As the first part of an ongoing series, The Year of Isabella Anders is a novel to avoid. The synopsis led me to believe that this could be a sweet, standalone romance novel. Instead, we’re given a dragged out, unstructured mess.
Poor Isabella Anders. She’s seventeen and could not fit in with her family any less. Her mother hates her, her father barely looks at her and her sister uses being the favourite to torture her. So when the opportunity arises for Isa to travel to Europe with her Grandma Stephy, she has to take it. But three months away from an emotionally abusive home can change someone — and the differences are oh-so clear to Kai and Kyler, the hot brothers next door.
It’s hard to know what to say about The Year I Became Isabella Anders, as it was a disappointing wreck of a novel. How 67% of reviews on Amazon could rate it as five stars is beyond me, as I’d give it two at most. Sure, this is a quick and easy read. But when Isa travels to Europe, the adventures abroad are the highlights — which is displeasing, as they don’t take up too much of the book.
Before Isa leaves for the summer, it’s clear that Kai finds her attractive. He asks for her number, he teases her — how much more obvious could it be? This leads itself to disgruntlement as a reader when Isa just won’t acknowledge his feelings. She struggles with her self-worth, so it’s understandable that she may be completely oblivious to a guy crushing on her. But it doesn’t help that she’s “in lust” with Kai’s older brother, a sports-obsessed jerk.
It could have been interesting to see Sorensen dig deeper into Isa’s low self-esteem to create a more challenging read. She quickly learns to let go of her fears while travelling, leading to an exponential growth in confidence. So much so, that it feels like an overnight transformation.
Finally, Isa has learned how to accept herself for who she is. Heartwarming, right? Maybe, until she returns back to her pre-Europe self on her return home.
Within this weird wreckage, The Year I Became Isabella Anders seems to suffer from a bout of genre confusion. Marketed as a romance novel, it contains many unwelcome elements of mystery. A storyline about Isa’s family history brings her and Kai closer as they search for answers. It’s saddening to see how Sorensen falls into this structural trap, where new questions are consistently arising without any answers being found. More planning and editing could have replaced this frustration with tension. Instead, it feels like the author just word vomited into a document on her laptop.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its good points. How troubling Isa’s mother acts towards her will certainly catch you off guard. She’s terribly mean, being the obvious but barely-seen villain. Grandma Stephy on the other hand plays the doting grandmother, and Sorensen uses Stephy to challenge ageism and character stereotypes. Stephy is the cool grandmother who’s openly into alcohol, adventures, fun and sex, but will still bake cookies to cheer Isa up.
An abrupt ending will leave you fatigued. It’s unnecessarily sudden, leaving too many strings untied. It feels as if Sorensen planned for one book, split it into two and completed no restructuring to allow for a three act structure. Perhaps this worked in the way Sorensen planned, as I did download the follow-up immediately. However, it reads as a debut novel from an unskilled newbie — which is inexcusable for such an accomplished author like Sorensen. It’s definitely not a must-read, but a must-miss.
The book is available here, just in case you want to experience this nightmare.