Title: Back When You Were Easier to Love
Author: Emily Wing Smith
ISBN: 9780525421993
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2011.

“I never got it, those magazine articles I read when I was thirteen and anticipating romance. Never understood why they went on and on about finding a guy you could be yourself around. I could be me all by myself. I was already me. I wanted a boyfriend to make me more than me.
Zan was that guy. Zan was that guy, and more. I wasn’t myself with him, I was better than myself–Joy 2.0. When I was with Zan my jokes were funnier, my mind was sharper, my vanilla perfume smelled better. I was better read–quotes from books jumped into my memory during conversations with him. […]
Without him, the world is smaller. Without him, I am smaller. Without him a place like Haven, a place that was small before, shrinks to the size of a fingernail clipping–something so small, something no one needed anyway.
I am not Haven. I shrink without Zan. But with him, I am not insignificant. (26-27)

Joy is a newcomer in the Mormon community Haven. She wasn’t entirely happy with her mid-semester move until she met Zan. Zan becoming her boyfriend made life better, but Zan can’t think of anything except getting out. After finishing high school early, Zan moves to the college at Joy’s old hometown and cuts ties to everything to his old life. Joy doesn’t understand what happened, and maintains to her friends that she needs closure. When a long weekend presents the opportunity, she and Zan’s friend Noah take off on a road trip across the desert intent to find Zan and give Joy that closure. But is Joy really ready for what she’s going to find when she gets there or along the way?

I first posted about this book with my first Waiting on Wednesday almost a year ago, and I finally made it to this book. This is another example of the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The cover shows a couple sharing a library stool surrounded by books (how cute is that), and I was expecting the library to take center stage in the story. But besides Joy’s love of books and the time she spends in the library at school, there really isn’t a whole lot of emphasis on the library. I was expecting a story about a library love, and that wasn’t what I got.

Not that the story that was told was bad, it was just hard to wrap my brain around when I realized how wrong I was. I liked the story for a couple of reasons. First, this is a story about a Mormon relationship and a Mormon community, but it didn’t really stress religion. Instead, the attention was placed squarely on Joy’s feelings and her relationship with Zan. It never got preachy, which is appreciated. Second, can I just gush over Noah? The things you find out about the kind of guy he is just impresses me so much and it’s so admirable the things he does to help Joy. Noah is the real keeper and it gives readers hope that there are guys out there like Noah. Other bloggers talk about their literary crushes… I think I can safely claim Noah’s as mine. Comparing Noah to Zan, readers have a hard time figuring out why Joy is so hung up on Zan, but it’s easy to reflect on that with the hindsight of Zan’s disappearance. Readers also get exposed to Joy and the feelings she enjoyed when with Zan, and that to me solidifies the relationship she had and why she is devastated and so intent to hold onto it when it falls apart. While her fascination with Barry Manilow seems out dated to me, I guess it’s comparable to the fascination that other girls have with other singers today. For me, she’s all the more relatable when she reveals her complete cluelessness to cars, something I suffer from as well.

Overall, it was a cute, clean love story that shatters the stereotype that your first love is the one.