“To be entirely fair, I was not sure if this book would be my thing. The teens on the run aspect didn't really appeal to me, but Nobody But Us was blurbed by two of my favorite authors (Courtney Summers and Kody Keplinger), as well as being compared to If I Stay by Gayle Forman, which I loved. I thought perhaps instead of being melodramatic, Nobody But Us might have the contemplative, deep, emotionally fraught style of If I Stay. Well, I've been wrong before. I really need to stop buying into this marketing that sells you one book by comparing it to another.
Starting with the good, Halbrook writes well, creating two different voices for Zoe and Will. They think differently and have wholly different vocabulary. Multiple points of view in first person are tricky, so I applaud her for doing that this well. The writing's a bit simpler than I personally tend to prefer, and includes the occasional odd word choice, like "vessel" to refer to a car, though that seems like something that my be caught before publication.
I would like to propose changing the tagline to "They're young. They're stupid. They're on the run." That pretty much sums up this book for me. Will, eighteen and finally free of the system where he's bounced from home to home and school to school, decides to take his girlfriend Zoe with him away from their shit-hole hometown and her abusive father. Fifteen-year-old Zoe needs a change, no doubt about that. Her father is a drunken monster, and should be in jail, but that does not mean that running away with Will is an awesome plan. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite of an awesome plan.
Still, teens don't necessarily have much wisdom about the way of the world and everything can seem very immediate. They're young and this seems like the best road open to them, so that's what they do. Fine. I will accept that. However, what I have trouble handling is how incredibly stupid they are about everything once they're on the road. How can neither of them ever have seen a crime drama, which would have kept them from doing a lot of the idiotic things they do?
Zoe's choices can be put down to a youthful naivete, I suppose, and a weakness of character that causes her to cling to the first person to offer to take care of her. Will, however, has a better idea of the law, having come up against it before. He knows enough to get her a fake ID that lists her age as eighteen, though they never actually use this once, and to expect that the cops will be looking for them. Yet, somehow, he expects that they will simply be able to disappear in Las Vegas with just her fake ID, where she can enroll in school and they can live together. Really? You KNOW they'll be looking for you, Will, but it doesn't occur to you that you would need a fake identity too? Or that an IDENTITY is more than a doctored license? How are you going to enroll her in school or do anything without records? What about your social security numbers? Birth certificates? Disappearing is not so easy in the modern age, especially when people know your car.
"Christina, stop being so judgmental of them for not knowing all of this stuff; I mean, they're just teens!" Maybe so, imaginary devil's advocate. Some teens might not know those things, so let's give them a pass on that, okay? Shouldn't they at least be bright enough not to draw attention to themselves as they make their escape? Will, especially, since Zoe seems to have no clue what's going on? Yet, every time they stop, they do something incredibly, mind-blowingly stupid. Being a teenager does not necessitate a complete lack of survival skills or self-awareness.
Here are some examples of how Zoe and Will continually do precisely the worst possible thing in every situation:
1. While eating at a diner, some cops come in for food. The teens freak out and basically make it very obvious that they're hiding something as they leave as quickly as they can. At least they don't skip out on the check, making this the high point in their intelligence.
2. Will spots a vehicle behind them on the highway that he believes might be a cop car, so he starts driving as fast as he can. Because the best thing to do when guilty and near cops is to make yourself guilty of something else so that they'll be sure to notice you. Yup. Great idea.
3. They stop at a gas station. Zoe goes in to get food while Will pumps gas. Some assholes start talking to Zoe and one touches her on the ass. Will punches him.
4. Zoe gets her period and, worried about Will's limited finances, decides they cannot afford the $12 box of tampons (Seriously, why are tampons so expensive? I have wondered this before myself.) and decides the best plan is to steal some from the box.
5. When Zoe gets caught stealing tampons and shaken by the irate store owner, Will hits him over the head with a bottle of wine.
6. When Will sees a news broadcast reporting the incident, he and Zoe run out of the dining establishment so fast they leave his wallet behind, causing the waitress and everyone else to look closely enough at them to put two and two together.
7. The list really does go on, but I think you've got the point.
Will and Zoe's relationship also made me seriously uncomfortable. Yet again, we have a girl in love with a guy she's afraid of a good deal of the time, and we're meant to see them as tragic, romantic figures. No, I don't think so. Zoe, physically abused by her father, is terrified every time Will gets into a fight on her behalf. The formula repeated over and over in this book: someone threatens or hits on Zoe, he punches the person, Zoe cries and shrinks away from him, he promises he'll never hurt her and that he'll keep his rage checked, repeat.
Worse, I have no doubt that, given time, he would end up hitting Zoe. Their interactions had warning bells chiming in my head all the way through. He thinks constantly about how much he wants to make her happy, but snaps at her any time she annoys him. He swears at her, even though he knows how much that upsets her. After some guys hit on her, he accuses her of flirting with them, blaming her, though she was only a victim of their rude behavior. When he does things like this, she accuses herself for his unhappiness, for their bad situation, even though she's clearly not at fault for any of it. Their relationship is incredibly unhealthy and I don't feel like Halbrook made her stance on that as a bad thing clear at all.
What I wanted and expected was an emotionally hard-hitting novel about the horrors of abuse, but instead I found a melodramatic mess that romanticizes what I see as an abusive relationship. The whole thing read like a Lifetime original movie. I imagine many people will enjoy this, given how popular books with similar themes have been recently, but I did not.”