Taking The Leap

‘As Many Nows As I Can Get,’ a Beautiful YA Novel About a Bad Relationship

Scarlett thinks she’s mapped her future, just as easily as she’d work a physics formula.

She’s valedictorian of her high school in small-town Graceville, Colorado. College applications are in. She’s enjoying all the “lasts” that come with senior year last Christmas tree lighting and concert, last big party with friends, last weird conversation with her resolutely sex-positive mother about birth control.

That’s one Scarlett. Yet we quickly meet another Scarlett, one barely maintaining the responsibilities of life as her friend Mina drives her cross-country, reminding her of assignments she needs to finish, listening to her talk about her childhood friend David.

These fragments of Scarlett are all “nows” in Shana Youngdahl’s stunning new novel As Many Nows As I Can Get. Youngdahl toggles forwards and backwards through Scarlett’s high-school years and her first semesters in college, tracking her fraught relationship with David. It’s an ever-shifting portrait of a young woman at different points in time, all crucial pieces of the puzzle that add up to who she’ll be.

Scarlett and David have known each other forever, because their parents met in birthing class. They’ve always been just friends circling in the same orbit. But their relationship changes the day they jump off the bridge together.

“I want to feel everything–what it’s like to be that heron, or those clouds, and to jump off that bridge,” David tells Scarlett suddenly, while they’re both a little bit drunk and high and near the beach on the outskirts of town.

“‘Ready?’ he said. I wasn’t. But he’d already stepped into the air, so a millisecond behind him, I stepped off the bridge.”

The adrenaline spike jump-starts their fast-forward from friends into lovers, an intense few months that we know from the beginning doesn’t last. Youngdahl unspools their doomed relationship with care. She shows us the first signs of David’s increasing reliance on drugs and the excuses Scarlett makes for him until it’s too late, all steeped in the dizzying, hormone-fueled thrill of teen chemistry. Scarlett’s flirtation with the dark side starts slowly, with that leap off the bridge and a nighttime skinny-dip in a not-yet-inhabited spec house, and escalates to a road trip south towards Mexico.

“This drive with David, this thing with David, was just one impulsive move,” she thinks, once safely back home. “In a whole life of responsibility. It was fine. I was still going to college. I was still Scarlett.”

Throughout, Scarlett occupies these liminal spaces between her planned self and reality. She’s an appealingly real bundle of human contradictions: smart, STEM-focused, a college’s dream on paper while also hopelessly self-centered and oblivious at times. As she slowly realizes all her pragmatism won’t save her from life’s detours,  she learns that her missteps don’t define her. She also wrestles with guilt, regret and a dose of necessary humility.

As Many Nows As I Can Get is a beautiful ode to forgiveness of self and others. It’s a story that encapsulates truths that should resonate not just with its intended young-adult audience, but readers of all ages.

(Dial/Penguin, August 20, 2019)

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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