I read a book that got mixed reviews and …
I have mixed feelings.
I came to this book because a critique partner mentioned it in a conversation we were having about my book: “Don’t try and do too many things in one story, like in After The Fall,” she said. I was intrigued by this, so I picked up this contemporary YA debut from Kate Hart.
The summary, from Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Raychel is sleeping with two boys: her overachieving best friend Matt…and his slacker brother, Andrew. Raychel sneaks into Matt’s bed after nightmares, but nothing ever happens. He doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a girl, except when he decides she needs rescuing. But Raychel doesn’t want to be his girl anyway. She just needs his support as she deals with the classmate who assaulted her, the constant threat of her family’s eviction, and the dream of college slipping quickly out of reach. Matt tries to help, but he doesn’t really get it… and he’d never understand why she’s fallen into a secret relationship with his brother. The friendships are a precarious balance, and when tragedy strikes, everything falls apart. Raychel has to decide which pieces she can pick up – and which ones are worth putting back together.
I normally only write full-on reviews for books I loved. This book I didn’t love. But I have lots of feelings about it, which I suppose is the point of a book, and I wanted to write them out. But WARNING: I can’t talk about all my feelings without getting SPOILERY so I’ll mark the place when I get to them if you want to stop reading but SPOILERS will be coming below.
The Tension This book sucked me in immediately and I read it in two days, one night even staying up way past my bedtime reading.
The Reality of Slut-Shaming I didn’t experience slut-shaming in high school mostly because I was too shy and awkward to talk to anyone. But I came out of my shell in college, and definitely experienced it then. That’s a whole ‘nother story that I’ll attempt to tackle in my fiction someday, but suffice to say that Raychel’s experience rang incredibly true to me.
Matt This character was the opposite of a cliche. He was nice, and fundamentally a good person, but also problematic in these really subtle ways. He felt like a real person, not a character. I’ve read other reviews that have a problem with him, and what I want to say to those people is yes, of course there are problems with him. Well-written characters are flawed. And I’ve never seen any YA authors tackle flaws quite like this before. It felt real, and it was so well done.
Andrew Also incredibly realistic and complex and definitely the one I was rooting for.
The Less Good
“Raychel” I don’t like creative spellings of names. Personal taste, but what’s wrong with plain Rachel? It took me out of the story every time I read her name.
Too many characters There were approximately fifteen named other characters in the story besides the core protagonists. Too many friends. I know in real life teenagers tend to have a lot of friends but in fiction you need to condense it if you want your readers to remember who everyone is, and care about them. Reality is no defense for fiction.
The author tried to do way too much This is where I get spoilery so don’t go below the line if you haven’t read the book, but in case you’re trying to figure out whether or not to read this book, I’d say:
As a writer, I learned a ton from this novel, both what to do and what not to do, so I can’t say I regret reading it. But as a reader… I think I would have been left feeling really pissed by the end.
Spoilers on why below.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
You’ve been warned.
This book tried to do too much. This story was about: slut-shaming, consent, sexual assault, friendship, poverty, family relations, racial tension, falling in love, losing one’s virginity, figuring out one’s future… and DEATH. You can’t possibly do all of those things properly in one book with so much going on. So some things, like the slut-shaming, were done well. Others, like poverty and racial tensions, were a little short-shafted. And then…
I saw it coming only because the book summary references “when tragedy strikes” and I figured it had to be him because the other two characters were POV characters. But I kept trying to convince myself that it couldn’t happen, because that would turn everything into a horrible, sad mess.
And it did.
The last part of the book was excruciating to get through. And not in a good way. In a I-don’t-want-to-read-this way. There was so much interesting stuff going on in the story, dealing with Raychel’s assault and her reaction to it as well as Matt and Andrew’s reactions to it and the rumor mill not to mention how she herself was trying to navigate starting a relationship with the brother of her best friend and the complex feelings she and Matt had for each other. I wanted to see where all of that was going.
Instead we get: Andrew’s dead, everything’s a mess, the end.
My other criticism: the lack of resolution. The book ends with me still feeling like shit over everything that happened. Raychel doesn’t really get closure, and neither does Matt. You’re left assuming they’ll probably never speak to one another again. I do like the last line, about Raychel just getting up and going on as that’s really all you can do after tragedy makes you feel like curling into a ball, but it was just so depressing and sad.
I am not opposed to sad books; but I need some glimmer of hope at the end. Even Tana French does that. Even The Book Thief does that. This book had me staring at it, devastated. I had a half a mind to go write some fan-fiction in which Andrew lives and everything works out.
I can’t say this was a bad book because it made me think a lot and feel a lot and learn. I just think it could have been more cohesive and powerful with those changes. 5/10 stars.