Updated: Jan 18
The Problem with Forever
by Jennifer L Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen
A story about friendship, survival, and finding your voice.
Growing up, Mallory Dodge learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it's been four years since her nightmare ended, she's beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime. Now, after years of homeschooling, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at a public high school. But she never imagined she'd run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn't seen since childhood, on her very first day.
It doesn't take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet soon it becomes apparent that she's not the only one grappling with lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider's life spiral out of control, Mallory must make a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants and the truths that need to be heard.
RATED: 14+ CATEGORY: MOOD:
Trigger #YoungAdult Emotional
Sexual references #Romance
Trigger Warning: This book deals with childhood neglect and abuse, and drug and gun violence.
The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout is a stand alone young adult book, featuring Mallory Dodge, a seventeen year old girl, who suffers from a traumatic upbringing in the foster system along with her best friend, and protector in a house of horrors, Rider Stark. After a tragic event rips her away from the only person who was her constant, she is eventually taken in by a successful, loving couple. After years of therapy and homeschooling, Mallory knows she needs to face her fears before going to college, and one step to that goal is going back to school. She had no idea that the handsome boy who would sit next to her in Speech class would be the person she was torn away from, Rider. Instantly, their connection with one another is just like it was when they were thirteen. As Mallory and Rider get to know one another again, Mallory learns that she isn't the only one struggling, and in order for her to help Rider, is if she faces her own fears, and speaks out.
Okay. Excuse me. I'm having a bit of an emotional hangover.
I'm always a little wary when I start reading a young adult book. I love young adult, but there needs to be an element of realism for me to truly love it. This means there needs to be real emotions and thoughts. Good and bad situations that teenagers may encounter. Right away, I knew I was going to love this book, and by the end, while ugly crying and drowning my emotions with Oreo's, I knew I stumbled on a beautiful, emotional story with an important message. The story was unique, and real. It's a sad reality that there are many kids in the foster system that was neglected and abused, and while hard to read, it needs to be known. The Problem with Forever's plot dug it's claws in me, and I honestly couldn't put it down.
Me. A 32 year old adult woman, with three kids, couldn't put down a young adult novel. I'm currently running on 2 and a half hours sleep and a pot of coffee because I couldn't sleep till I finished the story.
The Problem with Forever is beautiful written, heartbreaking, and sweet. It's message is potent, and I honestly can't recommend it enough, especially for teenagers.
The story isn't the only thing that is wonderful, but the characters are truly well-written. Mallory's emotional struggles, the effects of her PTSD, and her physical scars from her past are hard to read, but everything was .... real. Yes, there's that word again. Jennifer didn't romanticize what she goes through. Despite everything she has been through, she is kind, and incredibly intelligent. Empathetic. And while she doesn't think she is, she is strong. Rider's arc throughout the book is also not romanticized. He hides it well, but he struggles too. It's obvious how he feels about himself, and that he has given up. The fact that he is who he is, incredibly caring, considerate, fiercely intelligent and wonderfully talented makes the story that much more heartbreaking, because it's lost on him.
The connection between these two characters is instantaneous, but the attraction to one another is new, and the quiet chemistry between the two is rather beautiful. We don't need the physical passion that a lot of readers desire in a romance. Don't get me wrong, we do get physical intimacy between the two (be warned parents if this makes you uncomfortable), but it's truly not needed. The love between the two is beautifully written and obvious, and you can't help but root for them.
The side characters are also wonderfully written. Mallory's adoptive parents are truly great, despite some mistakes made along the way. Parents are not perfect. We make mistakes. Say the wrong thing. I love that this element is added to the story. Parents are often not overly involved in young adult stories, but Carl and Rosa's roles are so important to the story AND to young reader.
The young characters are also brilliantly written. Hector and Jayden are truly like Rider's brothers, even if Rider doesn't feel like he is apart of the family. Jayden's story is heartbreaking, and brutal, but happens every day. Mallory's best friend Ainsley is also great. She is kind of the definition of the perfect best friend. Ainsley's diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (the same rare genetic disorder that Jennifer Armentrout herself was diagnosed with) is a clever way of teaching readers about this disorder, one that Jennifer is passionate about.
