Janie and Micah. Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been since they were children, when Janie Vivian moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship – as long as no one finds out about it.
Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for providing a review copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I first heard about this book last year at HarperCollin’s BTCYA event and I fell in love with it after hearing the pitch that was given. It was one of my most anticipated books of the first half of 2016, so I was a little bit scared and hesitant after hearing some mixed things about it from other bloggers. However, I found the story and plot to be wonderful and insightful, and I highly enjoyed it. What I wasn’t as big of a fan of were the characters, but I’ll go into that a little bit more later in my review.
This book is written in dual perspectives and from two different timelines that alternate with each chapter. I highly enjoyed this non-linear format and thought it was very reminiscent of I’ll Give You the Sun, which is my favourite YA novel of all time. From Micah’s perspective, we learn about the present (or the ‘after’) and what happens when he wakes up with no memory of something big that happened in his small town. From Janie’s perspective, we learn about the ‘before’ and the events that occurred in the months leading up to the big incident in town. Through the alternating chapters of past and present, we’re able to put together the pieces of the puzzle and figure out what happened. I really enjoyed this process and thought the format of the book was very successful in creating an atmospheric and suspenseful story. There were a couple of things that I thought were a bit predictable but they didn’t impact too much on my enjoyment of the book and its plot. I have to admit that for the first half of the novel, I wasn’t sure where the book was going and felt slightly apathetic about it, but something happened near the halfway point of the book, which pulled me into the story and gave me a better sense of what the book was trying to explore. I definitely enjoyed the second half of the book much more.
The writing in this book was wonderful and I was amazed by how well Amy Zhang can write. She uses some interesting syntax that added to the impact of the story. The writing was lyrical but easy to read, and I just loved how she was able to make me feel so many emotions with the way she put sentences together. The book also had some fairytale influences, which gave it a slightly magical quality. These were accompanied by beautiful illustrations/doodles, which brought the story to life. I thought it was highly creative and imaginative (and I recently found out from Aentee @ Read at Midnight that Amy Zhang did the illustrations in the book herself, which makes me admire her even more).
My problem with this book was that I couldn’t connect with and didn’t particularly like the two main characters. Janie is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the core and I couldn’t really handle her. She’s definitely put on a pedestal by Micah and I just couldn’t see what was so special about her. She was the larger-than-life and interesting character who we were all supposed to admire, but I thought she was quite dislikeable. She was manipulative and a terrible friend to Micah. She forced him into doing things and constantly told him how great they were as friends, but then ignored him when other people were around. And what really bothered me was that he kept coming back for more of this terrible treatment. The characterisation in this book just reminded me of everything that I didn’t like about Paper Towns by John Green.
I actually didn’t mind Micah’s character. For most of the book, he suffered from amnesia and couldn’t remember anything that had happened recently or retain new memories. I liked that he was an unreliable narrator because it added to the story and made me work hard at figuring out what had happened. However, I thought that he was far too passive at times and allowed Janie to push him around again and again. He just seemed like a lost puppy for most of the book and I wished that his character was stronger.
But despite the issues I had with the characterisation, I enjoyed the plot and thought the book explored a lot of issues that are relevant to today’s society, including mental health and sexual orientation. I definitely still do recommend this book even though the characters weren’t to my liking.