Quick review for a quick read. My thoughts on "Has to Be Love" in retrospect are a streamline of "Nope, nope, noppity, nope, nope, nope" to just about everything in this book. I tried to have so much patience for the events and narration, but after a certain point, I couldn't do it anymore. I don't think it had a clear focus of what it wanted to be as a story, which is interesting because Clara's very scatterbrained for narrative voice and that's precisely how the story comes across - meandering and repetitive. I'm really surprised how a book with a premise that potentially has a great deal of emotional impact could come across so shallow and just...wrong. It went on far longer than it should have and by the time I was finished, made me glad it was over. I felt emotionally detached by the events and it had much to do with the way it was presented alongside the unraveling of events.
Here's a summary: Clara is Mormon, has a boyfriend named Elias and lives in Alaska. Clara was brutally attacked by a bear, which killed her mother and left her with horrible scarring, including visible scars on her face. (Which I did feel for her on.) Her father clings to the church to cope, Clara criticizes her faith constantly in back and forth tangents. Clara starts growing closer to her boyfriend, who encourages her about her writing, shows her affection, seems to treat her with respect and notes her boundaries.
Clara has raging hormones that pop up at inappropriate times. Clara keeps too many secrets. Clara does not have a decisive bone in her body. (I will return to these three points shortly.)
Lo and behold enters Clara's new teacher (Rhodes), who is attending Columbia (Clara's dream school, which she's been accepted to and keeps it a secret for reasons that don't seem strong enough to hold the narrative conflict for as long as it does). Rhodes has traveled the world and graduated early which is the reason why he's so close to her age. At one point Clara's talking about how her mother was killed by a bear but quickly defers to the "OMG, my teacher's so HOT!" mentality. (I did mention Clara had raging hormones. And she repeats her feelings in the novel much like the Energizer bunny keeps going.)
But then she remembers she has a boyfriend and she wants to do more than just kiss him. But she doesn't know whether or not she wants to spend forever with Elias, even when he proposes to her (I did mention she was indecisive. And wait...marriage WHAT?) Then the story ventures in a weird love triangle go-between which has Clara's development and growth hinging on her relationship between these two guys - like having confidence in her writing, going to college, her sentiments surrounding her scars (she repeats her insecurities about her scars in every chapter - this would be something I'd be sympathetic toward if it wasn't repeated. so. much.). There are side conflicts/things she comes to terms with with her father regarding his faith, relationships (with one token woman of color mind you, who really doesn't have much to do in the novel, sadly), but ultimately this book ends up having her choose one future prospective relationship, only to turn around and realize she'd rather be with the other guy. But hey, at least she's in college thanks to said guy! And the other guy seems to be a-okay despite Clara's decisions. Huzzah!
I'm left at the end of this book giving it major side-eye and feeling empty from the experience. It felt patronizing and repetitive and didn't have a strong cast of characters or conflict to really carry it along. I did not enjoy it.
Overall score: 1/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.