The Problem with Forever is very much deserving all the praise it gets. With a wonderfully written bittersweet story, beautiful and intricate characters, and elements of realism and romance, it truly is an amazing piece of work. I highly recommend not just for young adults (and I totally plan on sharing this book with my own teens), but adults as well.
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Rider: "It's okay. Remember? I promised I'd keep you safe forever."
His chest rose deeply, and when he spoke, his voice was low and rough
Rider: "Is that really you, Mouse?"
My tongue was useless, which for once was strange, because he ... he had been the one person I'd never had any problem talking to, but that had been a different world, a different lifetime.
That had been forever ago.
Rider: "Do you recognize me?"
His eyes continued to hold mine, and I spoke what turned out to be the easiest word I'd ever said in my life.
Rider: "Yeah, I made you a promise. I didn't keep that promise, not when it counted."
Mallory: "No. That ... wasn't a promise you should've ever had to make. Not to anyone."
Mallory: "Um, I'm ... I'm not really the rah-rah type."
Keira: "Do I look like a rah-rah type?"
Rider: "So in case you're wondering - yeah, I'm skipping class right now."
His eyes searched mine again.
Rider: "You know, hearing you say my name isn't something I ever expected to hear again. I don't give a shit about missing one class if that means w e get to catch up a little."
Mallory: "You ... you won't get in trouble?"
Glancing over his shoulder, he shrugged
Rider: "Worth it."
Rider: "Where did your freckles go?"
Mallory: "I don't know. They ran away."
The deep chuckle cam again, coasting over my skin
Rider: "You used to have three right here."
He tapped my cheekbone lightly.
Rider: "And then two over here."
His finger grazed the bridge of my nose and then he lowered his hand.
Rider: "Can I tell you something?"
His lashes lowered and the lopsided grin appeared.
Rider: "I always knew you'd be beautiful one day."
A flush swept across his cheeks as one side of his lips kicked up.
Rider: "I just never thought I'd get to see how beautiful you'd become."
Mallory: "You're beautiful, too. I mean, you're hot. But I always knew you would be."
My eyes widened as I realized what just streamed out of my mouth, and his grin turned into a smile.
Mallory: "Oh my God, I did not just say ... any of that out loud."
Rider: "You did."
Tipping his head back, he laughed deeply.
I started to place my hands over my flaming face, but he caught my wrists, holding them between us. His eyes were lighter, dancing.
Rider: "I can pretend you didn't say that if that makes you feel better."
Rider: "I won't forget it, though."
Rider: "I like it down. Though I kind of miss the orange. Made it easy to pick you put in a crowd."
Rider: "Ah, I'm lying. Still easy to pick you out. A mile away."
Mallory: "Because I'm shorter ... than everyone in a crowd."
His gaze flickered over my face in that strange, concentrated way.
Rider: "No, not that at all."
Our eyes met for a moment, and I didn't want him to leave. An urge took me like it had during lunch, and I all but bounced forward. Gripping his arms, I stretched up and kissed his cheek. It was pretty much just a peck, so I figured it wasn't crossing any lines, but the feel of his skin under my lips was still unnerving and unexpected.
Mallory: "Be careful."
Rider's grin faded from his handsome face. A moment passed before he spoke.
Rider: "Always, Mouse."
Rider: "My name is Rider Stark. I like working with my hands. And I don't like classrooms. Maybe saying I didn't like classrooms would be a bad choice, but I could say something like I don't like bananas."
He nodded with a small grin.
Rider: "I discovered about three years ago that I absolutely hate those damn things."
Mallory: "But they're just bananas."
Rider: "They're the fruit of the devil."
A surprised laugh burst out of me.
Mallory: "My name is Mallory ... Dodge. And I like ... I like reading. And I don't like ... I don't like who I am."
Jayden: "You know what they say about me, muneca? That I can sell ice to an Eskimo. I'm just that cool and charmin'."
Hector: "How are you feeling, bebita?"
Mallory: "What does ... bebita mean?"
Rider blinked and his lips slowly parted. Surprise splashed across his face.
Biting down on my lip to stop from grinning, I dared a peek at Hector.
His light green eyes were wide, then he smiled broadly.
Hector: "Means, uh, baby girl."
Rider: "It also means something he doesn't need to be calling you."
Hector: "My bad."
Rider: "You eating?"
I rolled my eyes
Mallory: "I'm not a child. I can ... eat on my own."
