Places No One Knows

Book review by
Bess Maher, Common Sense Media
Places No One Knows Book Poster Image
Dark romantic fantasy traces opposites' self-discovery.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Waverly's sophisticated word choices and Marshall's poetic language should increase readers' vocabularies. Unusual topics discussed include the process of decomposition, cage fighting, and Machiavelli.

Positive Messages

Be yourself. Everyone is different. Real friends like you for you. Kindness trumps meanness. It's OK to be imperfect. Alcohol and drugs won't fix your problems.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Waverly and Marshall start out as poor role models, but they help each other be better versions of themselves. Marshall stops smoking cigarettes and abusing drugs and alcohol, and Waverly allows herself to be imperfect by, for instance, taking a break from cross-country and expressing a more human side of herself.

Violence

Brief descriptions of cage fighting and horror flicks (" ... the camera pans back and Jerry's leg is all mutilated and surgically altered").

Sex

Reference to Marshall having slept with at least one girl he didn't love or even like, but it's not described. Rumors about characters' sex lives circulate. Marshall and Waverly make out passionately as they're falling in love: "His mouth on my neck is warm and sends a surge of electricity through my blood. And here comes the ravishing now, frantic, reverent."

Language

Most teen characters use strong language, including "s--t," "f--k," "p---y."

Consumerism

Waverly and her new friend Autumn don't care about brand names, but Waverly and her main group of friends are very concerned with looking "pretty" by wearing natural makeup, styling their hair a certain way, and wearing expensive-looking clothes. After spending more time with Marshall and Autumn, Waverly cares less and less about meeting these standards.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Marshall smokes, and Waverly thinks it's disgusting and encourages him to quit. Marshall takes acid, smokes pot, and binge-drinks near the beginning of the novel, but that behavior tapers off. Teens, including Waverly, drink at a party near the end.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Places No One Knows, by Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement), is a dark contemporary romance for older teens told in alternating chapters from the points of view of its two main characters, "perfect" popular girl Waverly and deeply emotional Marshall, who cuts class and abuses drugs and alcohol. One night, Waverly, an insomniac, uses a candle and deep-breathing techniques to lull herself to sleep and suddenly finds herself in Marshall's presence -- a paranormal event she repeats throughout the novel. Waverly and Marshall engage in some sexy make-out sessions, and characters make references to Marshall and other minor characters' sex lives. Strong language includes "s--t" and "f--k." 

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What's the story?

Waverly Camdenmar has Spanish class with Marshall Holt. The two are complete opposites: She's perfect and popular but masks the ways she's different from her peers (for example, she's more interested in horror movies, the process of decomposition, and Mandelbrot fractals than homecoming), and she allows her mean-girl best friend to control her life. He's a self-proclaimed "nobody" who feels his emotions and life's injustices deeply, ditches class, and uses drugs and alcohol to numb himself. But the two are united in their inability to break through other people's perceptions of them to let out the best version of themselves. In the novel's lone touch of fantasy, after Waverly burns a candle with a spicy scent that reminds her of Marshall and practices deep-breathing techniques, she's transported to a party where Marshall is tripping on acid and freaking out. Each time Waverly burns the candle, she finds herself in Marshall's presence, which increasingly is in his bedroom, where they talk candidly about their lives, fears, and feelings as much as they kiss. Though they're falling in love during these mystical midnight meetings in PLACES NO ONE KNOWS, Waverly can't bring herself to let Marshall into her daytime life, pushing away the one person around whom she can truly be herself. Once the candle burns out, she fears she'll lose him completely.

Is it any good?

This lyrical contemporary young adult romance has a unique premise and an intriguing touch of fantasy. Waverly is a refreshing female protagonist whose intelligence and sense of irony make the chapters written from her point of view engaging, while Marshall's chapters are filled with poetic language ("Most of the time, I'm starving"; "Without a cigarette there, reminding me to breathe, it's hard to get enough air") and reflect a depth of feeling.

Both teens exhibit dysfunctional behavior: Marshall with his abuse, and Waverly with her perfectionism (for example, running until her feat throb and bleed with pain). As they get to know each other better, Marshall likes the way he's allowed to be a better person with Waverly, and his substance abuse tapers off. For her part, Waverly's nights with Marshall wake her up to the idea that she doesn't need to be perfect to be liked, and he encourages her to get in touch with her emotional side.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dealing with complicated emotions. What are some positive vs. negative ways of dealing with them? 

  • What do you think of the fantasy element of Places No One Knows? Does it add to the appeal of the story, or would you have preferred the story remained realistic throughout? 

  • What does it mean to be "normal"? In what ways are you and your friends unique?

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