Shawn is the guy Ronnie Bird promised her life to at the age of fourteen. He’s her soul mate. He’s more uptight every day, but it’s not his fault. His family life is stressful, and she’s adding to it. She just needs to be more understanding, and he’ll start to be the boy she fell in love with. She won’t give up on someone she’s loved for so long.

Luke is her best friend, and the guy she hangs with to watch girlie movies in her large blanketopias. He’s the guy she can confide in before she even goes to her girlfriends, and the guy who she’s playing opposite in Romeo and Juliet. Now her chest flutters every time he gets too close. This is new. Is Ronnie falling for him? Or is Juliet? The lines are getting blurry, but leaving one guy for another is not something that a girl like Ronnie does.

Shawn’s outbursts are starting to give her bruises, and Luke’s heart breaks as Ronnie remains torn. While her thoughts and feelings swirl around the lines between friendship and forever, she’s about to lose them both.

Ronnie is in her last year of high school, has a part in the school play, is contemplating having sex for the first time and – here’s the kicker – she may falling hard for her best guy friend, Luke. At the core of all this, she’s also dealing with her conflicting feelings for boyfriend Shawn, mostly due to his increasing bad temper.

While Ronnie does excuse Shawn’s behavior because he’s been “stressed” and things have been bad at home, she doesn’t delude herself into thinking that his jealousy and rage are love. Ronnie knows something is wrong and that what Shawn is doing is not right, but just like a classic abuse victim, she makes excuses and even blames herself. “If only” she hadn’t brought up his dad, or “if only” she hadn’t worn the shoes he hates; maybe then, Shawn wouldn’t have become cold and distant, or grabbed her wrist a little too tightly.

Their relationship is a frustrating but realistic reminder of how easy it is for some people to find themselves in a volatile situation over a long period of time. When we love someone, we are willing to overlook their faults and we are often quick to make excuses for their bad behavior. However, there’s a big difference between an argument once in a blue moon and a growing occurence of ridiculous fights, emotional abuse, and eventually, physical abuse. So many YA books feature borderline abusive relationships painted and prettied up as “love”. This is not so in Knee Deep, and for that, I’m thankful.

This story was a quick read, and while it certainly kept me turning the pages, there were a few things that bothered me: the sole focus on Ronnie, the repetitiveness, the absence of engaging characters, the all-encompassing love triangle, and the rushed ending.

However, I did appreciate the overall message within Knee Deep, and I was happy to see that relationships are not portrayed as the be-all end-all of the teenage life (though they certainly do seem like it at the time.) My favorite part of the story was thehealthy, budding relationship between Ronnie and Luke. It was sweet and rather swoon-worthy!

My favorite quote from Knee Deep is from a conversation between Ronnie and her father, and is a sentiment that I hope to pass down to my own children someday:

“This kind of loyal dedication is what someone deserves as a wife that he’s put years of work and trust into, not a young man who hasn’t even started his own life yet, Ronnie. This is the time in your life when you should be able to fly free. If something doesn’t suit you, or work out right, you jump to the next. It’s one of the beautiful things of being young.”

* Special thanks to Tribute Books, who gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 About the author: Jolene grew up in Wasilla, Alaska. She graduated from Southern Utah University with a degree in political science and French, which she used to teach math to middle schoolers.

After living in Washington, Utah and Las Vegas, she now resides in Alaska with her husband, and two children. Aside from writing, Jolene sews, plays the guitar, sings when forced, and spends as much time outside as possible.

She is also the author of Night Sky and The Next Door Boys.