Begin the endless parade of super hot boys!
Chapter four begins immediately after the last scene in chapter three. And I mean immediately, because when Grace hears her Uncle Finn call to her:
I turn back to confront Mr. Tall, Dark, and Surly, to figure out exactly what it is he thinks I need to be so afraid of—but he’s gone.
I’m including that just to establish a sense of time. This book moves at a refreshingly fast clip, introducing characters one after the other, bam, bam, bam. It might not feel that way if you’re following along just with my sporadic recaps but trust me, over on Patreon I’m reading one that is dragging ass and expecting the reader to pick up the slack.
I glance around, determined to figure out where he went, but before I can spot him, Uncle Finn is wrapping me in a huge bear hug and lifting me off my feet. I hang on for dear life, letting the comforting scent of him—the same woodsy scent my dad used to have—wash over me.
This is a great detail. He’s a loving guy who is comforting because he smells like her dad. This establishes a connection right away and anchors Grace as a character to the family she has left.
That doesn’t stop me from constantly imagining Uncle Finn as Dr. Orpheus from The Venture Brothers, despite the fact that he has never once been described as such. Part of the problem, I think, is that Uncle Finn hasn’t been described for us.
Uncle Finn apologizes for not being at the airport. He was detained due to an accident caused by boys being boys.
I start to tell him that I have no idea how boys are—my last encounter is proof of that—but some weird instinct I don’t understand warns me not to bring up the guy I was just talking to.
That’s called a red flag, my dear.
As adults in YA books go, Uncle Finn seems pretty okay. He apologizes for not staying with Grace after the funeral and worries about how she’s doing. When she says she’s okay, he doesn’t really push back, either:
It’s obvious that he wants to say more but just as obvious that he doesn’t want to get into anything too deep in the middle of the hallway. So in the end, he just nods and says, “Okay, then. I’ll leave you to settle in with Macy. But come see me tomorrow morning, and we’ll talk about your schedule. Plus, I’ll introduce you to our counselor, Dr. Wainwright. I think you’ll like her.”
I’m so fucking pleased with this. So pleased. This kid has been orphaned and she’s actually going to get mental health care?
And then, I was like, oh no:
My therapist, apparently, since she and my uncle both think I need one.
I would argue, but since I’ve had to work really hard not to cry in the shower every morning for the last month, I figure they might be on to something. “Okay, sure.”
Oh my gosh! You mean she’s not going to be a Strong Female Character™ who’ll neglect her mental health to make a point? IN A BOOK?! A REAL BOOK?!
This is such an incredibly rare thing to read and you know what? I trust Tracy Wolff. Right now, I’m reading her book Royal Treatment and although I just started it, I’m 100% on board with the hero, who has PTSD from being kidnapped and held for ransom. It’s not treated like, oh, you’re so sexy because you’re broken, you can treat me any way you want. I’m enjoying it and I promised I would keep people updated, but from what I’ve seen so far from that book, chapter three of this one has to be an anomaly.
There was a really weird spate of books in the 10s wherein it seemed like every single main character had PTSD or some other trauma-related disorder, and the story was almost always like, “It wasn’t medication or therapy this person needed, it was [whatever the author had planned, usually a romance with someone even more screwed up than them]!” Or, as in Apolonia, the main character’s trauma is used as an excuse for her at times downright abusive behavior, as if traumatic events are some kind of get out of jail free card. I shouldn’t be so bowled over by a simple line about a character accepting they could benefit from some kind of mental health intervention. That speaks volumes about the lack of constructive representation out there.
Speaking of health, the altitude is not being kind to Grace. Uncle Finn tells Macy to get Grace some Advil and lots of water, advice I wish someone would have given me when I went to freaking Colorado for that sales conference thing and got desperately sick and tired during an important dinner.
“I’m glad you’re here, Grace. And I promise, things will get easier.”
I nod, because what else am I going to do? I’m not glad I’m here—Alaska feels like the moon right now—but I’m all for things getting easier. I just want to go one day without feeling like shit.
Again, I should not be so delighted to read a YA heroine go, you know, it is what it is and there’s no point in me being rude about it and also let me take something positive away from the thing this person just said to me, rather than finding any reason possible to make his words into some kind of malicious slight just for the drama of it all.
