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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

: The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout 
Genre: Young Adult (Contemporary Romance)
Date Published: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

A story about friendship, survival and finding your voice

Growing up, Mallory Dodge learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it's been four years since her nightmare ended, she's beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime. Now, after years of homeschooling, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at a public high school. But she never imagined she'd run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn't seen since childhood, on her very first day. 

It doesn't take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet soon it becomes apparent that she's not the only one grappling with lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider's life spiral out of control, Mallory must make a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants and the truths that need to be heard.

The Problem with Forever is the first book I've read by Jennifer L. Armentrout so far. This was a pretty powerful story. Mallory had more character growth than most fictional characters out there, and I felt empowered for her as she found her voice, literally. Along with survival, friendship is a big theme within this book. Blood is strong, but sometimes a true friend is just as strong, if not stronger. Rider had some growth of his own, and I was so proud of him. I think it was harder for him in some ways than it was for Mallory. This was a truly beautiful story.

Chapter 1

A lot could change in four years.

Hard to believe it had been that long. Four years since I’d set foot in a public school. Four years since I’d spoken to anyone outside a very small, very close-knit group of people. Four years of preparing for this moment, and there was a good chance I was going to hurl the few bites of cereal I’d been able to force into my mouth all over the counter.

A lot could change in four years. The question was, had I?

The sound of a spoon clanking against a mug pulled me from my thoughts.

That was the third spoonful of sugar Carl Rivas had tried to inconspicuously dump into his coffee. When he thought no one was looking, he’d try to add two more. For a man in his early fifties, he was fit and trim, but he had one mean sugar addiction. In his study, the home office full of thick medi­cal journals, there was a drawer in his desk that looked like a candy store had thrown up in it.

Hovering near the sugar bowl, he reached for the spoon again as he glanced over his shoulder. His hand froze.

I grinned a little from where I sat at the huge island, a full cereal bowl in front of me.

He sighed as he faced me, leaning back against the granite countertop and eyeing me over the rim of his mug as he took a sip of the coffee. His dark black hair, combed back from his forehead, had started to turn silver at the temples just recently, and with his deep olive-tone skin, I thought it made him look fairly distinguished. He was handsome, and so was his wife, Rosa. Well, handsome wasn’t the right word for her. With her dark skin and thick, wavy hair that had yet to see a strand of gray, she was very pretty. Stunning, really, especially in the proud way she carried herself.

Rosa had never been afraid to speak up for herself and others.

I placed my spoon in the bowl, carefully, so it wouldn’t clang against the ceramic. I didn’t like to make unnecessary noises. An old habit I’d been unable to break and that prob­ably would be a part of me forever.

Glancing up from my bowl, I found Carl watching me. “Are you sure you’re ready for this, Mallory?”

My heart skipped unsteadily in response to what felt like an innocent question, but was really the equivalent of a loaded assault rifle. I was ready in all the ways I should be. Like a dork, I’d printed off my schedule and the map of Lands High, and Carl had called ahead, obtaining my locker assignment, so I knew exactly where everything was. I’d studied that map. Seriously. As if my life depended on it. There’d be no need to ask anyone where any of my classes were and I wouldn’t have to roam around aimlessly. Rosa had even made the trip with me to the high school yesterday so I got familiar with the road and how long the drive would take me.

I’d expected Rosa to be here this morning since today was such a big deal, something we’d been working toward for the last year. Breakfasts had always been our time. But Carl and Rosa were both doctors. She was a heart surgeon, and an un­planned surgery had called her in before I’d even pulled my­self out of bed. Kind of had to give her a pass for that.


I gave a curt nod as I pressed my lips together and dropped my hands to my lap.

Carl lowered his mug, placing it on the counter behind him. “You ready for this?” he asked again.

Little bundles of nerves formed in my stomach and I really wanted to puke. Part of me wasn’t. Today was going to be dif­ficult, but I had to do it. Meeting Carl’s gaze, I nodded.

