Published: 11 October 2022
Author: Jenna Adams
Published by: Neem Tree Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 432 pages
Reading dates: 6-12 October 2022
Fourteen-year-old Brooke Tyler has spent her whole life waiting for a boy to choose her. Matt is about to go to university, scared to leave behind everything he knows. When both are cast as romantic leads in Romeo and Juliet, they fulfil the roles of forbidden lovers both on and off the stage. Brooke is sure that her fairy tale is coming true – and best of all, Matt is older.
Brooke considers secrets and lies a small price to pay for her first boyfriend, but the relationship is set to cost her after one night alone in an empty auditorium. When Brooke learns that Matt’s actions that night were illegal, her world shatters.
Years later, Brooke and Matt reunite as adults. Matt wants to undo all the damage he caused, but Brooke makes a choice which forces them both to question their relationship.
Told in three acts this captivating debut reveals a young woman’s journey for independence as she strays away from everything she has ever known to navigate her traumatic past.
Can I Stray begins in 2010 and tells the story of Brooke who is 14 and Matt who is 17. They are cast as the main characters in an amateur dramatics production of Romeo and Juliet. Brooke is a talented actress and singer but is very shy so Matt does his best to take her under his wing and tries to get her to open up a bit. Brooke is flattered by his attention as she finds him attractive and as Matt gets to know her, he realises he is attracted to her too, but is aware the age difference would be frowned upon.
They begin a relationship of sorts, which is basically the two of them sneaking around and kissing lots. Matt instructs Brooke to keep it a secret because he knows they shouldn’t be seeing each other. But one night, the pair take things further than either of them was ready for. It contributes to the deterioration of Brooke’s mental health, as he leaves to go to University and she realises that Matt should not have done what he did.
In the next act, Brooke is 18 and about to go to Uni and Matt is 21 and about to finish when they bump into one another at the drama group. Reconnecting, Matt wonders if they have a future but Brooke’s mental health is still fragile. After a night together in a hotel after Brooke’s prom, she does something that will have ramifications that spread far and wide.
In the final act, Brooke is 22 and Matt is 25. What happened when they were younger has overshadowed both their lives. Matt is stuck in the town he grew up in doing a job he doesn’t want to do while Brooke is trying to make her life better and understand why the relationships she chooses are not healthy.
Can I Stray is certainly a thought provoking book. It raises the issue of consent within a relationship which thankfully children are being educated in today. After I read this I spoke to my 15 year old son about consent and asked what he understood by consent and he talked about a video he’d seen which I watched and it is so good. The importance of consent seems to be pretty drummed into them at school nowadays – it is not something I remember ever hearing about during sex education back in the 1980s. Both characters in the book seem unaware of the issue of consent until it is too late.
I had equal sympathy with both characters and I think this comes from hearing both their thoughts, and maybe because I have sons? When Brooke finally finds a therapist whom she is honest with and recognises her issues it is eye opening for her. She realises the relationship with Matt was all about his control of her and how she instinctively chooses to be in co-dependant relationships.
Can I Stray is quite a long book but that is OK. The author takes her time telling both Brooke’s and Matt’s stories and I was totally captivated and and interested in both characters. It gave me a lot to think about – a thought provoking debut from Jenna Adams which I really enjoyed.
Many thanks to Jade from Need Tree Press for sending me a proof copy of this book.
Jenna Adams and Neem Tree Press are holding an online event to celebrate the release of Can I Stray on 26 October and you can register here.
About the author
Jenna Adams lives in London and writes from her third-floor flat which is covered in plants. She is a regular contributor at The Book Network and Can I Stray is her first novel. Jenna is passionate about exploring mental health, consent, and codependency in her writing. You can find out more about her work on Twitter.