This is not your typical love story. Well, at least for me.
It was about the end of the year when I first read Upside Down by Lia Riley. My expectations were very so-so. I approached this novel just like any New Adult novel I’ve read in the past. That’s not entirely a bad statement; it’s more of I’m already anticipating the usual tropes that come with the genre. That’s it. But what I got was so much more. In other words, I fell in love with the damn book.
Come this year and I decided to reread it to see if what I felt wasn’t a fluke. The good news is that it wasn’t, and the even better news is that I fell in love with the entire series after marathon reading it. Right here, right now, I’m telling you to go read this exciting and exhilarating series. You want to experience something truly beautiful and magical? Then look no further.
After her sister’s tragic accident, Natalia Stolfi’s life starts spiraling down. She has obsessive-compulsive disorder and her compulsions have intensified. She flunked out of school because of her constant health scares. So she travels to Australia not only to finish her graduate studies, but to also escape from Santa Cruz and its ghosts.
During her stay there, she meets the surly surfer Brandon Lockhart after an incident that involved koala mascots and crazy jujitsu moves. They constantly bicker with each other, which eventually leads to passionate love.
If you’re a bit wary about the length of this series, don’t worry. Over the course of three books, Lia Riley effectively narrates the ups and downs, and the good and the ugly of a relationship. Talia and Bran don’t necessarily spend the entire trilogy loving each other endlessly; they were met with inevitable life situations such as finding the perfect job opportunities and the downsides of a long-distance relationship. It was something I haven’t seen in a lot of NA novels lately, and I commend Riley for that.
Let me tell you, if given the chance, I would fight for Talia and Bran to the bitter end. That’s how emotionally invested I was with them and their relationship.
Talia is hands down the bravest and most spirited heroine I have ever read in NA. She suffered a lot in the past because of her sister’s death and her disorder, but she did not let that get in the way of reaching her dreams. Though there are times she falls down, she always gets back up. And I think Bran’s description of her is perfect:
“How does she walk into the world every day, scared as hell, and not only survive, but also succeed, witty and cute as hell? All I do is sulk around with my black thoughts, replaying a life long lost. This cheeky American with the sad brown eyes has a warrior heart. And maybe it’s selfish, but I want to get as close to that, to her, as possible.”
Bran, on the other hand, is not your typical NA love interest. Before you give me any eye-rolls, let me explain why. When we meet Bran, he’s this surly and blunt character. In fact, I’m tempted to call him an unlikeable love interest for all the crap he did to Talia. But that’s all a façade because deep inside is this broken boy who longs for love but runs away from it, scared to be heartbroken once more. And I also think Talia’s description of him is perfect:
“There are beautiful places inside him, where laughter comes easy, where sweet words appear like surprise. But I also know his bitter valleys. The dark caves where hides his fears, his hurts, and his disillusionments.”
As for the supporting characters, they’re not in the spotlight for too; we are only offered glimpses of their lives and who knows maybe we’ll get their stories someday.
If I could describe Lia Riley’s style of writing, I would say offbeat. It’s unusual because it’s refreshingly intelligent and effortlessly witty. She doesn’t write one-dimensionally. Her words are full of depth and packed with a handful of truths from life. And her characters are really intelligent; Talia’s a history buff and Bran’s an advocate for the environment. There are also some really interesting questions raised throughout the series concerning humanity and ecological awareness.
And let me tell you how I just kept on highlighting passage after passage whilst reading. There were so many great lines said that I’m starting to think Riley’s secretly a poet or a philosopher. Ha.
As I turned the last page of the last book, I felt this aching in my heart. But it was a sweet kind of ache; you’re hurt that it’s all over but at the same time glad that it is. Everything was wrapped up neatly and I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying ending. But I was secretly expecting an epilogue though wherein Talia and Bran are married and have babies and I could go on and on.
All in all, the Off the Map series is a great testament that what is once lost will always be found……..but really, go read this series. You won’t regret it.