Review: The Vow by Jessica Martinez

There’s going to be a lot of ranting in this review, because as an international student, I can relate to a lot of the immigration issues that Jessica Martinez (Canadian!) brings up in The Vow. I found myself inevitably drowning in the book, and even though I kind of knew how the story would end, it didn’t make The Vow any less emotional to read. Martinez captured the feelings of a heartwrenching friendship while tackling serious issues such as illegal immigration, race discrimination, and rape.

Title: The Vow
Author: Jessica Martinez
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Category: (Young Adult) Contemporary / Realistic Fiction
Source: Pulseit

Mo and Annie have been best friends since they were ten, and even though everyone thinks they’re more than friends, they’re not. It’s just that they’re both different from everyone else in the small town of Elizabethtown, Kentucky: Mo’s family is from Jordan, and in this small redneck town, everyone secretly thinks he’s an Iraqi terrorist; Annie is fragile, and has been since her older sister disappeared, leaving her family broken and her life in shambles. And they’re so not more than friends because Mo has been crushing on that super hot cheerleader at school (whom he has no chances with), while Annie starts to take notice of a cute guy at her new summer job. But Mo and Annie will always have each other – or so they thought, until Mo’s father loses his job and informs Mo that they’re moving back to Jordan. Mo’s upset because he’s losing his chances of playing basketball, going to Harvard, and staying with Annie, but Annie comes up with a not-so-brilliant plan: they can get married, and Mo can then legally stay in the U.S.! Woohoo! Why didn’t anyone else think of that? (BECAUSE IT’S ILLEGAL.) But because Mo and Annie really love each other (in the friends kind of way), they struggle through the disapproval of their parents and friends. However, as they get drawn deeper into the reality of their situation, Mo starts to understand the importance of family, while Annie comes to terms with what happened to her sister and falls deeper for Reed, the summer-job-guy.

Mo is kind of like the best guy friend ever. He’s outspoken, sarcastic, and knows how Annie’s feeling without her having to tell him. He also makes the best science-to-life analogy I’ve read to date:

Chemically speaking, if my life was a solvent, and misery the solute, saturation point has been reached.

Annie, on the other hand, constantly asks Mo how he feels. She’s always there for him, and she can be really stubborn when she wants something (like getting married to Mo so that he can stay). When she’s with Mo, they really click: they act immature together the way only best friends can act, and their conversations are always so fun and witty. Even after they get married and Annie confesses that she’s seeing Reed, Mo and Annie are still… well, Mo-and-Annie.

“So when do I get to meet him?” I ask.


“What? How is that even possible? As your husband, I demand to meet the dude you’re making out with.”

“And as your wife, I demand you let it go. […]”

Aside from the humor, The Vow also touches on some very serious issues, and there are layers upon layers of injustice that just makes me want to give up on society, because the situations are very realistic. From the discrimination that Mo faces, to the truth behind the disappearance of Annie’s sister and the family issues that arise from immigrating to a new country or from tragedies within a family, these are situations that someone somewhere faces everyday. And I really think that Annie’s mother put it best:

“You’re not fine. And adults don’t ride skateboards to the grocery store. You’re kids playing some kind of grown-up married-person game, and at some point you’re going to realize there’s a lot more to marriage than skating around and whatever else you two do together.”

It’s not easy being kids (or “young adults”, since Mo is seventeen and Annie is eighteen) in a grown-up world, because they don’t want to confront reality, and they think anything is possible. Mo and Annie get totally shut down as they realize that everything and everyone is against them. (Cue my inevitable drowning… womp womp.) It also doesn’t help that the new guy that Annie falls for, Reed, is a chef-in-training and paints as a hobby. Obviously Mo can’t win against someone who can make good food! Arghh, the inevitable!

But anyway, I want to touch on the immigration aspect of the story, since that’s what The Vow is built on, and it’s also what I could relate to the most. Moving to a new place or a new country is hard, and it really depressed me to see Mo, who has finally been “Americanized” after being bullied when he first came to the U.S., faced with the possibility of having to move back to Jordan, where he’d be scorned for being more American than he should be. This cultural inability to fit in during immigration is an ongoing issue, even with the increasing “melting pot” and “mixing bowl” views. It’s different from fitting in socially because it entails a lot of logistics – the paperwork, customs, and the whole shebang. (And I’m bitter about this because I just ran into a paperwork issue earlier this week. Hrrmph.)

Martinez was able to spin all these different elements into The Vow, and I applaud her for making each issue just as important as the next. Her artful wordplay in linking the alternating chapters of Mo and Annie’s first-person narratives also made me giddy because it was just so good! But this kind of story is too realistic for me, and I feel depressed and angry at the world after reading it; I usually like books where I can escape from reality (yeah, I don’t know why I read realistic fiction either). The ending was obvious to me, but if it’s not obvious for you, here’s a spoiler gif in case you want to peek.

If you want something happy and light, The Vow is definitely not it. But if you’re in the mood to sit down for some serious feels about The Strongest Friendship Ever and Why Being International Sucks, I would encourage you to give The Vow a go.

If you’ve read The Vow, what did you think about it? If you haven’t, do you plan on reading it? If it were you, would you go to such extremes to help your best friend?


4 thoughts on “Review: The Vow by Jessica Martinez

  1. I’ve been getting back into reading YA ever since I read and adored “Eleanor & Park” a couple of months ago. This book sounds like something I would like, although I’ve never been in the position of either of the main characters. I do have a casual friend who took part in a “green-card” marriage, but she and the man involved were in their late twenties at the time. They’re no longer together, but it was a friendly split.
    I’m off to see if my library has a copy of this title–thanks for the recommendation!

    • That’s so interesting that you know a real-life version of The Vow, in a sense! I don’t know how well these marriages usually work out (or even how often it happens), but Martinez definitely put a new spin to it by having teens go through a process that is usually reserved for adults. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the book when you get to it!

  2. I really love Jessica Martinez’s books and I enjoyed The Vow. It’s interesting to hear about it from your perspective as someone who’s close to some of the issue the book raises. Personally I really enjoyed the storyline with Annie and Mo and Annie’s storyline, but I struggled with Mo’s storyline. I understand why he was depressed and stagnant, but, when compared to all of the great things that were happening to Annie, I kind of felt like Mo’s chapters dragged and I kept wanting to get back to Annie.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Maggie! I really enjoyed Annie and Mo’s interwoven storyline too, and it’s funny how I have the opposite character preference; I liked Mo’s storyline more than Annie’s, but I guess that might be because I can relate to his side of the story more? I agree that his story did drag a bit at the end, and for me, that added to some of the hopelessness I felt about his situation and made me more sympathetic towards both characters. But like I said, I’m super biased, haha. 🙂

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