Before 99 Days, it had been a while since I picked up a book and read more than a few pages. Prior to this 366-paged read, I was buried in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Catcher in The Rye, which was 6 months ago. Cotugno’s straightforward read eased me right into that world of living another life through words on bound paper. Don’t be fooled, although it is an easy read, it’s no where near simple. Without spoiling anything, the story is about Molly Barlow, who comes home for her pre-college summer after finishing senior year at a boarding school. She sent herself away after her town finds out about her affair with her ex boyfriend’s brother all because her mother wrote a book and explicitly said in People’s magazine that it was inspired by her daughter, Molly. The people of Molly’s small town found out and hasn’t stopped hating her ever since.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the themes in the book. I’ve always been the person that gets a little upset and queasy when fictional characters cheat on their partners. Violation of trust has always been such a horrible topic that made me uncomfortable. Yet, I stayed and read on after 5 days of Molly Barlow’s dreadful summer (and gave it 3 stars). Perhaps it was the fact that each chapter was a day, so there was the feeling of a countdown that made you read in deeper anticipation. Or maybe, it was just because there was more to the story than I thought, and I could feel it like an undertone, a small rhythm beneath Molly’s whining and bad decisions.
Alright, now that we’ve got the vague introduction out of the way, it’s time to discuss the afterthoughts. This is going to be a review mixed in with a little analysis, but nothing too deep, mostly just me going !!! because our dear protagonist has made a lot of crappy decisions that need to be discussed.
Like, a lot.
1. It was a tight rope of moral values.
In a way, it makes you second guess your moral values. Of course you’d know that Molly was wrong for sleeping with her (ex)boyfriend's brother, and she is definitely digging up her own grave when she starts hanging out with Gabe and fooling around with Patrick. You’re very much aware that it’s like a nightmarish version of an alternate universe. However, there is something that doesn’t make you completely repulsed by her. Maybe it’s because Molly is the protagonist and we can’t help but support our main characters, or maybe it’s because she wasn’t a complete home wrecker. This of course is later explained once we find out that the brothers had ulterior motives and they’re in some messed up, toxic-masculinity-fuelled sibling rivalry triggered by the tension building up from the difference in their personalities, jealousy, and loss of their father—which all explodes once they were in the confusing love triangle with Molly. (Also, she technically wasn't cheating, the first time, what she did was still horrible. Just not aggressive-bullying-worthy).
Of course we don’t really know this right off the bat, but we get hints of it, which I felt throughout reading the book. There were moments where I had to stop and really think, “why don’t I hate Molly?”. It didn’t make Molly’s character more redeemable, but everything seemed less like it was all her fault. Still, it was frustrating because a lot of the times Molly got herself in a mess, Patrick initiated it. Yet, we see her leaning in instead of pushing him away.
Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but there were a lot of moments where I was more repulsed by Patrick and Gabe. I’m sure Cotugno purposefully laid the two boys out like perfectly chiseled Greek Gods straight out of a Wattpad story, with their supposedly perfect floppy hair and grey/blue eyes, etc. But I could feel that immature Male Bravado vibe coming off of both brothers even before we find out that they had some weird Man Ego feud.
At the same time, it was refreshing because they were real, just like Molly. I feel like YA characters don't tend to have a lot of depth. Girls are too often Manic Pixie Dream Girls and boys are too often Teenage Zach Efrons with an Edgy Twist, but not Cotugno's characters. Molly is so very flawed and constantly makes the worst decisions but we also see the love, both platonic and romantic, she yearns to give and receive. Patrick is the sweetheart, "the soul" of his family, the boy Molly grew up with which basically lead to having the ability to communicate telepathically with each other. Molly romanticizes Patrick non-stop, talking about people always expecting them to end up together and that they were a packaged deal; you can't get one without the other. However, Cotugno tells the truth: that Patrick is cold and manipulative. He will shut people out and use people for his own selfish and vindictive reasons. Gabe, too, is flawed. Despite his good looks and fanfiction-worthy jawline, he is entitled and cocky. At the same time, we can't help but believe him a little towards the end when he says that he really did fall for Molly. We also can't deny that he had his moments where he was sweet and understanding towards her.
3. Highlights societal issues
The big thing that Cotugno discussed towards the end of the book, and what makes Molly take control of all this conflict in a way, was the horribly unequal way the people of her town treated her and the other boys. Yes, Molly cheated. And yes, Molly deserves all the hate people gave her. Yet, the boys who were both active participants in the cheating never got crap for it. Gabe realises this in a way, which is what he tells Molly (“we’re on the same team”) and makes her feel less alone. Although, we don’t really see just how unfair the situation is until the story progresses. Gave still has friends and goes out with girls who fawn over him, whereas Molly suffers from constant bullying and slut-shaming. Another thing: did she deserve all that slut-shaming? What she did was horrible and should never be condoned but to be called all those internally misogynistic words by Julia and her flock of Gal Pals? Cotugno perfectly captures the unfair treatment that girls and boys get from society, especially concerning relationships and sex.
1. Patrick and Gabe were awful.
To be honest, most of the time all I that I could think was: "Molly, why are you wasting your time with all these bland white boys?".
2. Julia Donnelly deserved more development.
Most of the time, Julia confused me and she was such a trope that it made her a less believable character. But then Cotugno drops the "dark secret" bomb on us and it's like, damn, Julia is more complex than the Mean Girl but the Mean Girl caricature was already unbelievable so now it's just a confusing messy pile of (somewhat) character development. I didn't like reading about her as a character. Not because the things she did were awful, but because she was awful.
3. Imogen just deserves better.
Also a barely believable character. Molly was so awful to her. Imogen welcomed her with open arms, ready to forgive her every. Single. Time.
Was it the best read ever? No, definitely not. Was it an ideal Fluffy Summer Read? Nope, it was way too stressful and dramatic. Did it keep me on the edge of my seat and made me ~feel things~? Yes. So, I guess, do with that what you will. To be honest, I thought I was going to give it 3.5 out of 5 stars, then I decreased it to 3.25, then I kind of just gave up and put up a 3, which I feel is more fitting than a number closer to 4.
Have you read 99 Days, or any of Katie Cotugno's other work? I'd love to know what you thought in the comment below!