Review: Sway by Kat Spears

sway

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin
Release date: September 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Goodreads || Book Depository

In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway”, as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want – term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, football team captain, homecoming king candidate, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at the nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion – until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.

MY THOUGHTS

1 star

It’s been a while since a book has made me as angry as this one did. Probably not since Fans of the Impossible Life, which got my last 1 star rating. I picked up Sway at the book store because the adorable cover and the synopsis suggested that it was going to be a cute, fluffy contemporary romance, which was just what I needed when I picked this book up. Sadly, it didn’t inspire anything but rage in me. (To be honest, the first line of the synopsis itself should have been ringing alarm bells in my head. “Often poignant”? I don’t understand. It either is or it isn’t.) But let me elaborate.

First, there is almost nothing going on in this book. If you like non-existent plots, this might be the book for you because absolutely nothing happens in this book. But of course, you can’t have a 300 page book with no content, so the author filled this book with slurs. There are highly offensive comments made by multiple characters about anything and everything, from disabled people, to women, to the mentally ill, to the overweight, and to gay individuals. I didn’t find any of it to be “unapologetically truthful” like the blurb of the book claims. It wasn’t funny or truthful. It was rude and offensive, and I didn’t think it was okay. The book makes it seem like we should tolerate rape, sexism, racism and discrimination because it’s what people deserve, and I don’t think this is a message that young audiences should be reading about or embracing.

“I’m feeling a lot of judgment coming from a kid who drools and has a bum leg.”

There is a character in this book with cerebral palsy and this issue was not explored at all. I learnt nothing about cerebral palsy or the burden felt by those suffering from such a condition. Instead, the character existed to be made fun of and to appear as an annoying teenager who constantly felt sorry for himself and couldn’t consider anybody else’s feelings. All we got was a kid complaining about how he can’t get laid and nobody finds him attractive because his appearance is different.

Which brings me to how every single female character in this book was portrayed (except Bridget, because Bridget is a perfect angel. But I’ll get to that in a second). This book labels all females as stupid, worthless and only good for sex. The way that this novel objectifies and oversexualises women is disrespectful and completely ridiculous, considering a woman wrote this book. There isn’t a single female character in this book that was introduced without reference to her body or her cleavage. Boys would never be interested in a girl with a boyish figure. There isn’t a single man in this book who is able to look at a female character without “running their eyes up and down her body” and thinking about sex. Every single older man, including teachers and happily married fathers, can’t help but want to look at and touch a high school girl. Basically every female character in this book is unable to think for themselves and exist only for men to stomp all over them (and fantasise about them). There is a chapter at the beginning of the book dedicated to the sexualisation of a school counsellor and portraying her as vapid and easily suggestible. It was so misogynistic that it was a little bit tough to get through the book. But I wanted to believe that these were the thoughts and views of a teenage boy who needed to grow to believe differently. So I persisted with the book, only to be rewarded with nothing.

There is absolutely no character development in Jesse at all. He’s a jerk at the beginning of the book and he remains one at the end. He is very manipulative and unlikable. There’s nothing redeeming about his character at all. The author tried to make him interesting by giving him a confident and successful personality but he just comes across as a total jerk who uses violence and threats to get what he wants. His terrible attitude and behaviour was attributed to the death of his mother a year ago, something that he doesn’t want to acknowledge or deal with. But this was handled terribly and was barely resolved. The author also tried to make him interesting and unique by making him a musical genius. It was mentioned multiple times, without any subtlety, that he plays the guitar and is able to play back anything he hears once without any sheet music. I thought it was a completely unnecessary aspect and you can’t make a misogynistic and boring character more interesting with something like that.

Bridget was not much better for me. Her character fell flat and Jesse put her up on such a high pedestal that I couldn’t even see her. She’s described as beautiful, smart, kind-hearted, good-natured and she has no flaws. Her character was one dimensional and there was nothing remarkable about her, despite us being told what a perfect human being she is. I also wasn’t sold on the romance at all. There was insta-love and these characters are pretty much in love with each other after spending an hour together.

I think I should stop talking about this book now because I don’t think it’s worth the time. The whole book felt like some sort of commentary about high school life from Kat Spears but it came across as very vindictive and negative. There wasn’t a positive message for me to take away at all. For me, this book endorses chauvinism, racism, discrimination, sexual objectification of women, violence, drug use, recreational sex and a whole host of other things that I don’t think is appropriate or okay, especially for young readers.

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Review: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

fans-of-the-impossible-life

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: September 8, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0062331752
Pages: 368
Goodreads || Book Depository

Ten months after her recurring depression landed her in the hospital, Mira is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a normal functioning human this time, not a girl who sometimes can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

Jeremy is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

Sebby, Mira’s gay best friend, is a boy who seems to carry sunlight around with him like a backlit halo. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and secret road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

A captivating and profound debut novel, Fans of the Impossible Life is a story about complicated love and the friendships that change you forever.

