Starry Eyed Inside by Rochelle Allison is a beautifully evocative coming of age story that reminds you of the angst and fun of being a teenager and first love. This is a summer MUSTREAD!
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
[For Mature Audiences; Some Spoilers]
I’ve been a Rochelle Allison fan for several years now. I really enjoy her writing style. While others use highfalutin prose, chock-full of lengthy inner-musings and complex dialogue, the simplicity of Rochelle’s prose is so refreshing. Ro writes the way we actually think, speak, and feel, which makes it so easy to gobble up her words. Starry Eyed Inside totally embodies this same style. SEI is an emotional coming of age story, following a girl and her friends through high school. Their experiences are so much like our own, with all the angst and fun of being a teenager. In addition to great characters and plot, Starry Eyed Inside is beautifully evocative and very well edited.
Aurora Shepherd is starting her freshman year in high school in Jensen Beach, Florida and she knows life is about to change. Along with the stress of increasingly demanding classes, Rory is also dealing with a new social scene. Sure, she has her homegirls Teigen and Niki, who have always been by her side. But even with their friendship, Rory still finds herself wading into the unfamiliar waters of a first major crush and first love. The first moment she lays eyes on Skyler Nolan, Rory is a goner. Skyler’s gray eyes and bad boy/DGAF attitude swoon Rory off her feet and she wants to be in his orbit. But he’s a 16 year old boy, hell-bent on playing the field. Rory and Skyler have mutual friends, and over time, they get to know one another and even start dating. Yet, the relationship always has Rory on the backfoot. She’s never really sure of Skyler’s feelings and doesn’t want to push him for fear of scaring him away. Rory experiences a lot of firsts with Skyler, as she explores her sexuality. She’s so head-over-heels and in the throes of first love. However, just as Rory and Skyler are about to take their relationship to a more serious level, his bad-boy antics catch up with him, and Skyler is forced to leave Florida. Rory is completely heartbroken, but, in time, she moves on with her life, as teenagers do.
Rory grows up and even opens up her heart again. However, when Skyler returns to town a couple years later, she finds the rug ripped out from underneath her again. They’re both in different places, a little older and wiser, less impetuous. Still, the intense chemistry sizzles between them and Rory starts to wonder if her childhood crush of Skyler could become something more mature and lasting.
Full-ish disclosure, I was a complete straightedge in high school. I didn’t drink, party, or smoke pot. So, while I don’t have a lot of personal experience with the shenanigans that Rory and her friends get into, I have no problem whatsoever slipping into their shoes. I went to school with kids like these, and this realism is part of why Starry Eyed Inside is such a great read. I can’t say I enjoyed the era of teenage angst, but watching Rory try to navigate this process of moving from childhood to adulthood is emotional and also a lot of fun. I may not have snuck out or smoked as much as Rory and her friends, but I was definitely just as boy-crazy. And when I had a crush…lawwwwd, everything revolved around that boy and my feels.
I love how open Rory is, especially in her thoughts. And as she grows up, that emotional honesty remains part of her character. Rory is genuine person and a fervent friend.
And Skyler… cute, trouble-making Skyler. He’s every teenage boy I ever had a crush on… aloof, kind of reckless, sex on the brain, but super sweet too, especially when his boys aren’t around to rag on him. There are times that Skyler swoons me, and then others when I want to slap the back of his head for being so insensitive… just like a 16 year old boy! It’s clear that Skyler likes Rory, but at the same time, he resists being “tied down”. Perhaps I can’t fault Skyler for that since he’s so young. But he does pay a price of sorts when his risky behavior catches up with him.
In all honesty, I have an odd relationship with the New Adult genre. Several NA books I’ve read in the past are a squicky combination of YA and hardcore erotica that leaves me feeling hella uncomfortable. This is never the case with Starry Eyed Inside. The first half of the book, following 15 year old Rory and 16 year old Skyler, does have several scenes of the two engaging in sexual acts. It might be a little awkward for an older reader, but it’s never gratuitous, seedy, or uncharacteristically adult.
With that said, my favorite parts are when we transition to the second half of the book. Rory (18) and Skyler (19) are more cautious. They (and the reader) know that if they get back together, the relationship would have the potential for a forever kind of love or catastrophic heartbreak. In time, Rory and Skyler realize that the risk could be worth it:
“I’m just going to throw this out there, then.” He paused until I looked up at him. “I don’t really want to be your friend.”
I tucked my hair behind my ears, waiting for the catch. “Why not?”
“I think it’s safe to say there’s something here,” he said, gesturing between the two of us.