Rider raised a brow and there was no mistaking the slow slide that started at the top of my head and traveled downward. My cheeks pinked.
Rider: "Trust me. I know that. Trying to wrap my head around it, but I know that."
Mallory: "You ... you said something to her."
Rider raised his brows
Mallory: "I ... You can't do that. What did you say to her?"
His eyes searched mine.
Rider: "I just told her that you are important to me and since I never thought I'd have you back in my life, I didn't want anything or anyone messing with that. She understands."
Mallory: "Understands what?"
Rider: "She understands that if I have to pick between you two, it's not going to be her."
Rider: "You're different now, Mallory."
Mallory: "I am."
Rider started to close my door, but bent down instead. Our gazes connected again. An eternity stretched out and then he leaned in. My heart stuttered when his lips brushed my forehead, lingering for several seconds.
Rider: "I probably shouldn't have done that. See you tomorrow, Mouse."
Rider: "I just don't see it in my future. I mean, hell, people would probably fall over dead from shock if my ass ended up in college."
Mallory: "I wouldn't."
Mallory: "I ... I hate that I have to think about every single word. It's embarrassing. People are going to make fun ... of me."
Rider: "People are assholes, Mouse. You already know that. And there's nothing to be embarrassed about."
Mallory: "It is ... embarrassing."
Rider: "Not if you don't let it be. You have the power over that. People can say crap. They can think whatever they want, but you control how you feel about it."
Rider: "None of that really matters, right? You don't have anything to be embarrassed about. The way you talk isn't a big deal. And if people are asses, they're not important. Only you can let yourself make them important."
Mallory: "And what if none of that works?"
Rider: "i'll just start beating people up."
My brows flew up
Tipping back my head, I laughed - laughed long and hard - and when I looked at him, he was staring at me in his intense way.
He gave a little shake of his head
Rider: "Nothing. It's just that I haven't heard you laugh like that in ... yeah, a long time. It's nice."
I was smiling again
Rider: "Really nice. I hope you do it more often."
Hector: "Esa chica esta bien caliente." (That girl is so hot.)
Hector laughed as Rider shook his head.
Ainsley stiffened across from me.
Hector: "Me gustaria a llearla a mi casa y comermela." (I would like to take it to my house and eat it)
Ainsley cocked her head to the side as she brushed her long, blond hair over her shoulder.
Ainsley: "Gracias! Pero no hay ni una parta de mi que tu te as a comer." (Thank you! But there is not a part of me that you eat.)
Hector's eyes widened.
Rider threw his head back and burst into laughter.
Rider: "Oh, shit. Priceless."
Ainsley: "What? You think some white chick can't possibly understand another language so you're going to sit in front of me and talk about me like I'm not here. Bitch, please."
Hector: "Man .... You're ... brutal."
Ainsley: "Damn straight. And you're a mal criado."
Hector's eyes narrowed.
Rider: "I really like your friend, Mouse."
Still chuckling, Rider winked at me.
Rider: "She basically called him a classless ass, and I agree."
Rider: "Being with her wasn't the right thing to do, you know? I felt like I was stringing her along. Especially now."
His gaze searched mine
Rider: "Especially now."
Rider: "I like you, Mallory. And God knows you deserve a hell of a lot better than me. God. I suck at this. Can we just forget -"
I snapped out of it.
Mallory: "You like me?"
His gaze flew to mine
Rider: "Yeah, I do. And I know I'e been with Paige and I'm not going to pretend that meant nothing, but it's not how I fell for you. Not remotely like how I feel for you. And it's not because of our past - because of you and I knowing each other for so long. At first, I thought that was way - this attraction I have to you. I thought it was because of everything we'd shared. And then the night I came to your place and you fixed me up, I thought it was just this physical thing. And it is most definitely a physical thing, but it wasn't just that. I think part of me knew that from the very first time you said my name."
Mallory: "These people sound scary. I don't ... I don't want you involved in any of that."
Rider: "Because you care about me?"
Mallory: "Of course. I don't want to worry about you getting hurt."
Rider: "Because you want to be with me?"
Rider: "You want to be my girlfriend?"
I opened my mouth and then I laughed. It sounded strange after the seriousness of out conversation, but the statement was sweet and silly.
