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Title:  Wild Roses
Author:  Deb Caletti
Release date:  April 29, 2005
Publisher:  Simon Pulse
Pages:  320
Genre:  Young Adult fiction
Source:  Library

Cassie Morgan has always had a relatively normal life, but that all changed when her parents got divorced and her mom married famous violinist Dino Cavelli.  Suddenly Cassie is walking on eggshells in her own home, avoiding her arrogant and moody stepfather, and friends at school would do anything to get a visit into her (Dino’s) home.  Everyone envies her, but she wishes more than anything that Dino and his terrifying ways would just walk out of her life forever.  When Ian Waters, a promising young violinist, shows up to take private lessons from Dino, Cassie is smitten right away.  Even though Dino strictly forbids Cassie and Ian from being together, they can’t stay apart for long and soon become a couple.  But with Ian’s pending audition to a prestigious music school and Dino’s new CD release coming up around the same time, Dino’s depression, mania, and paranoia quickly spiral out of control.  While Cassie’s mother struggles to manage Dino, Cassie must figure out if she really wants this newfound relationship with Ian.

I’ve seen other bloggers rave about Deb Caletti for years, but for some reason I just hadn’t gotten around to trying her books out until now.  Caletti has been compared to Sarah Dessen (one of my favorite authors) a number of times, and I have to admit that I can see the similarities between the two authors based on this novel.  I will say, however, that Caletti isn’t quite as wonderful as I believe Dessen to be, but this was still an enjoyable read.

The characters in this novel were extremely believable and mostly likable as well.  Cassie especially was a character that I really rooted for.  There had been so much change in her life in just a few short years, and most of the changes were for the worse, not the better, but she was very mature about everything.  Even though she hated her stepfather, she really tried to make their relationship okay for her mother’s sake.  She knew she would never get along with him, yet she still tried to stay out of his way and on his good side so as not to cause conflict in the house.  In addition, she was constantly put in the middle by her parents – especially her dad – yet she handled that so well.  She was the type of character I really pull for, the type of character I hope throughout the entire book that things will work out for in the end.

The best parts of the novel, for me, revolved around Dino’s spiral out of control, his way of slowly losing grip on reality and becoming a paranoid, manic person who scared Cassie to death.  These parts were definitely scary, but I think that Caletti handled this subject very well.  She was able to portray mental illness respectfully and realistically while still putting it into a teenager’s point of view.  Cassie reacted to Dino’s issues in much the same way any other teenager would – she was terrified of him, but protective of her mother and ultimately hopeful that he would just leave their family eventually.  I was slightly annoyed with her mother’s reaction to Dino’s episodes, although I suppose her reaction was realistic too – when someone you love is going through an illness like this, your first instinct is to protect and help that person, even when you are jeopardizing your own safety in the process.  And that’s exactly what Cassie’s mom did – so although I didn’t like how she handled Dino, I think their relationship was true to form.

There were a few things about Wild Roses I wasn’t crazy about.  The characters, with the exceptions of Cassie and Dino, weren’t very fleshed-out.  They were all sort of one-dimensional in that they acted one way throughout the entire novel, and just didn’t seem realistic at all.  I didn’t really “get” Ian, so I wasn’t too into his and Cassie’s relationship – he wasn’t complex enough of a character for me to latch onto.  Same with Cassie’s father – part of me wanted to root for him to find happiness in his own life, but he wasn’t enough of a character for me to really care about him in the end.  I also was confused by the fact that Cassie didn’t seem to have any close girlfriends.  In young adult books, the girl almost always has a best friend (or friends) and if she doesn’t, there is a clear explanation why not.  Cassie had plenty of acquaintances, but no real friends.  I found that sort of odd.

The bottom line is that I liked Wild Roses but was not blown away by it.  I think that Caletti explored the issue of mental illness really well, but there were some other problems with the book that made it difficult for me to fall in love with her as an author.  If her other books are better than this, I’d be willing to try them out, but I have to admit that as of right now I’m not a huge fan of Caletti and absolutely prefer many other young adult authors.

If you’ve read anything by Deb Caletti, which of her books did you enjoy the most?  And should I read more from her – why or why not?