MY THOUGHTS

1 star

Fans of the Impossible Life was a book that I pre-ordered about a month ago and it was one that I was very excited to read. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down. My rating of this book was probably a little bit influenced by my personal life philosophy, so I’ll talk about my thoughts on the ‘objective’ aspects of the book first.

First, let’s discuss the writing. I didn’t think the writing was very sophisticated, which isn’t a problem because I love simple writing too. I just feel like there were some scenes that had unnecessary descriptions. Also, the book was written from three different perspectives (Jeremy, Mira, and Sebby) and they were all written from different narrative styles. Jeremy’s chapters were in first person narration, Mira’s in third person, and Sebby’s were in second person. I thought this was completely unnecessary because it didn’t add anything to the story or the tone of the book. I don’t know if it was intended to be a plot device… but if it was, it was very unsuccessful. It just made the whole book awkward for me to read. There just didn’t seem to be a reason for the book to be written this way, and these sorts of gimmicks just turn me off.

The plot of the book was almost non-existent until about page 280 (and the book is only about 360 pages!!). Nothing happened in this book at all – it was very slice of life – until close to the end of the book. After the first 100 pages, I was bored and wanted to DNF, which I never do. The book is also split into 3 parts but I don’t think there was anything that really distinguished Part 1 from Part 2 in terms of plot or theme. Part 3 was when everything started happening, so I understand why that was a separate section, but Parts 1 and 2 just kind of blurred together. In terms of the little bit of plot that we did get, I don’t think there was a resolution at all. I don’t mind that there was an open ending but none of the issues were resolved. I’ll get into this a little bit more further down in my review.

I didn’t like any of the main characters in Fans of the Impossible Life. They felt a little bit pretentious and forced, like the author was trying to make them seem quirky. I thought Jeremy was okay but that might have just been because his chapters were written in first person and I connected with him a little bit more than the other two. I was not into Mira or Sebby at all. What I disliked the most was that there was absolutely no character development in this book. At the end of the book, they’re pretty much where they were at the beginning, except now they’re a group of three instead of a group of two plus Jeremy. I also didn’t really see the friendship developing at all. It kind of just happened – one day they didn’t know each other and then the next day they were friends.

I want to talk a little bit about the themes now, and the first is friendship. This book is supposed to be about friendships and how they can change you, but I thought the author took it too far in this book, or at least not in the direction I thought it would go in. Our three main characters in this book were depending on each other so much that they felt like they couldn’t live without each other. There are mental health relapses that occur when the friendship breaks down and I just really disliked this aspect of the book. Not being able to breathe when you haven’t heard from your friend for 3 days is not normal, at least not in my life. I do recognize that social relationships and having support leads to better mental health but I thought this was taking it too far. This level of dependency on another person is not healthy and I think the book idealised it a bit too much for my liking.

Another thing that I think was romanticized in the book was mental illness. This is a book about mental illness and it was not handled well at all in this novel. Mental illness is present throughout the book but it was never presented as a problem. None of our characters are in therapy or taking any steps to get better or stay better, and the book ends without any of them really acknowledging the problem or taking clear steps towards treatment. It was very unresolved. Mira is seeing a nutritionist in the book as a sort of ‘fix’ for her depression. I’m sorry, but a nutritionist is not able to treat your depression! She doesn’t see a psychologist, and if I remember correctly, the antidepressants that she does have are locked away from her in her mother’s drawer.

I think it’s important to incorporate mental illness into YA books so that readers are exposed to what these disorders look like. But there’s no point in making it a book about mental illness when you don’t properly show the behaviours, cognitions and steps towards treatment that may be involved. You’re almost idealizing mental illness when you don’t acknowledge that it’s a problem. I also don’t think mental illnesses were represented very well in this book at all. Mira has depression but I wouldn’t have known if the book hadn’t explicitly stated that. The only obvious symptom that I saw in the book was fatigue, besides a suicide attempt. Why should I think that depression is a serious illness when it just seems like something I feel on a bad day?

I also had a very big problem with the romance/sex in this book. There were some mature scenes in the book and they really put me off because they didn’t seem to be completely consensual. For example, there is a scene where one person tells another to do something to a third person (and this was all under the influence of alcohol and drugs). I don’t mind YA books that mention sex in them, but I felt like this book romanticized and encouraged this non-consensual behaviour. The author made it seem like it was done out of love for each other when actually one person was pretty much coercing another into doing things. There were just a lot of things that I felt like were not okay.