His cheeks pinked
Rider: "Not sure how I feel about that laugh. But I do love the sound of it. So do you? Want to be my girlfriend? Probably should've brought this up before I kissed you, but I want ... I want to see where this goes, Mallory. I feel like we got a second chance, you know? I'e been thinking that since I sat down in speech and saw you sitting."
I dropped my bag on the floor and started to sit when Rider swooped down, kissing my cheek once more.
I flushed as I glanced over at him.
He grinned as he sat.
Rider: "Couldn't help myself. Your cheek looked like it was missing my kiss."
Rider: "I never stopped thinking about you. Not one day, Mallory. That book ... I don't know, it was something that tied me to you. After you were gone, it was all I had of you."
Mallory: "I want ... I want to ..."
Rider: "Do you want to kiss me? Is that what you want?"
Rider: "You want that? You can have it. Whenever. You don't even have to ask. Ever."
I didn't move.
Mallory: "I don't know what ... to do."
Rider: "I'll show you."
Rider: "You're safe now. I'm here. You're safe, Mouse. And I know you might not believe it, but I'm going to keep you safe forever. That's a promise."
Mallory: "I don't want to ... be like this. I don't like who I am."
Rider: "It's okay. You're not going to feel that way forever. Nothing lasts forever, Mouse."
Rider: "You there, Mouse?"
Rider: "There's something I need to say to you and I want you to listen, okay? You said something tonight that really bothered me. You said you didn't like yourself. I hated hearing that, Mouse. I don't like know you think that way. There's so much about you that you should like You're smart. You've always been smart. You're planning to go to college and maybe even do something med school - related. You're kind. You're a sweet person who has her entire future ahead of her. Not to mention you're a great kisser. You kind of suck at the whole graffiti thing, though. That's true."
A choked laugh escaped me
Rider: "But we can work on that. And those soap carvings I saw? They were amazing, Mallory. You are talented. You just don't talk a lot, Mouse. That's it. You're shy. That's no reason to not like who you are, because who you are is wonderful. You're perfect in your own way."
Mallory: "I haven't done it, either. I mean, that's super obvious since .... you're the first boy I've kissed, but yeah, I don't even know ... what I'm saying and I'm just going to shut up."
Rider: "Don't. I love it when you ramble."
Mallory: "Only you would enjoy that. Do you want to ... go that far with me?"
Rider: "Yeah. Yeah I do. Someday."
Mallory: "I ... I want that, too."
Rider picked his thermal up and pulled it on over his head, pausing to grin at me.
Rider: "Sorry. I'm going to have to cover up. I know it's not fair."
Mallory: "It really isn't."
Carl: "It's not a good place, Mallory. Now, I know you haven't seen a lot of this city, but we have. We -"
Mallory: "I have seen the worst shit this city has to offer and it has nothing to do with the neighborhood."
Ainsley: "You love him, don't you?"
Mallory: "Yes. I think I am. No. I don't think I am. I know I am. I'm in love with him. I think I've been in love with him my entire life. And I love the grown Rider even more than I loved the boy when we were younger. And that's scary."
I loved Rider.
I was in love with him.
I knew that much was true. Love was the swelling, hopeful feeling in my chest every time I saw him. Love was the way I could forget about everything when I was with him. Love was the catch in my breath when he looked at me in his intense way. Love was the gasp he could draw out of me with the simplest of touches. Love was the way I could ... I could be myself around him, know that I didn't need to be perfect or worry about what he was thinking, because he accepted me. And all of that?
Love scared the hell out of me.
Mallory: "I don't think ... you realize how much Hector and Mrs. Luna care about you - how much Jayden cared about you. I don't think you believe you're worth it. It's the same with your artwork and art school - with college. You've given up on yourself before anyone else has a chance to."
Rider: "That's bullshit, and kind of priceless coming from you. You gave up on me yesterday."
I swallowed hard
Mallory: "I know. You're right about that, but I'm also right."
Rider: "And how's that?"
Mallory: "Because I give up on myself on a daily basis. I know."
He sucked in an audible breath
Rider: "Mallory ..."
Mallory: "It's true. It's what I do. I don't mean to. Or maybe I do. It's ... it's easier being scared of everything."
Rider: "How ... how can that be? How can that be easier?"
My smile was faint
Mallory: "You can't fail when you don't really try, right? You'd know that."
Mallory: "How ... how do you feel about me?"