And there it was. The evening was warm and humid, but I shivered, wrapping my arms around my knees.
“We weren’t really friends before, either,” I said eventually, unable to look him in the face. “I mean it was always so physical between us.”
“Come on, it was more than that.”
He was right. But it was funny he chose now to quantify things.
“Maybe, but… I don’t know. It was so intense.”
“What’s wrong with intense?” I smiled into my lap. Who was I kidding, I loved intense. I craved it. “Intense is good, but it’s not all there is, Skyler. You –”
“You never wanted anything but the intense parts. I feel like I held my breath the entire time.”
“So now you go for the boring guys.” He said it like he was teasing, but I knew he meant it.
I gave him a dirty look… “Maybe I like boring.”
“Maybe you like me.”
Everything about this night had been by the book, so I half expected him to kiss me goodnight right then. But he didn’t. He drew me in to his arms and held me tight, like he had the day before. I hugged him back, relishing his solidity, his warmth.
“Let me see you tomorrow,” he said, so quietly I almost didn’t hear.
I hugged him tighter, nodding. “Yes.”
“Let me kiss you,” he whispered.
I remembered this: expectancy sparking through my nervous system, the build-up before the fall. I melted into him, shivering when his fingertips trailed under my shirt, touching the skin above my jeans. He kissed me. I caught his lips with mine, and his tongue slipped into my mouth. Warm, wet, we kissed like that for a while; slow, deep kisses that could easily combust in to something else..
…”I was prepared to wait it out,” Skyler said.
I stretched and kicked off my sneakers, wanting to free my feet. “Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah. You’re cautious these days.”
“I know.” He was right; I was.
“But it was kind of selfish, too. Like I wanted you around, but I wasn’t ready to be around for you.”
The kiss was playful and sweet, maybe because we were outside and there were people around. I found myself exploring and remembering his taste, his technique, the things he did with his tongue. He pressed a kiss on that spot from the night before, just below my ear, and I gasp-groaned softly, loving it.
“You can’t make noises like that.”
“Why not?” Opening my eyes, I tried to pull him back.
“Makes me think of other stuff,” he said, allowing himself to be pulled.
“Then you need to be more careful how you kiss me,” I said, touching his mouth.
Skyler leaned closer, kissing my fingertips. “I’ll be careful with you, but I won’t be careful with how I kiss you.”
“I want to touch you,” he whispered.
I knew he was waiting for me to stop him, but I wasn’t going to—not this, not now. I unbuttoned my jeans and then ran my fingers through his hair, letting him do the rest. He sat back on his knees, his eyes never leaving mine as he worked my jeans off. I shivered again, cold, and he peeled the comforter open, nodding for me to climb underneath with him. And then he kissed me, slowly. His movements became sensual as he slid his fingers down my stomach and into my underwear, finally touching me. Gasping, I tightened my grip on his shoulders. It all came crashing back to me, yet again, the crazy intensity of how he made me feel, inside and out. My body, yeah, but… my heart. I kissed him feverishly, pushing up against his hand, and he slipped his fingers inside, working them the way we both knew he wanted to work me. I moaned, incoherent with sensation, moving against his hand, closing my eyes to the brightness of feeling.
“I love you,” I whispered, sounding breathless and desperate even to myself.
“I love you, too.”
His fingers moved faster and faster until I came, and then he kissed me hard, almost biting my mouth.
*SWOONY SIGH* I just adore how Rochelle allows us to experience the risks and rewards of relationships and love via her characters.
In addition to the great writing strong leading characters, Starry Eyed Inside also has several secondary characters that are memorable. Rory’s friends Teigen and Niki are awesome besties. They’re the best wing-women, advisors, and co-conspirators a girl could have. Like Rory, they also experience the ups and downs of teen-hood and show themselves to be terrific young women and the kind of friends we all need. Rory’s parents, Skyler’s best friend Kai, brother Rocco, and Skyler’s parents round out their support system.
I love every moment of watching Rory and Skyler grow up. They emerge from high school with resilience, an ability to forgive, and strength of character. By the time we get to the end of the book, even though the ending is satisfying, I want so badly to follow Rory and Skyler into the next chapter of their lives.
I highly recommend Starry Eyed Inside to all fans of YA/NA, particularly if you’re looking for a solid, romantic coming-of-age story. SEI is also perfect for the summer, as Rory, Skyler, and co. spend a lot of time traipsing through their favorite beaches, amusement parks, and malls… because Florida!
Happy Book Birthday Rochelle and BRAVA! Also, is there a chance of a college/post-college Rory/Skyler epilogue? *pouts*begs*
Many thanks to the author for an advanced review copy.