Two Roads from Here by Teddy Steinkellner

3.5 stars

Teddy Steinkellner’s latest young adult novel, Two Roads from Here, revolves around the lives of five seniors and their life-changing decisions.

Brian is a football player. In an accident shortly before the homecoming game, he falls and has a concussion, and his head still hurts. He needs to decide whether or not he’ll play in this football game, but it’s not so black and white with the forces of peer pressure weighing on him.

Allegra is a Stanford acceptee, but doesn’t know if she should commit. Her mother’s deteriorating health is the largest factor in her life, and with the state it’s in, being so many hours away seems like such a huge decision to her.

Cole, devious mischief-causer extraordinaire, cheats on the math portion of the SAT, using a younger high school boy and math genius he’s befriended. But as much as he may not want to believe so, his moral code is stronger than he thinks, and he needs to choose between turning himself in or living with the guilt.

Nikki switched schools after an unsavory video of her having sex with her boyfriend got around school. Now, she’s started afresh, but she’s not sure if she should go all the way with her new boyfriend, DeSean.

Wiley, best friend of Allegra, has been in love with her for who knows how long. He’s hoping to take himself out of the friend zone, and telling Allegra with an awesome band performance might just be the way to do so. Is he willing to take this chance, or should he play it safe and continue to enjoy their friendship?

Here’s the official summary:

Five high school seniors. Two different roads. One life-changing decision. For fans of Tommy Wallach and Patrick Ness comes a thoughtful, funny novel that explores what happens to five teens when they choose the road…and the road not taken.

Should Brian play in Friday’s football game, even though his head really hurts?
Should Allegra commit to college now that her mother’s illness has returned?
Should Cole cheat on the SATs for a chance to get into his dream school?
Should Nikki go all the way with her boyfriend?
Should Wiley tell his best friend that he loves her and risk losing her completely?

These five seniors are about to have an opportunity people only dream about: to experience two potential outcomes of a life-altering decision. When it’s all over, will they still recognize their futures?

Two Roads from Here was a unique novel that followed along the cast of characters if they chose one decision, or if they chose another. It’s a very interesting premise, and I didn’t expect the book to be formatted this way (nor realize so until part 3).

It wasn’t like a choose your own adventure book, but rather followed along with one history, then the other.

To explain it better, there’s a prologue-ish beginning that applies to both roads (with alternating POVs for all the characters), and then there’s what happens in Road One for a time period, i.e. Fall (with alternating POVs as well, and multiple per character). After, we reset back to how the prologue ended and follow the story (alternating again) as the characters make a different decision. And then jump back to storyline one for winter, then two for winter, then one for spring, then two for spring, and so on and so forth.

Unique, right?

Indeed. But I have no idea what actually happened.

The way this novel structured is very different, and a warning ahead of time would have been appreciated. I only realized we restarted once I was halfway through the first second road.

What makes it worse was that I was constantly forgetting which road I was reading. Was it road one, or road two? What happened in which road? The polyvocalic nature, of this novel in no particular order scrambled the happenings further.

At the very least, some labeling on the margins of the page about which road I was reading (maybe near the page number) would have greatly helped me follow along with the story.

The nature of this story caused me a giant headache as I attempted to figure out what was going on.

To add onto my piles of woes, the two roads were so uncannily similar that I had an even harder time distinguishing who’s who. It’s like a Where’s Waldo game gone wrong–except they forgot to print Waldo.

Likewise, it becomes harder when you don’t read the Goodreads summary. In the Goodreads summary, it says “These five seniors are about to have an opportunity people only dream about: to experience two potential outcomes of a life-altering decision,” but on the actual dust cover, it only recites the central paragraph in the Goodreads summary. So if you pick this book up on a whim from the library, there is no warning about the formatting.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean it was a bad book, just that it wasn’t the book for me. I read this in short spurts instead of binge reading, and I ended up forgetting what I read. My suffering reading experience should be attributed to both my lack of research and foresight before jumping into this novel and the book’s faults in not providing helpful page headers and/or a description/author’s note on the time-skip alternate dimension structure.

In Lauren Oliver’s Replica, she includes a note at the beginning on how the book can be read–one story, then the other or alternating between one chapter of this and one chapter of that. Something like this would have been useful before I’m started.

Because of this, I’m not qualified enough to tell you about the plot besides the basics that were prevalent in both stories (as I summarized above). I’m still not sure how the book actually ended, but I know I enjoyed the journey (journeys?).

I still connected very well with the characters. I’m honestly surprised at how realistic and well written the characters were because I didn’t actually care whether or not I knew what was happening because I liked reading about the characters and their struggles.

Steinkellner has a very unique voice which spreads to the characters. I enjoyed reading it because it instilled a dry sort of humor into some of them.

Here’s a quote from the first line, in Brian-the-football-player’s point of view:

I sat outside Coach’s office with a feeling like my brain was about to give birth to a radioactive midget.

They act like actual teenagers, not adults in teenage bodies which makes this novel so realistic. They go to a typical rah-rah-football! high school and come from a variety of backgrounds.

I got to know them increasingly well as the novel went on, and none of them were carbon copies of another. They all had flaws and struggles and played on some clichés, but weren’t a full trope.

I connected well with all of them, although some more so than others. And even though I wasn’t particularly fond of some, as in I wouldn’t want to befriend them in real life because they’re a manipulative gossip-monger (ahem Cole), I still liked reading about them.

I did find it somewhat repetitive when I read the second road after the first, which dulled down the pacing a bit, but I treated this novel more character-based then plot-based by the halfway point.

There’s diversity present throughout the novel as some of the characters have different races and ethnicities (Allegra’s Hispanic & Cole is black) as well as different issues (Allegra’s somewhat chubby while Nikki has been slut shamed).

I still managed to interpret the profound messages about choice and other topics as all of the seniors are faced with hard decisions. Some more mature topics are mentioned such as drugs (marijuana) and sex.

Two Roads from Here is a unique YA debut, one that I think I would enjoy more during the reread compared to the first time reading. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a meaningful read about high schoolers in America–as long as you have the patience and unwavering concentration to distinguish between the plot lines.

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Are you interested in reading Two Roads from Here? What do you think of the format?

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