Just from the blurb, and even into the first several chapters, I wasn’t sure that I was going to like Gracie, to be honest. She’s self-centered, controlling, manipulative, and is annoyingly overconfident. Thank goodness she narrates her story, because getting inside this girl’s head makes all the difference. Surprisingly jaded for a fifteen-almost-sixteen year old, Gracie has constructed all kinds of emotional walls and barriers to protect herself, stemming from an unwavering belief that the people she cares about will inevitably leave her. People always leave and nothing ever lasts. And so, Gracie’s determined to carve out a place for herself in the world, determined to create perfect memories for herself, and determined to take what she can get from people before feelings fade and she gets left behind.
But at her core, behind the walls, behind the saucy grin, behind the irritating overconfidence she protects herself with, is a girl who’s achingly vulnerable, uncertain, and emotionally damaged. And this girl I like.
Enter Bentley McKinna.
Gorgeous smile, washboard abs, a couple years older, and (most important of all) temporary – Ben is the perfect candidate for Gracie’s next perfect memory – a summer fling – but to her surprise, she quickly finds that he’s not so easily manipulated by her… charms.
I… seriously… this boy! I just love him, and I love that this book also features him as a narrator. My philosophy? Two perspectives are better than one, and in Ben and Gracie’s cases, that’s definitely true.
Having grown up in an excessively privileged lifestyle, Ben has become disillusioned by the games, the disingenuousness, the expectations, the manipulations. The Holloway Farm provides him with a perfect escape, a place to think and figure out his life… at least, that’s what he thought. He never anticipated the boss’s beautiful, headstrong daughter, who makes it more than obvious she that she has designs on his virtue. It’d be easy to ignore her, except for the rare glimpses he gets of the real Graceland Holloway, which intrigue him despite his resolve to not get involved. And suddenly, Ben’s summer just got a lot more difficult.
Ben is looking for something genuine and real. He’s only eighteen, but because of his experiences growing up in the family he did and being used for his talent and connections, he’s developed a more mature perspective on life and relationships. Caring and kind, Ben’s a bit of a bleeding heart, wanting to fix things that are broken, and he senses there’s something about Gracie that is deeply broken. But that said, the boy’s no pushover, and he doesn’t hesitate to call Gracie on her crap and to tell her no. Even when it’s really, really hard. Seriously, the amount of self-control this guy possesses should qualify him for sainthood, and it makes him all the more appealing to both me… and of course Gracie – who’s not one to back away from a challenge even if it is starting to get a little more emotionally confusing than she’d originally intended.
And really that’s what this story is all about – the characters and the relationships. It’s Gracie being forced to face feelings and realizations she’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. It’s her struggling to come to terms with certain aspects of herself and her past. It’s about how meeting a person can become an unexpected catalyst for change, and how that person makes you want to become a better version of yourself. It’s about two people, each with their own unique set of issues, trying to figure out just what they mean to each other, end up learning new things about themselves as a result.
And while Under the Dusty Sky does mostly focus on the development of Gracie and Ben’s relationship, it also takes a look at all of Gracie’s relationships, with her family and friends, and how they’ve been impacted by her somewhat skewed perspective of love, loyalty, family and friendship.
As romances go, Allie does a fantastic job of building romantic tension between Gracie and Ben, all while keeping it a very realistic romance for teenagers – realistic expectations, boundaries, parental authority, a slew of protective brothers, and consequences. I always appreciate when there are substantive outcomes for the very human choices the characters make, whatever they may be. It lends realism and weight to the entire story. That might sound like a major downer, but I really don’t mean it to. While the novel deals with some weightier themes, it’s not a super heavy book. I guess I just mean to say: it’s a story of life’s messed-up and messy wonderfulness.
Or maybe: Life happens… and so does kissing.
Overall. Sexy and heartfelt, Under the Dusty Sky is a wonderful story of self-discovery and new beginnings.
* Due to some of the content, I’d recommend this book for readers 16+