His chest rose with a deep breath. “You know the way to school?”

I nodded as I hopped up from the bar stool and grabbed my bowl. If I left now, I would be fifteen minutes early. Prob­ably a good idea, I guessed as I dumped the leftover cereal in the trash and placed the bowl and spoon in the stainless-steel dishwasher.

Carl wasn’t a tall man, maybe around five foot eight, but I still only came up to his shoulders when he moved to stand in front of me. “Use your words, Mallory. I know you’re nervous and you’ve got a hundred things going on in your head, but you need to use your words. Not shake your head yes or no.”

Use your words.

I squeezed my eyes shut. The therapist I used to see, Dr. Taft, had said that phrase a million times over, as had the speech therapist that had worked with me three times a week for two years.

Use your words.

That mantra contradicted everything I’d been taught for nearly thirteen years, because words equaled noise, and noise was rewarded with fear and violence. Used to equal those things, but not anymore. I hadn’t spent nearly four years in intensive therapy only to not use my words, and Rosa and Carl hadn’t dedicated every moment of their free time to eras­ing a past full of nightmares only to watch their efforts fail.

Words weren’t the problem. They flew through my head like a flock of birds migrating south for the winter. Words were never the problem. I had them, always had them, but it was plucking the words out and putting a voice to them that had always been tricky.

I drew in a breath and then swallowed drily. “Yeah. Yes. I’m…ready.”

A small smile tipped up Carl’s lips as he scooped a long strand of hair back from my face. My hair was more brown than red until I stepped outside. Then I turned into a living, breathing crimson fire engine of auburn awkwardness. “You can do this. I completely believe in that. Rosa believes in that. You just have to believe in that, Mallory.”

My breath hitched in my throat. “Thank you.”

Two words.

They weren’t powerful enough, because how could they be when Carl and Rosa had saved my life? Literally and figu­ratively. When it came to them, I’d been at the right place at the right moment for all the wrong reasons in the universe. Our story was something straight out of an Oprah special or an ABC Family movie. Unreal. Saying thank you would never be enough after everything they had done for me.

And because of everything they had done for me, every opportunity they’d given me, I wanted to be as perfect for them as I could be. I owed that to them. And that was what today was all about.

I hurried to the island and grabbed my book bag and keys before I broke down and started crying like a kid who’d just discovered Santa wasn’t real.

As if he read my mind, Carl stopped me at the door. “Don’t thank me,” he said. “Show us.”

I started to nod, but stopped myself. “Right,” I whispered.

He smiled then, crinkling the skin around his eyes. “Good luck.”

Opening the front door, I stepped out on the narrow stoop and into the warm air and bright sun of a late-August morn­ing. My gaze drifted over the neatly landscaped front yard that matched the house across the street, and was identical to every house in the Pointe subdivision.

Every house.

Sometimes it still shocked me that I was living in a place like this—a big home with a yard and flowers artfully planted, with a car in the recently asphalted driveway that was mine. Some days it didn’t seem real. Like I’d wake up and find my­self back…

I shook my head, pushing those thoughts away as I ap­proached the decade-old Honda Civic. The car had belonged to Rosa and Carl’s real daughter, a high school graduation gift given to Marquette before she’d left for college to become a doctor, like them.

Real daughter.

Dr. Taft had always corrected me when I referred to Mar­quette that way, because he believed it somehow lessened what I was to Carl and Rosa. I hoped he was right, because some days I felt like the big home with the manicured yard.

Some days I didn’t feel real.

Marquette never made it to college. An aneurysm. There one minute and gone the next, and there had been nothing anyone could do. I imagined that was something Rosa and Carl had always struggled with. They saved so many lives, but couldn’t save the one that meant the most.

It was a little weird that the car belonged to me now, like I was somehow a replacement child. They never made me feel that way and I’d never say that out loud, but still, when I got behind the wheel I couldn’t help but think about Marquette.