Overall, I disliked this book quite a bit. It presented a lot of issues that I felt could have been explored more deeply and handled a lot better. I finished the book not really understanding what messages the author wanted to convey. And I just didn’t understand what the point of the book was.

Review: Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott

9780385391160

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Release date: June 9, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0385391161
Pages: 352
Goodreads || Book Depository

Charlie, a senior, isn’t looking forward to her last year of high school. Another year of living in the shadow of her best friend, Lila. Another year of hiding behind the covers of her favorite novels. Another year of navigating her tense relationship with her perfectionist mom.

But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he’s the only one who gets her.

She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.

In this stunning debut, Jessica Alcott explores relationships-and their boundaries-in a way that is both searingly honest and sympathetic. (from Goodreads)

MY THOUGHTS

1 star

I really struggled with this book. This really wasn’t what I had expected after reading the Goodreads summary and the prologue at the beginning of the book. The plot went in a different direction to what I had expected and I didn’t understand the message of the book, which was probably why I didn’t connect with it. Although I did finish the book, I didn’t understand the point of it and I didn’t like the way the story panned out. A re-read of the book might allow me to understand the message a bit more but I definitely didn’t enjoy it enough to read it a second time. Another thing that added to my frustration, was the fact that I had received a library edition of the book from Book Depository (nothing to do with the book or the story and more to do with the description on Book Depository)…but for the price that I paid for it, I expected a proper hardcover with a jacket, and not a library edition. (The one I’ve linked above should be a proper hardcover edition).

I thought the writing in this book was unnecessarily detailed in parts and included lots of information and descriptions that weren’t crucial to the plot. This book is split into sections, one section for each month of the year. I would have preferred a book that had really focused on the important, life-changing events/revelations, rather than giving a general overview of what happened in Charlie’s life each month. We were given little snapshots into different aspects of her life but nothing was explored very deeply. We see briefly into her relationships with her friends and her family but I never got a true sense that any of these relationships had developed by the end of the book. There were issues between Charlie and her parents and Charlie and her friends that I don’t feel were resolved at all.

I also didn’t like any of the characters in the book, especially Charlie. I didn’t enjoy reading from her perspective. From the very first page, I thought she was too broody and self-deprecating. I really couldn’t stand her and I never warmed up to her. I liked Drummond a little bit better but I never got a sense of who he was. I didn’t like the infatuation/romance between Charlie and Drummond. There were also some inconsistencies in the characters, for me. For example, Lila is portrayed, at times, as a loud-mouth, dumb blonde, popular girl who enjoys acting like a bit of a slut. At other times, she’s portrayed as a super smart, potential Stanford student who has never had sex before. These inconsistencies made it difficult for me to follow and enjoy the book.

I did like the way the book ended. I thought it ended on a really hopeful note. But other than that, I didn’t connect with the book or enjoy reading it at all.

Review: Love Hurts by Malorie Blackman

9780552573979-1-edition.default.original-1Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Release date: January 29, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0552573973
Pages: 560
Goodreads || Book Depository

Have you ever fallen for someone the rest of the world thought you shouldn’t have? Malorie Blackman brings together the very best young adult authors writing today in a stunningly romantic collection of love against the odds.

Featuring stories and extracts about modern star-crossed lovers, Love Hurts looks at every kind of relationship, from first kiss to final heartbreak. This is a collection for anyone who has ever loved and lost – and loved again…

MY THOUGHTS

1 star

I was extremely disappointed with this anthology. I thought it was a collection of original short stories when I picked this up at my local bookstore. So I was very disappointed to find that it’s a collection of short stories and extracts from previously published books. Out of the 24 pieces of writing in this anthology, only 7 were original short stories, so this is worth neither the money or the time spent reading it.

I didn’t really connect with the original short stories in this book. I only liked 2 of the 7. The rest were either underdeveloped or written in a very juvenile way. Most I would only give a rating of 2-3 stars.

My least favourite part of this collection were the extracts (which, sadly, made up the majority o this anthology). Some were only a couple of pages long while others were close to 20 pages long. The shorter extracts were too short to make me feel anything. The longer extracts often were whole chapters from previously published books and these ended either abruptly or ended on a cliff hanger. Some of the extracts were only relevant to the theme at the beginning and end but we ended up with A LOT of extra pages in the middle that added nothing to the theme or the reading experience. I thought it was a very poorly put together set of extracts. I did find some of the extracts to be intriguing and I might look into potentially picking up those novels, but I thought overall the extracts just created a lot of confusion.

While this anthology tried to feature a lot of different kinds of love, as well as the happy and sad sides of love, it wasn’t very successful for me. We didn’t get enough of the stories to really feel anything and there was a lot of filler text in the extracts. I think My True Love Gave to Me, put together by Stephanie Perkins, was a much more successful anthology about love.