Today, we’re reviewing a book that is highly not recommended by me. I had a lot of problems with this book. And now, I have a lot of problems with how much praise this book is given.
I want to set out here that there are, toward the end of this review, spoilers in the form of instances of sexual assault. Please keep this in mind when reading the review, though I’ve put a warning before the descriptions in the review itself as well.
This book remains one that I can’t stand to this day for a lot of reasons. A one-star review if I ever had one, find a slightly modified version of my original Goodreads review below.
I received a free advanced reading copy of this through Goodreads’ First Reads program.
I really don’t know where to begin with this. The crummy writing? The unlikable characters? The terrible dialogue? The totally unnecessary references? The complete abandonment of plot threads? The frankly uncomfortable ending? Well, let’s try a quick note for each, in order.
The writing was rife with run-on sentences, one particular example I remember going on for about half a page, full of nothing but the word ‘and’ and about two commas; no other punctuation. It was dizzying to read, made me completely lost, and was totally unnecessary as it was. This was the worst example, yes, but run on sentences were everywhere. There was also a lot of repetition and extremely strange word choices. Not to mention that the similes and metaphors were often ridiculous, and many of the descriptions heavy handed and unfortunate.
None of the characters were sympathetic to me. In fact, they all seemed to be nothing but caricatures of stereotypes. Very few actually acted the age they were supposed to (the bullying went from juvenile-but-legitimate to horrifically serious in a heartbeat), most made decisions that were totally impossible to relate to, and most of them had no personality outside of their assigned quirk (see: caricatures). I feel like the author wrote down a series of highschool stereotypes and then made them into characters without any real effort beyond that. Gay drama teacher, alcoholic father, depressed mother, fat girl, horny guy, dumb jocks one through four, rebel sister, shopaholic, preppy boy, old man janitor. I could see no real effort to write anything but stereotypes, in most of them. Also, the ‘hero’ at one point exclaims highly personal information about his friend to a group of relative strangers. This frustrated me immensely.
Dialogue was extremely stilted and awkward. The main character had serious issues communicating, beyond any reasonable level of ‘shy.’ As someone who has dealt with legitimate and diagnosed social issues, I did not feel there was a single reason why there would be several page long conversations with the main character in which he says approximately two sentences and the rest is someone talking at him. Plus, the slang choices were awkward. I live in another part of Canada, yes, but so many aspects of dialogue choice (curse words, turns of phrase) are not the kind of thing that I ever hear. This would not be such a problem if it weren’t for the fact that it makes it highly awkward at times (some of the word choices just don’t sound natural) and, more importantly, all characters use the same word choices. I never hear people call youth ‘young ones’ in conversation. I especially don’t hear every person in a town call them that. I have never heard ‘Jesus’ used as an adjective, as opposed to an exclamation, let alone have everyone use the same curse words regardless of specific one.
The constant and completely unnecessary references were, in one instance, funny– and only to Canadians at the current age, which not only makes the book harder to market outside of Canada, but also outside of this half of the decade. Other references also will make the book dated quickly, and many of them are absurd. I’m not sure how many fifteen year old boys will ever mention Twilight or Justin Bieber as things they are ‘supposed’ to like. I’m not sure how many highschool kids would even know that the Spider-man Broadway show exists (and if they do they probably know it was a disaster and that it’s no compliment to tell someone they’re a good enough actor to be in it). The references did nothing to add to the book other than make it ‘current.’ Plus, they act like Radiohead is something no one has heard of and that the ‘heroine’ is into something completely different, and yet the only thing actually mentioned about Radiohead is the lead singer’s name and the title of one whole song (over and over again).
Often times, I felt like plot threads were totally abandoned. The alcoholism is alluded to all of three times after the first part of the book. Many struggles the characters face are mentioned once or twice and never spoken of in any way ever again. Half of the ending, even, was a total cop-out on a major plot for the entire book which, in fact, makes an entire event in the novel completely and utterly pointless.
And the ending, finally. I’m prefacing this with a major warning for sexual assault, not to mention spoilers. Beware if you don’t want to read either of those things. Marjorie is assaulted by the bullies– or, rather, the bullies try to make Wayne do the assaulting. The author actually describes her panties and her pubic hair. And that Wayne likes it. There was a ‘throbbing in his groin’ and he confesses to himself that he enjoyed part of the incident. Later, during a consensual sexual encounter after the fact, there is no description at all. The author wrote something completely horrifying happening to the characters in detail, with one character liking it. Then offers not one bit of that when it’s subverted into something good. as if it were only worthy of detail and enjoyment when it was rape.
It also felt extremely demeaning when, up until the point, the only real good quality about the book was that Marjorie didn’t let the taunting and insinuations of her being a ‘slut’ get to her, and instead rebuffed them by saying it was her body and she could do what she wanted with it. This was great, we need more of that in the media! Except then she claims she would have ‘taken’ the rape and it was done in such an awful way.
I want to write a quick clarification here: I don’t expect victims to fight off assault, necessarily. The problem here is more in a) the change in character and, more importantly, b) the language used to describe it: that she would have ‘taken’ the assault and that it was treated in such an insensitive way.
And I think we’re still supposed to feel sorry for the bully after all of that, including his completely unprecedented personality change. After all, “he’s not a bad kid.”