I placed my bag on the passenger seat. My gaze crawled over the interior, landing on the reflection of my eyes in the rearview mirror. They were way too wide. I looked like a deer about to get slammed by a semi, if a deer had blue eyes, but whatever. The skin around my eyes was pale, my brows knitted. I looked scared.


That was not how I wanted to look on my first day of school.

I started to glance away, but the silver medallion dangling from the rearview mirror snagged my attention. It wasn’t much bigger than a quarter. A bearded man was engraved inside a raised oval. He was writing in a book with a feathered pen. Above him were the words SAINT LUKE and below was PRAY FOR US.

Saint Luke was the patron saint of physicians.

The necklace had belonged to Rosa. Her mother had given it to her when she entered med school, and Rosa had given it to me when I’d told her that I was ready to attend public school my senior year. I guessed she’d given it to Marquette at some point, but I hadn’t asked.

I think there was a part of both Rosa and Carl that hoped that I’d follow in their footsteps, much like Marquette had been planning to. But becoming a surgeon required assertive­ness, confidence and a damn near fearless personality, which were three adjectives literally no one would ever use to de­scribe me.

Carl and Rosa knew that, so they were pushing me more in the direction of research since, according to them, I’d displayed the same aptitude in science in my years of homeschooling as Marquette had. While I hadn’t protested their urging, spend­ing forever studying microbes or cells sounded as interesting as spending forever repainting the walls in my room white. But I had no idea what I wanted other than to attend college, because until Rosa and Carl had come into my life, college had never, ever been a part of the equation.

The drive to Lands High took exactly eighteen minutes, just as I expected. The moment the three-story brick build­ing came into view beyond the baseball and football fields, I tensed as if a speeding baseball was heading for my face and I’d forgotten my mitt.

My stomach twisted as my hands tightened on the steer­ing wheel. The school was enormous and relatively new. Its website said it had been built in the nineties, and compared to other schools, it was still shiny.

Shiny and huge.

I passed the buses turning to do their drop-off in the round­about and followed another car around the sprawling structure, to the mall-sized parking lot. Parking wasn’t hard, and I was a little early, so I used that fifteen minutes to do something akin to a daily affirmation, and just as cheesy and embarrassing.

I can do this. I will do this.

Over and over, I repeated those words as I climbed out of the Honda, slinging my new bag over my shoulder. My heart pounded, thumped so fast I thought I’d be sick as I looked around me, taking in the sea of bodies streaming toward the walkway leading to the back entrance of Lands High. Differ­ent features, colors, shapes and sizes greeted me. For a moment it was like my brain was a second away from short-circuiting. I held my breath. Eyes glanced over me, some lingering and some moving on as if they didn’t even notice me standing there, which was okay in a way, because I was used to being nothing more than a ghost.

My hand fluttered to the strap of my bag and, mouth dry, I forced my legs to move. I joined the wave of people, slipping in beside them. I focused on the blond ponytail of the girl in front of me. My gaze dipped. She was wearing a jean skirt and sandals. Bright orange, strappy, gladiator-style sandals. They were cute. I could tell her that. Strike up a conversation. The ponytail was also pretty amazing. It had the bump along the crown of her head, the kind I could never replicate even after watching a dozen YouTube tutorials on how to do it. When­ever I tried, I looked like I had an uneven growth on my head.

But I said nothing to her.

As I lifted my gaze, my eyes collided with a boy next to me. Sleep clung to his expression. He didn’t smile or frown or do anything other than turn his attention back to the cell phone he held in his hand. I wasn’t even sure if he saw me.

The morning air was warm, but the moment I stepped into the near-frigid school, I was grateful for the thin cardigan I’d carefully paired with my tank top and jeans.