There’s a paragraph about how she can’t stop thinking about “Tall, Dark, and Surly” and I’m just like, please no. Let’s not stay married to that nickname.
Uncle Finn calls for a guy named Flint to help carry Grace’s bags up to her room and Macy freaks out because Finn is “super hot” and she doesn’t want him to see her and Grace while they look terrible. And then:
I can see how she could think he doesn’t need to see me like this, since I’m pretty sure I look half dead. But, “You look great.”
My god, am I truly so hungry for a likable main character in this book club that not calling her a disgusting name and thinking about how slutty she looks is really all it takes to make me #TeamGrace forever and ever?
Anyway, here’s Flint:
He’s tall—like, nearly as tall as Tall, Dark, and Surly—and just as muscular. But that’s where the resemblance ends, because everywhere that other guy was dark and cold, this one is light and fire.
Bright-amber eyes that seem to burn from within.
Warm brown skin.
Black afro that looks amazing on him.
I really need more details on this afro, my friend. Because there are many different kinds of afros and I’m imagining a big, round, fluffy afro from the 1970s, which I’m hoping is not the look we’re supposed to be getting here. Like, I need to hear that this is a more modern style. In my head, he’s gonna have like, a medium-length afro with a blended fade and he can wear it in a man-bun.
Look, if you’re not gonna give me anything, I’m gonna make stuff up. That’s how Uncle Finn is Dr. Orpheus now.
And perhaps most interesting of all, there’s a smile in his eyes that is as different from the other guy’s iciness as the stars just outside the windows are from the endless midnight blue of the sky.
You wanna know how I know she’s not gonna be remotely romantically interested in Flint?
Whoa, hey now. Wait.
I’m not super cool with the Black guy being named Flint. That was an unfortunate choice. And so as not to be obtuse, Flint, MI, is the predominately Black working-class city that was knowingly lead-poisoned by the state government just a few years ago (and where many residents still struggle for access to reliable, clean water sources). Probably not intentional, but definitely a tone-deaf coincidence.
Anyway, Macy tells Flint they don’t need help, but Uncle Finn tells him that Grace is sick from the altitude.
“Well, come on then, New Girl. Climb on my back. I’ll give you a ride up the stairs.”
Yeah, get on his back, spider-monkey.
Just kidding. This is nothing like Twilight. There’s a Black person in it.
Grace turns him down, and he points out that there are three flights of stairs she’s going to have to struggle up.
They are a long three flights, and still I would seriously rather die than climb on a random stranger’s back. “Pretty sure they’ll be longer for you if you’re carrying me.”
“Nah. You’re so little, I won’t even notice. Now, are you going to get on or am I going to pick you up and toss you over my shoulder?”
Just let it go. You’re not a fireman.
Grace firmly shuts him down again.
Flint shakes his head. “Stubborn much?” But he doesn’t push the issue the way I’m afraid he will.
Well, I mean. Yes, he did push the issue. Grace said no, he said yes then threatened to pick her up and move her even when she didn’t want him to. But “less pushy than the character who is the obvious main love interest in this YA novel” is a pretty low bar to clear, so good for Flint.
He does ask her if he can support her on the walk up the stairs, just in case the altitude sickness makes her too weak. Which happens and which I love because it’s an obvious reason to get the heroine (and the reader) all flutter-pants over him:
I know he’s strong—all those muscles under his shirt definitely aren’t for show—but I can’t believe he’s this strong. I mean, he’s carrying two heavy bags and me up the stairs, and he isn’t even breathing hard.
but it’s also done in an actually realistic way. Altitude sickness does make you fatigued, it does fuck with your breathing, so she’s not some wilting damsel here. She’s just winded. I can live with that. And it’s not like he dramatically cradles her; he’s basically dragging her up the stairs with an arm around her waist. If this were a different book, he would be carrying her because she’d have already fallen down like fourteen times and is a hazard to herself and others.
Grace and Flint have a back-and-forth about how she’s fine and he doesn’t need to help her anymore but this is a YA novel so:
“Yeah, until you pass out and pitch over the railing. Nope, Headmaster Foster put me in charge of getting you to your room safely and that is what I’m going to do.”