Rider: "I think it's pretty obvious."
Mallory: "Let's just say I need a detailed account."
Rider: "I can do that for you."
Rider: "I never once stopped thinking about you when you were taken away. Four years. All I could hope was that you were in a good place. Never expected you to walk into school. Didn't even allow myself to dream about that. And then you did, and seeing you blew me away. You were just like I remembered, but different. The hints of the girl I saw in you when we were younger were now right in front of me. The moment you said my name - the moment you hugged me I knew."
Rider reached between us, folding his hand around mine.
Rider: "I knew I'd fall in love with you and I did. I love you, Mallory."
Rider: "I love you, and not the kind of love we had for each other when we were younger, you know? Paige knows that. So does Hector. So did Jayden. I love you."
Rider: "I was just thinking. Man, this is going to sound cheesy, but I was thinking that this is the first time this room has felt like ... mine."
Mallory: "I love him. I love him. I'm not going to stop seeing him."
Rosa: "Honey, I ... I know you think you're in love, but you two have this past where it was just you and him against the world. I can understand why you might think you feel that way, after all that you two have shared."
Mallory: "How do you know when you're really in love with someone?"
Rosa opened her mouth, but she didn't speak as she pulled her hand away.
Mallory: "How did you know you were truly in love with Carl? How does anyone really know? I don't think you can ... but I know how I feel right now. Maybe that'll change. I don't know, but don't - Don't tell me that I don't know what I'm feeling or what to feel."
She sat up straight.
Mallory: "Because I know that I feel strongly about him. I know that it is love. He ... he accepts me, always has, but he doesn't expect me to stay the same, and when I fail at something in front of him, he doesn't make me feel bad about it. He makes me feel good about myself, about him."
Mallory: "The boy that you keep painting - the one at the warehouse and at the art gallery? That boy is you, isn't it?"
Rider didn't say anything
Mallory: "It's not you from the past. That's still who you are."
He closed his eyes
Mallory: "And you know what? This who time I've though I was the one who was messed up. That I was the one who walked away from that damn house damaged and screwed up. I thought it was me. And it wasn't. It was you. It's always been you."
Mallory: "You've had years - eighteen years of feeling this way. No conversation is going to undo years of feeling like you're nothing, of ignoring all those around you telling you that you so matter. The Lunas couldn't fix that. Oh my God, I can't undo that. I can't fix that. I would've tried - I would've tried, because I love you, I love you so very much, but you have to be the one to change it. Not me."
Mallory: "Jayden told me once, after the day in the garage, that he looked up to you and Hector. I ... I just thought you should know that was real."
Rider: "I'm real."
Rider: "I do care. I don't want to be like this forever."
My gaze rose up to his
Rider: "I broke up with you because I thought it would be better that way. That you would eventually find someone who has their shit together, who has a future and isn't stuck. Things were - are - messed up in my head. I'm trying, really trying, to change that."
Rider: "I know you may never forgive me for hurting you. I can understand that. I can also understand if you don't want to have to deal with me while I'm trying to do better, be better, but I ... I want to be the person I think you deserve. I want to be the guy with a future, with his shit together and who has hope. I want to be the guy worthy of your love, and I swear, if you'll have me, I'll do everything in my power to be that man. I'll never stop trying. Ever. And I want you to know that I heard what you said in that speech. I might've saved you all those years ago, but now you've saved me."
A wicked little grin tugged at his lips
Rider: "I think we should celebrate. We have fifty minutes now. I only need, like, five of them."
Mallory: "Oh my God."
I laughed, shoving at his shoulders
Mallory: "You're terrible."
Rider: "I'm not terrible. I'm in love."
Mallory: "I love you, too."
Rider: "I know."
Forever wasn't pain and grief.
Forever wasn't a problem.
Forever was my heartbeat and it was the hope tomorrow held. Forever was the glistening silver lining of every dark cloud, no matter how heavy and thick it was. Forever was knowing moments of weakness didn't equate to an eternity of them. Forever was knowing that I was strong. Forever was Carl and Rosa, Ainsley and Keira, Hector and Rider. Jayden would always be a part of my forever. Forever was the fire-breathing dragon inside me that had shed the dear like a snake shedding skin. Forever was simply a promise of more.
Forever was a work in progress.
And I couldn't wait for forever.