Penny Beck is a girl who says yes when she means no. She keeps to herself, follows the rules, and does what she's told. After a disastrous experience with her boyfriend, she's determined to change from the spineless person she's always been into the strong woman she wants to become. All she needs is a little practice.
On a cross-country trip to check on her grandpa, she strives to become bolder and more outspoken with the strangers she meets. Penny's plan is to practice saying and doing what she wants without worrying about what anyone else thinks. Then she meets Archer, an introspective loner to whom she finds herself drawn. She realizes she does care what he thinks, very much. Will Penny be able to stick to her plan, or will she revert back to her people-pleasing ways?
I received a free copy of the ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Outspoken is a rather charming tale of a teenage girl at a crossroads in her life between childhood and adulthood. Penny is someone I think pretty much all of us can relate too at one time or another. She lives her life for other people, allowing their expectations to shape her life. After her inability to say no finally costs her more than she expected, she decides to postpone college, up sticks and move to another state. Come on, who hasn't fantasised about saying "screw this" and starting again somewhere new at one time or another? Hopefully not just me... Anyways, Penny decides that a new start also means a new her, and makes good on her determination to say no more, building a new life surrounded by new friends and reconnecting with her Alzheimer's suffering grandfather. At first glance, this story seemed a little too twee for my tastes but, contrary to what I expected, I loved it!
I adored Penny as a character. Sweet, good-natured and just a little bit firey, she is a wonderful protagonist and surrounded by nicely written supporting characters. I wasn't entirely sure about Archer at first though, somewhat puzzled about what exactly attracted Penny to such a bland, standoffish guy, but their fledgling relationship is one of the hearts of the story. Free of the magical powers and far away kingdoms that make up my usual reads, theirs is one of the cutest and most well written relationships I've read in a long time. It was also really refreshing to read the platonic female-male friendship between Penny and Mike without the usual love triangle trope that's so prevailent in YA being trotted out to add conflict to the plot. I didn't always buy the dialogue between the teenage characters (I did also raise an eyebrow at being expected to believe that the first person Penny meets is a building supervisor who is an 18 year old girl. Convenient, no?). It just seemed a bit to literal at times to advance the plot.
The other heart of the story is Penny's grandfather Cal. Cut off from his family, widowed after the death of his beloved wife Ruby and suffering sporadically from the effects of Alzheimer's, he doesn't want to be a charity case and it takes Penny a while to win him around before his condition deteriorates. Still, his condition was sensitively written, feeling more genuine than just being shoehorned in as the plot required, and it brought out some truly lovely traits in supporting characters.
I was a little disappointed that Penny's journey of growth and self discovery seemed to boil down to getting a new boyfriend. Ok, I'm simplifying a bit, but I think I would have prefered Penny to be a little more independent by the end of the book. Still, it's a charmingly simple coming of age story that will leave you with a smile on your face. That said, it does have a few surprisingly dark moments, including a few mentions of rape that may be triggering for some. Such moments are fleeting though, feeling almost as though they need further exploration or needn't have been included at all.
Outspoken is a nicely written story, perfect for a lazy afternoon read. The pacing is great, leisurely and easy to read without rushing or disengaging. A solid debut from author Lora Richardson, I'll definitely be looking to check out any future stuff from her!