This is the part where a YA heroine is supposed to go, oh, I hate him so much, how pushy, how terrible, but I have no other choice than to go along with it. Grace, however, thinks, you know, I do feel like crap and accepting help is no big deal.
While I’m not thrilled by the lack of boundaries exhibited by hot guys in this book so far, I’m impressed that there’s more to this interaction than the heroine stubbornly insisting she’s fine when she’s not but giving in because gosh, it’s just so much easier to roll over and do whatever a boy says even if you don’t want to.
After a brief argument between Macy and Finn regarding the transport of the luggage, we get a description of where they’ve arrived.
There are four sets of double doors surrounding the landing—all heavy, carved wood—and Macy stops at the set marked North. But before she can reach for the handle, the door flies open so fast that she barely manages to jump back before it hits her.
Guess what’s behind door number North.
“Hey, what was that ab—” She breaks off when four guys walk through the door like she’s not even there. All four are brooding and sexy as all get out, but I’ve only got eyes for one of them.
Bet you know which one.
The one from downstairs.
Of course, the only guy you have eyes for is that guy. He’s a total dick!
To be fair, out of the five hot guys we’ve met so far, one of them has been friendly, if overbearing, one has been outright threatening, and the other three, well, how can she be attracted to them if she doesn’t know how fucking awful they’re probably going to treat her in the rest of the book.
I know I sound harsh there, but the fact is that this is a book trying to catch lightning in a bottle from a shelf that hasn’t been dusted since 2010. There’s no way that trope isn’t going to be present here, even if it’s softened for the purposes of marketing it as “feminist.”
He doesn’t have eyes for me, though. Instead, he walks right by—face blank and gaze glacier cold—like I’m not even here.
Like he doesn’t even see me, even though he has to skirt me to get by.
Like he didn’t just spend fifteen minutes talking to me earlier.
Except…except, as he passes, his shoulder brushes against the side of my arm. Even after everything we said to each other, heat sizzles through me at the contact. And though logic tells me the touch was accidental, I can’t shake the idea that he did it on purpose. Any more than I can stop myself from turning to watch him walk away.
Back it up, girl, because you sound desperate. Everything you said to each other in fifteen minutes. Now, I distinctly remember him telling her to leave the school; why would he be friendly and welcoming now, just because she walked up the stairs? And why does she feel that a fifteen-minute conversation is some kind of social contract?
Flint tightens his warm arm around my waist, and I can’t help but wonder why the guy with ice in his veins makes my skin tingle and the one literally lending me his warmth leaves me cold.
I wish I could call Grace up and be like, babe, I’m at location 601 and I have an answer to your question.
The answer is that girls like bad boys and somewhere along the line “bad boy” became “outright abuser.” No wonder he seems like prince charming.
Grace decides not to obsess over the dude and they go into the North hallway. Grace describes how the dorm room doors are all decorated, one with a giant X of roses on it, one with bat stickers all over it, and I’m like, yo, Grace. This is vampire shit.
Yet smack in the middle of the vampire shit is Macy’s rainbow-splosion decor:
A garland of fresh flowers winds its way around the doorframe, and lines of threaded, multicolored crystals fall from the top of the door to the bottom in a fancy kind of beaded curtain.
Hang on now. Fresh flowers? She’s getting garlands of fresh flowers delivered, what, every couple of days? What if a roommate has allergies? Where are these flowers growing in the middle of Nowhere Ass, AK? But really, the part that charms me the most is that it’s a fancy beaded curtain. You know, the tasteful kind of beaded curtain you find at the higher-end adult bookstore backrooms.
We don’t get to see the room in this chapter because:
Before I can take a step over the threshold, another hot guy dressed entirely in black passes by. And though he pays us no more attention than any of the others did at the North hallway door, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Because even though I’m sure I’m imagining things, it suddenly feels an awful lot like I’m being watched.
One, two, three, four, five, six! Six hot guys! Ah ah ah.
We leave Grace at the end of this chapter, in a spooky fortress surrounded by howling terrors of the night and filled with preternaturally strong and gorgeous young men prone to Heathcliffism.
It’s the altitude sickness that’s making it difficult for her to see how vampire these vampires are vampiring right now. She’s gonna pick up on it.
Any minute, now.