Title: Set Me Free
Author: Kitty Stevens
Publisher: Interlude Press/Duet
Length: 256 Pages (Print)
Category: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
At a Glance: This was a sweet little YA novel that I think teenagers, especially, would enjoy.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: Aaron Ledbetter’s future has been planned out for him since before he was born. Each year, the Ledbetter family vacation on Tybee Island gives Aaron a chance to briefly free himself from his family’s expectations. When he meets Jonas “Lucky” Luckett, a caricature artist in town with the traveling carnival, he must choose between the life that’s been mapped out for him and the chance at true love.
Review: It was the cover of this sweet little YA novel that grabbed my attention. The boardwalk…the pier…a carnival in a small, seaside town…two boys possibly finding love…the scene just blossomed in my mind. That is, in fact, the setting of Set Me Free, a novel by Kitty Stephens on Interlude Press’ new YA imprint, Duet Books. It’s a classic tale of a white, privileged kid trapped in the life his parents are forcing on him, falling for a working class kid, whom his parents won’t approve of. Stephens hasn’t really done anything super new with the trope here, but her take on it is sweet, and I really enjoyed a couple of the characters.
First of all, Lucky is fantastic. Suuuuch a nice kid. I was rooting for him the entire book. He got this job doing caricatures at the carnival with some help from his high school art teacher, and he plans to make every moment of it count before heading off to art school in Chicago at the end of the summer. His mom, who works two jobs to support them and has been a single parent all of Lucky’s life, is happy with his choice of summer job, but she doesn’t want him to have any ‘distractions’ while he is there. A boyfriend would definitely be a distraction, so when Lucky starts talking about Aaron, the guy he met, she is not thrilled. Lucky and his mom are close, but the relationship is clearly strained by her distrust of men and how that has affected Lucky.
Aaron is on Tybee Island for the summer with his parents and his best friend, Lyn, and her parents. Aaron’s father is business partners with Lyn’s father, and together, the two sets of parents have mapped out their children’s entire future. Right on down to what basically amounts to an arranged marriage between Aaron and Lyn. Scary stuff. Also, Aaron is all set to go to Harvard Business School in the fall, and is being groomed to take over his father’s shipping company. Super tidy, right? Except Aaron doesn’t want it. Not any of it. He and Lyn want to have this last summer of freedom at the shore before they are supposed to begin the rest of their lives, but afterwards they do intend to go along with The Plan. That is, until they both begin having intense feelings for other people, and Lyn decides they can no longer keep up the pretense.
Lyn was my other favorite character in the book. She was the best friend everyone should be lucky enough to have—fierce and loyal, fun, willing to sacrifice for you or go to bat for you, no matter what. She was instrumental in how things played out at the end. I loved that she got to be the hero, and saved Aaron multiple times in the story.
The relationship between Lucky and Aaron was nice. I know that sounds a little lukewarm, but really it was just…nice. They had some sweet moments, and I did like them together, though it mostly had to do with how much I loved Lucky. As much as Aaron kept blowing him off while keeping them a secret from his family, I’m amazed Lucky hung in there for him the way he did. Aaron’s struggle with keeping up appearances with his family, as well as trying to find time to hang out with Lucky, grew a bit tiresome and repetitive in the middle section, to be honest—but, I liked that they each kept making the effort.
So, as I said, this was a sweet little YA novel that I think teenagers, especially, would enjoy. It wasn’t over-complicated but not too simplistic either. It may resonate with some adults as well, of course, but mostly it felt like it was geared toward a younger crowd.
You can buy Set Me Free here: