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180 Seconds Paperback – April 25, 2017
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About the Author
Jessica Park is the bestselling author of more than fifteen novels, including Flat-Out Love and Left Drowning. She grew up in the Boston area and attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. After spending four years in the frigid north, including suffering through one memorable Halloween blizzard, she decided to set out for warmer climes. She now lives in the relatively balmy state of New Hampshire with her husband, son, two dogs, and a cat. She admits to spending an obscene amount time thinking about rocker boys and their guitars, complex caffeinated beverages, and tropical vacations.
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"One hundred and sixty seconds. We are engaged in a form of intimacy that scares the absolute h*ll out of me. It’s as if there is a weight on my chest that I want to shove off, and I’ve never been this terrified before.
Or this whole and hopeful and connected.
My body starts to tremble. I want more of what I’m feeling, and I also want none of it."
The catalyst for the story is similar to a video you may have seen floating around social media that featured performance artist Marina Abramovic who sat at a table one minute at a time in complete silence with total strangers. The performance takes an emotional turn when the lover that she had not seen for over 20 years shows up across from her. In Park's story, Allison is a jaded foster kid who was adopted late in life. The story starts at the beginning of her third year of college where she continues to excel at keeping everyone at a distance. Until she accidentally stumbles upon a social experiment. Esben is well known on campus and on social media as someone who finds the good in people. His friendly, open demeanor is a complete contrast to Allison's closed off nature. Walking back to campus Allison unexpectedly finds herself taking part in one of Esben's experiments - the two sit across from each other in total silence while maintaining eye contact for 180 seconds. Reading this description it may be hard to believe those 180 seconds would have such a profound effect on Allison and Esben, but Park's description of how the pair reacts to each moment will make you feel like you're the one sitting in the chair. After the experiment, Allison and Esben try to figure out what the experience meant to one another. It sounds simple, but their journey is a beautiful push and pull of letting yourself become open to the idea of love as well as the constant struggle to find the good in people.
"Just say that you love me. Please. Because I am so god**mn in love with you that I can hardly breathe when we’re apart."
I loved this book for so many reasons, but one of the emotional triggers for me was the ache Allison had to be loved. As someone who was adopted when she was "sixteen and a half" Allison struggles to let anyone in, including her father, Simon. The only true friend she has is Steffi, a fellow foster kid who Allison considers a sister. Besides these two people, Allison has convinced herself that she is fine without anyone else in her life and that she enjoys being alone instead of being bothered by stereotypical college idiots. As I was reading I could totally relate to Allison. I'm an introvert and I'd much rather stay at home than be invited to a party, or read a book instead of a girls night. Right? As a military spouse, I move around so much that it's hard to make friends, but that doesn't bother me. At least I tell myself that it doesn't. As I continued on reading there is a pivotal moment in the book when Allison is faced with the decision to open herself up to making new friendships or continue isolating herself. She sits in her bed and weeps at what she has become and truthfully recognizes she doesn't want to be alone. The whole scene is maybe a page and a half, but I felt it to my core. How easy is it for us to lie or have a sarcastic comment when we see other people having fun instead of being honest and acknowledging we crave those same connections. Yes, there are times when I would truly rather sit in my pajamas on the couch and binge watch The 100 on Netflix rather than go to a bar. But there have also been many times when I've been jealous of people who seem to make friendships so easily while I sit in a restaurant alone. It's a testament to the author's writing that she can not only make you connect so deeply with the characters but that her words make you reflect on your own life.
"I cannot stop the tears. 'I don’t want to live like this,' I say out loud over and over through my sobbing. I cry for who I have been, who I am, and who I could be."
There are so many things I loved about this book. I could honestly pick it apart and analyze it for days. There wasn't one moment I didn't fall in love with the characters or the writing. 180 Seconds is one of the best books I have ever read, and its message has resonated deeply. There isn't one person that wouldn't benefit from reading this book. It's perfect.
Jessica Park has been one of my auto-buy authors since I stumbled upon her novel Left Drowning. I’ve read every one of her books because they always manage to touch me in ways I’m not expecting. She has me wanting to know her characters and everything about them from the first sentence, chapter and page. I’m always surprised by what I find, but never by how much I enjoy the journey. And I loved the journey I took in 180 Seconds. There was so much raw emotion in it. I couldn’t help being swallowed up by all of the feelings. So many things touched me deeply. I tried to hold back tears so many times unsuccessfully. 180 Seconds made me feel more than a book has made me feel in a long time.
Allison was such a vulnerable character. Everything about her life had been and was hard. She wasn’t your typical college student. She craved privacy and anonymity. Allison was afraid to let people in. That made being pulled into a social experiment with the famous Ebsen Baylor all the more nerve-wracking. Spending 180 seconds with him did something to her, something big. It was exciting and stressful to be in her mind.
Ebsen’s point of view wasn’t included in this book, but I didn’t need it. His character was so open that his thoughts and feelings came across well. I loved his part in Allison’s awakening. Their connection was so raw. I could feel it. He was an exceptionally amazing guy, and learning what experiences made him who he was made me believe Ebsen could actually be as amazing as he was.
All of the secondary characters in this book were incredibly important to the story. I adored them all, and I would love to read future books about their stories. I do have to rave about one particular character, though: Steffi. Steffi was Allison’s best friend. She was a tough cookie and the only person Allison could rely on for a long time. I loved how they got each other as only best friends can. The way Steffi pushed Allison out of her comfort zone was very special. Their friendship was truly touching.
One of my favorite things about 180 Seconds was how it portrayed social media. It showed the good and bad of being so connected in this day and age. It also showed how easy it is to be happy about the positive recognition received and how hard it is to deal with the negative.
This is where I’m going to stop my review. I know I haven’t told you much about the story itself, but I don’t want to give anything away. 180 Seconds was such a beautifully written journey. It’s one that should be experienced for yourself. What I will say is that I absolutely adored this book. I didn’t put it down once I started it. I couldn’t. It was just too special to take a break from. 180 Seconds is going on the list of books I recommend to friends, and will be one I give often as a gift.
I especially loved that she highlighted the fact that despite the horrible, selfish, mean people we hear about on a daily basis on the news, there are many more, who are quietly generous, caring, and loving, and are willing to go to great lengths to help those in need.