Book Review: While You’re Away, Part 1

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past year or so about the “new adult” genre. Seems like it’s still finding its legs. From what I can gather, the characters are a little older than those in young adult. There’s often some sort of college setting. Definitely more sex.

I first heard of Jessa Holbrook’s While You’re Away a few weeks ago, in a press release from Penguin, offering me a widget of the first installment free with no obligation to review. That’s right, installment: While You’re Away is a serialized new adult novel in six parts, three of which are currently out now. The fourth is out tomorrow. I’ve read the first, and I think I’d like to read more.

The cover of "While You're Away."

In “Our First Encounter,” we meet our heroine, Sarah. She’s a junior in high school and has a band with her boyfriend, Dave, the notorious flirt. He’s a sweet guy, but hits on anything that moves, as we see very early in the story. It’s at one of their gigs that Sarah finds herself entangled with the even more notorious Will. Sarah’s heard of Will’s encounters with many girls at school — all very passionate but fleeting — and never thought she’d find herself locking lips with him. True to form, it’s passionate, but Sarah seems to want more than fleeting. The only problem? Not only is Dave in the picture, but Will’s now in a relationship as well.

That’s about as far as we get in 54 pages. Like any series, “Our First Encounter” is mainly setup. And Holbrook does a nice job with it. I’m fond of love triangle (love square? love rectangle?) stories where we don’t immediately hate anyone. Dave may be a charmer, but there’s a flashback to when he and Sarah meet that says a lot about their relationship. There’s also some backstory about Will that explains he’s not a love ’em and leave ’em user, but more a guy who makes a girl feel special for a moment she’ll always remember. I like this too: as I get older, I’ve learned that these moments are highly underrated. Not everything is True Love Forever, even in high school, and that’s okay. And the final scene has some really lovely writing — Sarah’s already over her head, literally and figuratively, but in a very poetic way.

While You’re Away is a wee bit overpriced at $1.99 per installment, and I’m a little confused as to why this is “new adult” when at this point, all the major players are still in high school (though there’s a mention in the summary of Will going to college). I’m intrigued enough by this complex situation to want to know more. With situations like this, someone’s bound to get hurt — or multiple people. I’m wondering how much longer Dave will last, what happens with Will’s girlfriend, and if these two nutty kids can make things work. I’ll probably check out Part 2, at least.

Parts 1-3 of While You’re Away are now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers. For more about While You’re Away and Jessa Holbrook, visit the author’s website.

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The Unprofessional Critic

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She reviews plays for Chicago Theater Beat ( and talks about movies on The Film Yap ( Lauren's young adult novel is represented by Chalberg & Sussman Literary Agency. Say hi to her at maybeimamazed02(at)gmail(dot)com. (Photo by Greg Inda)

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