Please come and be a friend to my son.
These are the words that inspire Adam Vik Solheim to respond to an ad looking for a Norwegian student to come to London — some 717 miles away from Oslo — and be an au pair for the summer. After a stupid decision led to the loss of his friends and his savings, Adam is desperately in need of a change of scenery, and cooking meals, driving a kid to and from school, and doing small household chores seems simple enough. The only problem is his charge is a 17-year-old young man who hides in his room and comes home from school with blood all over his uniform.
For Felix, life has been hell. Relentlessly bullied, he’s learned not to try to fight back or to expect any help. After the bullies broke his collar bone, Felix decided to keep his head down and simply endure until high school is over and he can get away from them. So, he puts up with the shoving, the hitting, the punching, the kicking, and the hurled insults and slurs and counts down the minutes, seconds, and hours until he can get home and into the safety of his room.
When Adam is finally able to pry out the truth from Felix, his first thought is to go to the authorities: the principal, the teachers, the adults. Felix begs him not to, because it’s already been tried and all that happened was his bully got angrier and Felix got hurt. However, Felix didn’t say Adam couldn’t be clever, and soon the two of them launch a plan to get some well-deserved revenge on the high school thug. Unfortunately, real life isn’t a fairy tale, and their attempts to stop the harassment end with Felix in even more trouble.
Adam comes from a loud, loving family and, as the older brother, he’s learned a thing or two about being crafty, clever, and even a bit cruel. As with many young men (and women), Adam and his friends were prone to doing stupid shit just for fun — nothing cruel or malicious, just the usual hi-jinx of drinking, partying, and being stupid with one another. And it’s that stupidity that caused the accident that could have killed one or more of them. The accident drove them apart and Adam misses his old gang fiercely So, when seeing Felix alone and scared and bleeding, his first thought is to take care of the younger man, and when he finds out what happened to him, his next thought is to do something about it.
Felix has been alone for long stretches of time, lately. His mother is a flight attendant and is often gone, hence the au pairs. It makes it easy to hide from her the blood, the bruises, the lack of appetite, the fear and terror that stalk his waking moments. But Adam, with no one else to pay attention to, sees through Felix’s attempts to hide. And Felix, so lonely after losing his friends — and so hurt, and scared, and at the end of his rope — blossoms at the first signs of kindness in who knows how long.
The two of them first become friendly and then friends, helped by Adam’s cooking. Adam coaxes Felix out of his shell and, as the two of them plan their revenge on the bully, Felix gets some of his confidence back. When the two of them first kiss, it’s awkward and uncertain. Felix knows he’s gay, but Adam doesn’t. Not really. Adam knows he’s bi, but he’s had a girlfriend (though she dumped him), which makes Felix think he’s straight, until Adam kisses him. Their confusion, the way they slowly maneuver around one another, and the stupid things they do and the stupid things they say makes them feel exactly like a pair of older teenagers. Adam is a lofty 19 to Felix’s mere 17, but it’s Felix who sets the pace.
There are quite a few pacing issues in this book as we meander through Adam’s thoughts on baking, his playing tourist in London, a side trip to Brazil, more shopping, more baking … the author seems to clearly love to cook (or knows someone who does), but it takes away from any tension in the story. It’s homey and pleasant and then there’s a sex scene and then more fluff and filler. The revenge plot is only hinted at, and I’m still not certain how their efforts were supposed to do anything more than piss the bully off. The end payoff when Adam gets Felix to finally take some action has nothing to do with Adam’s efforts; it’s all from earlier moment’s in Felix’s life — pre-Adam — or efforts taken on behalf by other friends. There was an idea there, but it fizzled out.
While this story had a positive message of friendship and family helping support someone through a traumatic time, it did get a touch cloying. A scene that hinted that Felix’s ex-girlfriend might cause some drama ended with a bland text message; the bully’s final comeuppance didn’t even happen in the story. It was off-camera where we weren’t able to see it. And Felix’s mother … other people treat her like she’s an amazing mom, but your kid is being bullied. You go to the principal. His collar bone is broken. You … do what, exactly? When she comes home to check up on Felix and Adam, she doesn’t ask Felix about, well, anything. She’s indifferent to him — unless you ask other characters, who tout how amazing she is. She’s inattentive, self-centered, and I really didn’t like her, either as a person or a character. She was a tool to get Felix and Adam together, but other than that, all she did was eat, moan about how good food was, and go to her boyfriend’s place.
At the end of the book, as all the strings are being tied into convenient, happy bows, Felix’s bully is tasked with writing a letter of apology. It’s really the first time we get to see anything of this character other than the bruises and blood he leaves behind. His apology is pretty much a meh, I guess I’m sorry and won’t to it again, okay? It didn’t work for me at all. If there’s not going to be an attempt to humanize the bully and give him an honest personality, motive, or even existence, then don’t give us a token “he wasn’t really bad, deep down; he had issues.” It cheapens the story.
717 Miles is a pleasant book. It’s a little damning with faint praise, because there are some parts of this book that worked for me, but they were scattered throughout the story. It felt like there were two stories: a slice of life — baking, talking, flirting, driving — and enthusiastic, sex, but then there’s the revenge plot that never went anywhere and an offhand mention of a trial. Side characters came and went and some of them hinted at greater plots or additional bits of drama, but nothing ever came of them. It’s one of those books I wish I’d either enjoyed more, or enjoyed less. Instead, I’m on the fence. It’s not a bad book; it just didn’t really have a good plot.