Here's a description of the book from Bloomsbury:
"Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she'd rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?
And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax.
Holly's chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save."
With such a whimsical cover and interesting premise, The Chapel Wars promised to be a fun read. And it was in certain aspects - but it also went deeper, touching on grief, the effects of divorce, shattered illusions, and financial responsibilities. I really appreciated some of the ways Leavitt addressed these issues. Others didn't entirely win me over.
Surprisingly, Holly's younger brother stole the show for me. It wasn't because I overly liked his character or because I approved of everything he did. But he felt "real" to me - an honest mix of angst, confusion, and warring longings to be an independent "man" and yet to see his family heal and succeed. His presence in the story really highlights the importance of family.
I also enjoyed experiencing some of the local haunts in Las Vegas. The critiques and love for the city blended nicely, and it proved to be a very intriguing backdrop for young love.
That young love didn't exactly work for me. The make-out sessions were a little more than I wanted to know (nothing explicit - I was just sad that they got physical so quickly, and that the physical connection was used as a distraction from other relationships issues). I also hated the ways Dax let Holly down, and the fact that there wasn't more fallout for his choices (despite the sad reasons for him making them). Basically, the romantic relationships often came across as immature, and I guess I just had hoped for something different, despite the YA level (or maybe because of it).
As for other issues... Sometimes it took more thought and work to figure out who was speaking than I would have preferred, but I'm not sure if that was an attribution issue or due more to the formatting of the e-ARC I read - or perhaps a combination of the two. And the overall tone of the book rubbed me wrong. There were moments of hope, for sure, but the ambiguity of faith and the constant uncertainty of purpose left me feeling...bummed, I guess. I really wanted to see the heroine stand up for the things she believed in - the things her grandpa had stood for - but I felt like there was way too much compromise. It wasn't necessarily because of Holly's marketing/business strategies, but more because she was willing to go certain directions only because she thought it would help them make money, not because she really believed they would be beneficial for all involved. Maybe that sounds conceited and unrealistic of me to be against that. But the general attitude and the throwing out of "ethics" (to some degree) didn't impress me. Plus, the view of rushing customers to the altar bothered me.
Leavitt's writing style is engaging, her imagery vivid, and her premise both touching and clever. I just don't think The Chapel Wars was the right book for me, especially since I lost respect for some of the characters, which made it hard for me to care for them as much as I should. If you like the magic of Las Vegas and YA romances that deal with grief, though, you might want to give this one a try.
*With thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*
Note: The Chapel Wars releases May 6, 2014.