Remember being a teenager, just out of high school, and thinking you pretty much had it all figured out? I do. I was 19 when I got married the first time. I did it partially because everyone told me not to. I had something to prove, and no amount of good advice was going to stop that. The marriage lasted maybe two years tops, and most of that time we weren’t even together because of the military. I learned a lot though, that year that I was 19. In Gray, by Rachel Karns, Maggie Whitaker also learns a lot. Like Maggie, I joked that 19 was such a nothing year. At 18, you’re legally an adult. At 20, you’re officially out of your teens. At 21, you can legally drink. But 19 doesn’t seem all that special.
As I found out, and as Maggie discovers, 19 really is something special, it’s a time of self-discovery, of finding out who we really are deep down, of exploring our options, and maybe finding out what we really want to do with our lives. At the beginning of the story, Maggie, who has decided to skip college and run her family jewelry shop instead, is on her own for pretty much the first time in her life. She’s moved into the loft above the jewelry store and is getting her first experience in running the store without her parents, who are off on a romantic European cruise. Maggie has just settled into her daily routine when she feels drawn to a mysterious John Doe. She reads about him every day in the paper- this poor, comatose man who has no friends, no family, not even his identity. The strong pull to somehow help him culminates on Maggie’s 19th birthday, when she tells one little, well-intentioned lie that changes her entire life.
Gray is a coming-of-age story about growing up, falling in love, and discovering things about yourself that you never knew existed. Maggie lived her whole life as a good girl who pretty much never lied, yet suddenly in one impulsive moment, her whole life becomes a lie. It’s also about opportunities lost, new opportunities gained, first loves, missed loves, and all the other wonderfully dreadful turmoil that being barely an adult and barely a teenager brings. Maggie is mostly a likable character, although sometimes she is just so naive you kind of want to shake her and say “wake up and grow up!” But the naivety and occasional selfish behavior makes Maggie seem more realistic as a 19 year old. A flawless character would have ruined the story.
Karns interweaves bits of knowledge about the process that goes into designing and creating expensive jewelry, as well as a nice chunk of info about the hunting behavior of wolves. I always enjoy when an author adds something educational into the story in a manner that doesn’t make it feel like I’m reading a text book. Gray is a well-written fast read (it took me about three hours) with just the right amount of drama to hold your attention, but nothing so heart-racing that it keeps you up afterward.