart" and "the kind to want nothing but sex from her". Based on what? We really don't know. The protagonist is struggling to "let the love interest in". She doesn't exactly know why. At one point, she even says as much. We as readers understand it even less. The love interest chooses to leave when she asks him why he doesn't love her. Why did he leave? It's anyone's guess. They make a unanimous decision to cool things off. Neither knows why, exactly. And then the love interest shows up at her doorstep, baring his soul. What prompted this change of heart? We really don't know.

On the side of personal pet peeves, it irked me to read about the numerous, numerous (almost once-per-page) times where Melanie referred to herself as "broken" and John Boy was trying to "fix" her. It got to the point where the words themselves lost all meaning for me due to repetition. But again, this is a personal issue and may not disturb others as much as it did me.

Having said that, this story is far from unenjoyable. As with the cancer arc, there is nothing inherently wrong with it. It's a run-of-the-mill New Adult story about finding love at the brink of adulthood. If you're looking for a book to pass the time, far be it from me to turn you away from this pick if you have your heart set on it. (In fact, where negative reviews are concerned, I'm in a decided minority.) But if you're looking for a gripping page-turner, a revolutionary read, something deep and exciting or something that would change your life - this is not that book.



RATING: **
GOODREADS: THE ONLY ONE

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BOOK REVIEW: THE ONLY ONE BY MAGAN VERNON
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