The Vow is Jessica Martinez's third young adult novel, following her debut, Virtuosity, and her sophomore offering, The Space Between Us. If you've never read one of Martinez's novels, what are you waiting for?? Like her first two books, The Vow is impossible to put down and incredibly intense.
Annie and Mo have been best friends since Annie came to Mo's rescue in elementary school after an unfortunate pants wetting incident. Ever since, the two have been inseparable. Mo is sarcastic and super focused on his future. Annie is the good daughter, careful to never upset her parents, who keep her close after the violent loss of Annie's older sister years before. When Mo's father loses his job, the entire family faces deportation back to Jordan. Despite the fact that Mo has grown up in the US and considers himself American, he will be forced to return to Jordan as well. Annie can't imagine life without Mo and Mo can't imagine leaving Annie, not to mention everything he's worked so hard for in the US, so they devise a desperate plan: marriage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their solution isn't as simple as they first assume. Marriage is never simple, especially when it's done secretly and in less than legal circumstances. The fallout of their actions affect Mo and Annie's lives in ways they hadn't expected and may not be ready to handle.
This book deals with so many different important themes, from platonic relationships to romantic relationships and marriage, familial love and interaction, sibling bonds, racism, prejudice, bullying, loyalty, betrayal, lies, and hard truths. It might sound impossible to make all of these big, complicated things fit together, but Martinez does so in a beautifully complex way. Every issue feels right, nothing is forced, and nothing feels overlooked or unresolved. To me, that would have been a complete disservice to any of the issues within the novel - to have one of these big issues made to seem small next to another issue - but Martinez gracefully sidestepped this potential problem and artfully wove the various themes together to form a story both endearing and compelling.
While I'll never say that Annie or Mo is perfect, I really loved them together. Their imperfections make them the perfect friends. One of the shining achievements of The Vow was the fact that Annie and Mo are not romantically involved. While they do love one another, it is the love born of friendship and understanding rather than crushes and romance. I really feel like this kind of friendship and love is rare to find in literature and, often, in real life... especially between a guys and girls.
I was deeply affected by the prejudice and judgement Annie and Mo must endure from the people they encounter in their small southern town. I'm from a small town and I am all too familiar with the racism and prejudice that can fester in these slow parts of the country. Annie doesn't really seem to understand... or maybe she just doesn't want to understand... what Mo's going through. She defends her parents when they make completely horrible and uncalled for comments about Mo and his family... and I cringed every single time. At the same time, Mo's family makes some off color assumptions about Annie that caused me to tense. Throughout everything, the judgement and comments, the stares and whispers, Annie and Mo stick together. They may not always do the right thing, but they persevere and try to communicate and understand what the other is going through. To me, this attempt to understand and communicate despite the mistakes and misunderstandings are paramount to overcoming prejudice and judgement within the novel and in real life. Annie and Mo, despite their shortcomings, set a fantastic example.
Obviously, there's a lot more I could say about The Vow. This book tackles so many different things that it's impossible to read it and not find something within its pages to connect with, which makes it an emotional and engrossing read. I highly, highly recommend this novel to contemporary fiction readers, regardless of age.