Series: Flat-Out Love #1
Published by Jessica Park on April 11th 2011
Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.
It's not what you know—or when you see—that matters. It's about a journey.
Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it. When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in.
The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.
And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates.
Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.
To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.
Flat-Out Love comes complete with emails, Facebook status updates, and instant messages.
I was really charmed by Flat-Out Love. I was expecting a nice, fluffy read but instead what I got was a much deeper and emotional experience – and I absolutely loved it!
Flat-Out Love begins with new college freshman Julie Seagle, arriving in Boston to start her collegiate life. Things don’t exactly begin promisingly as the apartment she was supposed to be renting (and had paid rent for in advance) turns out to be a Burrito restaurant. Left hanging with nowhere to live, Julie calls her mother back home in Ohio. Her mother remembers that her old college roommate lives in Boston and a few calls later, arranges for Julie to stay with her friend Erin Watkins and her family.
Julie is picked up by Erin’s son Matt, a geeky and somewhat unconventional MIT student, a few years older than herself. Matt is friendly and a little snarky and he and Julie develop a nice rapport right away. The rest of the family is just as lovable, if a little dysfunctional. There is Erin (the scattered, somewhat distant mother), Roger (the workaholic father), Finn (the adventurous, currently travelling the world eldest child) and Celeste (the eccentric 13 year old). Julie soon realises that there is something going on underneath the surface though when she sits down to dinner with the family, including a life-size cardboard cut-out of Finn, which stands in as placeholder for the real thing. Celeste is just as intelligent as the rest of her family but she comes across to Julie as a little naive and emotionally stunted. She insists of carrying ‘Flat Finn’ around with her wherever she goes.
Julie only intends to stay with the Watkins family for a couple of days, until she her accommodation is sorted out, but Erin soon extends an invitation for her to live with them full-time and help out with taking care of Celeste after school. Julie jumps at the chance as she has become attached to the family, especially Celeste. She is determined to help the young girl somehow and is keen to get her socialised and behaving in a way that normal 13 year old girls do. Julie also strikes up a friendship with Matt, even though he has concerns about his sister and the effect Julie is having on her.
Matt is a good friend to Julie though and she soon begins to rely on him for help when she needs it. It is Finn that Julie really connects with however, even though he is largely absent throughout the course of the novel. After Celeste encourages Julie to send a friend request to Finn on Facebook, the two soon start connecting online. Their email exchanges and chats form a large part of the novel (I love the witty banter between them) and their growing attraction, even though they have never physically met, is very sweet and exciting. I would normally have doubts about how well you can really get to know someone by just exchanging emails etc. but their interactions really sold their feelings for me.
Even though Julie slots in really well with the Watkins family she still is aware that there is something not quite right. Everyone, including Matt, is very evasive about just what this might be but Julie knows it must be something really serious, to have affected Celeste as much as it has. When Julie finally uncovers the truth it is a massive blow, leaving her with many doubts about her true feelings and her emotions are all over the place.
Julie comes with her own baggage (an absent father and a mother she never really seems to connect with). When Julie uncovers the truth she feels betrayed and let down by the one person she has grown closest to and she needs time to sort out her feelings. When she does come to her senses at the end I was literally grinning like an idiot. I don’t want to give too much away but I was very happy with the resolution!
I really loved the story in Flat-Out Love, even though I did kind of guess what might have happened fairly early on. The characters were the strongest part of the book for me though. I loved Julie; she was a feisty, smart and opinionated protagonist. I loved her interactions with Celeste, Finn and especially Matt (my new book boyfriend!).
Celeste was adorably quirky. I normally get irritated with younger characters in books but I really took to Celeste. Finn was a funny and cool character. I just wished there had been more of him in the book. Matt has to be my favourite though. He was such a sweet, dependable, stand-up guy. I loved the fact he wasn’t some alpha-male tough guy or a too-cool bad boy. He was just a normal guy dealing with a lot of crap; the world sitting heavy on his shoulders. I love slightly nerdy guys so I think he was destined to be my favourite. I really admired his dedication to his family.
The dialogue was sharp and witty (especially between Julie and Finn; and then Julie and Matt). I really honestly cared about these characters and they felt very real and genuine to me. My heart broke for them, but the ending made me feel like jumping up and down in joy (though it ended far too quickly for my liking – probably my only real criticism).