Debut author Abigail Johnson is the newest addition to the Valley’s thriving YA writing community, and her polished contemporary romance novel If I Fix You shows she’s here to stay.
Jill Whitaker, a 16-year-old car enthusiast who spends her summers changing oil and fixing brakes in her dad’s auto shop, has had the same dream for the last eight years — riding in her very own 1967 Triumph Spitfire Mark III convertible with her best friend and childhood crush, Sean Addison, at her side. Mind you, he’ll be riding shotgun.
Those hopes crash and burn the night Jill comes home to find Sean and her mother alone in the house amid some strange circumstances. Jill’s mother later flees, abandoning her husband and daughter and leaving only a Post-it note with a hasty goodbye and no further explanation. Now, five months later, Jill remains torn between trying to fix her broken friendship with Sean or leaving that night and its unutterable possibilities behind, the way her mother did. In the meantime, Jill’s taken to spending the hot summer nights on her roof stargazing, where the silence isn’t as suffocating as the silence indoors.
At least, not until the neighbors move in.
One night on the roof, Jill witnesses a physical altercation between two shadowy figures next door that quickly escalates. In an effort to distract the two, Jill launches an unopened soda can at the side of their house, accidentally shattering a window. This is how she meets the new boy, Daniel.
Only Daniel’s not quite a boy … he’s 21 years old, and he’s got some serious problems of his own. Here the novel enters dark territory, as our pragmatic and capable teenage protagonist with a penchant for fixing things finds herself drawn to her damaged neighbor whose broken edges may be a little too sharp.
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I wanted to pretend I didn’t know what that smile meant, but I did. I liked that his hair was so inky black that it looked like nothing … I liked the way he was still sort of surprised every time he smiled. I really liked that he understood why I’d rather sleep on top of my roof than under it.
I liked Daniel. Or I was starting to.
It’s hard to find footing sometimes as Jill’s conflicts shift between her intense scenes with Daniel, her aching confusion over Sean, and her heartbreak over a missing mother who shows up one day almost as if she’d never left. In all of these relationships Jill must assess the damage, consider what can be repaired, and decide whether it’s worth it. The one true relationship in Jill’s life that is steady and seemingly needs no fixing is with her father, but even that’s about to change.
Speaking of Jill and her father, their endearing bond is the highlight of If I Fix You. Johnson’s dialogue is a pleasure to read, and the easy banter between a budding mechanic and her affectionate dad provides for some delightful scenes — whether the two are trading good-natured barbs, racing creepers in the garage, or simply talking shop.
If I Fix You was published on October 25 by Harlequin TEEN. Abigail Johnson will be signing copies at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 20. The event, which also features authors Aprilynne Pike, Elissa Harris, and Jenny Moyer, includes a discussion on atypical female protagonists in YA.