From the entrance, everyone spread out in different direc­tions. Smaller students who were roughly around my height, but were definitely much younger, speed-walked over the red-and-blue Viking painted on the floor, their book bags thump­ing off their backs as they dodged taller and broader bodies. Others walked like zombies, gaits slow and seemingly aimless. I was somewhere in the middle, moving at what appeared to be a normal pace, but was actually one I’d practiced.

And there were some who raced toward others, hugging them and laughing. I guessed they were friends who hadn’t seen each other over the summer break, or maybe they were just really excitable people. Either way, I stared at them as I walked. Seeing them reminded me of my friend Ainsley. Like me, she’d been homeschooled—still was—but if she wasn’t, I imagined we’d be like these kids right now, hopping toward one another, grinning and animated. Normal.

Ainsley was probably still in bed.

Not because she got to goof off all day, but because our mu­tual instructor did summer break a little differently. She was still on break, but once her year got going again, her home­schooling hours would be as strict and grueling as mine had been.

Shaking myself from my reverie, I took the stairwell at the end of the wide hall, near the entrance to the cafeteria. Even being close to the lunchroom had my pulse spiking, causing my stomach to twist with nausea.


Oh, God, what was I going to do about lunch? I didn’t know anyone, not a single person, and I would—

I cut myself off, unable to really think about that right now. If I did, there was a good chance I might turn around and run back to the safety of my car.

My locker was on the second floor, middle of the hall, num­ber two-three-four. I found it with no problem, and bonus, it opened on the first try. Twisting at the waist, I pulled out a binder I was using for my afternoon classes and dropped it on the top shelf, knowing that I was going to be collecting massive textbooks today.

The locker beside mine slammed shut, causing me to jump and tense. My chin jerked up. A tall girl with dark skin and tiny braids all over her head flashed a quick smile in my di­rection. “Hey.”

My tongue tied right up and I couldn’t get that one, stupid little word out before the girl with the short hair spun and walked off.


Feeling about ten kinds of stupid, I rolled my eyes and closed my locker door. Turning around, my gaze landed on the back of a guy heading in the opposite direction. My mus­cles tensed again as I stared at him.

I didn’t even know why or how I ended up looking at him. Maybe it was because he was a good head taller than anyone around him. Like a total creeper, I couldn’t pull my eyes away. He had wavy hair, somewhere between brown and black, and it was cut short against the nape of his bronzed neck, but was longer on the top. I wondered if it flopped on his forehead, and there was an unsteady tug at my chest as I remembered a boy I used to know years ago, whose hair always did that—fell forward no matter how many times he pushed it out of his face. A boy it kind of hurt my chest to think about.

His shoulders were broad under a black T-shirt, biceps de­fined in a way that made me think of someone who either played sports or did a lot of manual labor. His jeans were faded, but not in the expensive way. I knew the difference between name-brand jeans that were designed to look well-worn and jeans that were simply old and on their last wear. He carried a single notebook in his hand, and even from where I stood, the notebook looked about as old as his pants did.

Something weird moved through me, a feeling of famil­iarity, and as I stood in front of my locker, I found myself thinking of the one bright thing in a past full of shadows and darkness.

I thought about the boy who made my chest hurt, the one who’d promised forever.

It had been four years since I’d seen him or even heard him speak. Four years of trying to erase everything that had to do with that portion of my childhood, but I remembered him. I wondered about him.

How could I not? I always would.

He had been the sole reason I survived the house we’d grown up in.

Check out my reviews of other books by this author!

# 1 New York Times and # 1 International Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing, she spends her time reading, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, and hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Spencer Hill Press, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her book Obsidian has been optioned for a major motion picture and her Covenant Series has been optioned for TV. Her young adult romantic suspense novel DON’T LOOK BACK was a 2014 nominated Best in Young Adult Fiction by YALSA.

She also writes Adult and New Adult contemporary and paranormal romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

To learn more about Jennifer L. Armentrout and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter. You can also check out her Goodreads page as J. Lynn.

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