Initial reaction: Honestly, this could've been a lot better for the story it showcased. It came across as incredibly underdeveloped and petty. I didn't care for it or for the all too quick romance it tried to push along the way.
I wasn't very impressed with "Now and Forever" when it was all said and done. I can get behind a rising teen musician's claim to fame and the girlfriend who grows with him, but unfortunately, I found this too shallow of a read to connect with me. It's a shame really, because despite some qualms to start, I'd hoped that it would get better as it went along. There were certainly points where it could've been better, but it dropped the ball.
Sterling is a high school teen whose boyfriend (Ethan) is in a up and coming rock band destined for stardom. I had a hunch that this would be a rise and fall type story, but wasn't sure the angle which it would take. I wasn't entirely convinced of Ethan's talents based on Sterling's description of him ("Elvis Presley" and "Michael Jackson" like, but not sounding like anything or anyone else. Wait...what?) The descriptions Sterling gives of Ethan's talents and rise to fame are clunky, awkward and contradictory, and I couldn't excuse it for just being "awkward teen speak" as it was probably going for. It was just too over the top and inauthentic. I read on thinking that - even with the clunky beginning and descriptions of Ethan and Sterling's relationship - it would get better.
Sterling navigates rough times as she faces her boyfriend's increasing distance, visits her grandmother, confronts "haters" among fans who compete for her boyfriend's interests, and observes the band's scuffles (including with the manager) as Ethan's star rises even above his bandmates - measured in some chapters by the number of social media followers he has. Much of these are palpable problems, I'm not going to knock the book for that.
I will criticize it for having one-dimensional characters and predictable, shallow presentation, though. This book was just not good. I think it might be one of Colasanti's weakest ones to date.
You're pretty much stuck with Sterling's voice throughout the entire book, and that makes it difficult to see how Ethan grapples with fame or beyond the rosy-tinted glasses (see what I did there?) that Sterling sees him in as far as their relationship goes. The perspective point from Sterling is also problematic because Sterling...is a brat. She shames whomever she can about their grammar, debates the intelligence of her boyfriend's fans based on their "text speak", and in general isn't willing to stand up for her friends even when she sees them having scuffles that threaten to pull them apart. Not to mention she wants to be a book publisher in the future (I see you, Mary Sue. I see you very, VERY clearly. That's not funny.)
But I figure I can handle a bratty/problematic protagonist. Just as long as the story carries me along and invests me in the journey of said protagonist(s).
Turns out, there's really not much of a story here, not even remotely a likable one. First offense is that I'm not convinced by Sterling or Ethan's chemistry to begin with - it's told to you in numerous occasions in a way that's not endearing - and it feels like it's talking down to the reader each and every time they seem to be noted as "forever" lovers. Please man. And if I had to read the word "melting" once more when reading about Sterling's reactions to Ethan, it was too soon.
Second offense: Ethan's purported rise to fame is so thinly drawn that it's predictable down to the conflicts it spurs. And much of this information is *told* (NOT shown) to the reader, which makes even more of a disconnect. Ethan getting the invested and isolated interest of his manager? Check. Ethan getting his bandmates to change their original name because people really want to see Ethan more than the others? Check. Ethan getting a successful solo record? Maybe even two? Check. Ethan becoming more distant from his friends and girlfriend because of rise to fame? Definite check. Problem is, alongside other threadbare sidestories with other characters that are barely featured in the novel (Sterling's Gram included - and I liked her), you really don't get a chance to see the development this cast has. It's because of the thinly-drawn state of it all. I even wanted to feel more as Sterling finds herself on the end of internet backlash just for being Ethan's RL girlfriend, but it's mostly Sterling just verbalizing at her "haters" even when the book should have an opportunity to actually show her anguish and insecurity there. I don't understand why this very real problem, among others, was so lacking in intimacy on Colasanti's part. She could've dug her heels into that and made it mean more. Teens, even reluctant readers, would be able to appreciate a narrative that actually gives more time to develop the characters and show their relationships in more detail. We want to spend MORE time with these characters, give them the time to SHINE for being SHOWN not TOLD, for goodness sake.
It was even difficult to connect with one major character death in this book because the character whom it affected was in the book for quite a bit of time, but the presentation made it come out of the blue between other events. I'll admit that provided Sterling a chance to see how much Ethan didn't care that it happened, but again, the emotional disconnect was such a problem, the narrative events didn't hit me at my core. I hated that I couldn't connect to these characters or situations just because they were so shallow in presentation and told so predictably in places.
Don't get me started on the threadbare romance in this book. As far as I'm concerned, there wasn't a romance, just a brief passing connections between Sterling and a boy who was in her boyfriend's circles, knew that Ethan's distance was becoming a problem, didn't speak up about it, and then all of a sudden - BOOM. Sterling falls for this dude. Nevermind that Sterling was emotionally cheating with this guy, before she even suspected that Ethan might or might not have been unfaithful. She just ASSUMED so.
Are you kidding me? Ugh.
I'll give the narrative credit for investing me at least in the themes and for a couple of the characters who had promising interactions, but this was mostly too shallow of a narrative for me to get behind. The fact that the ending was so rushed and the experience giving me less time to get to know the characters and more time being dictated to was even worse for wear.
I was going to give this the benefit of the doubt at 1.5 stars for a rating, but I'm dropping it because the quality of this work just wasn't there, and I can't give credit for a novel experience that was shortchanged despite having few moments of promise. The problems outweighed the good aspects tremendously, and it's an issue that I think Colasanti's going to have to address at some point in her narratives - character and plot development as well as not talking down to her readership. Kids and teens can handle deeper themes and presentations than this. And so can I.
Overall score: 1/5 stars.