Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein

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Set against the stark and surreal landscape of New Mexico, Land of Enchantment is a coming-of-age memoir about young love, obsession, and loss, and how a person can imprint a place in your mind forever.

When Leigh Stein received a call from an unknown number in July 2011, she let it go to voice mail, assuming it would be her ex-boyfriend Jason. Instead, the call was from his brother: Jason had been killed in a motorcycle accident. He was twenty-three years old. She had seen him alive just a few weeks earlier.

Leigh first met Jason at an audition for a tragic play. He was nineteen and troubled and intensely magnetic, a dead ringer for James Dean. Leigh was twenty-two and living at home with her parents, trying to figure out what to do with her young adult life. Within months, they had fallen in love and moved to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, a place neither of them had ever been. But what was supposed to be a romantic adventure quickly turned sinister, as Jason’s behavior went from playful and spontaneous to controlling and erratic, eventually escalating to violence. Now New Mexico was marked by isolation and the anxiety of how to leave a man she both loved and feared. Even once Leigh moved on to New York, throwing herself into her work, Jason and their time together haunted her.

I received this ARC from First to Read by Penguin Random House.

Ok I am going to be honest. When I started reading I had forgotten what it was about and that it was a memoir. It doesn’t read like a memoir, but more like a novel.

At first I couldn’t stand either Leigh or Jason. I felt they were both big drama queens and was so annoyed by the fact that they were actors. They just loved the drama and being at the center of a scene.

Then I went on Goodreads and realized it wasn’t a work of fiction. Something about it kept me going. It might be because it was a short and fast read, and the other reason is that Leigh is quiet poetic with her descriptions. (Well, she does write poetry.) I especially liked when she spoke about having a witness to your memories to make sure they were real.

My feelings started to change when Leigh spoke about her depression and I became more sympathetic. I even felt connected to her when she spoke about pouring out her feelings on LiveJournal and feeling closer to her friends online. I totally admit I inwardly fangirled when she mentioned LiveJournal and blogging.

When she finds out people had knew died and goes through the Facebook messages and old photos, that’s something we can all relate to. Her stages of grief and coping are feelings anyone can understand.

What I liked best was that her story is one of hope and inspiration. She pushed through to escape her abusive relationship with Jason and made a good life for herself.

At first I totally hated Jason for being abusive and cruel to Leigh. I wasn’t even sorry he died. By the end, even though there is no excusing his behavior, I just saw it as another sad and unfortunate truth that not everyone can turn their life around. Jason couldn’t escape his mental illness, which I do think he had, and he lived fast and died young. Not everyone gets to have Leigh’s outcome of a better life.

One of my favorite quotes was at the end about having a friend to help push you to be your most excellent self but also doing the hard work to push past your fears and doubts. “And so today I dare you to do the thing you don’t think you’re ready to do.”

3.5 out of 5 El Chupacabra.

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