Someone else: “What do you think of that book?”
You: “… Well… I don’t actually know…”
Someone else: “Okay well, do you at least like it?”
You: “… I don’t know that either…”
Sound familiar? The hubs is used to the fact that he can never keep up with what book I’m reading at any given time so, almost daily, he asks, “what are you reading and what do you think of it?” I can usually give an answer, favorable or not, and convey what I do or don’t like about it. However, now and again, I come across a book that leaves me at a loss for words; I can’t decide if I love it or hate it, which usually means it is an amalgamation of both with no clear winner.
To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.
Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.
As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.
West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…
When in doubt as to how you feel, make a pros and cons list:
PRO: I read the whole 330 page novel in less than 24 hours, so I think that hints at it being engaging and interesting. I’ll go ahead and make it clear that I found the subject of football-minded high schooler drama to be as unappealing as having my toe nails forcibly removed, but my least favorite genre just might be a student’s favorite, so I must read some. Truly, it was centered around football players and football dreams, but I didn’t have to endure endless tactical or technical discussions. It was like 25% football and 75% stupid relationship drama and yet, against all odds, I was drawn in right from the beginning.
CON: Aside from our main character, Maggie, it seems as though there isn’t a single decent, kind, or non-hormonal/non-idiotic female at this high school. Apparently, Maggie is pretty, so every encounter with another female shows the other female either scowling with envy or shrieking with jealousy. EXCUSE YOU, Abbi Glines, but I spent high school surrounded by beautiful, popular young women and, amazingly, it did not remove my ability to act with kindness, be a friend to them, or function in society. I kept waiting for someone to come along and just be nice to the new girl; I would’ve even accepted the stereotypical representation that the ugly/chubby, nerdy girl is the only one capable of displaying kindness, but no. Even the nerds were seething with jealous rage and meanness. I resent the depiction that women (even the most immature teens) are incapable of acting with kindness towards an attractive peer. Get out of my face with this crap.
PRO: I think this is as close to YA true crime as I can get. As stated in the Goodreads excerpt, Maggie witnessed her father shoot her mother and hasn’t spoken in the two years since that event. Sadly, we never get insight into this event, so I had to live off of the fleeting mentions of that juicy event and then hurry back to the mind-numbingly dumb minutiae of her budding relationship with West. Blerg!
CON: What is with the names of these kids?!?! West, Nash, Asa, Ryker, Gunner… STAHP. I could get behind one or two, but every single “hawt footballer” has a totes dudebro name to further accentuate the exaggerated hotness. I guess this is the way our society is headed. Gone are the Jameses and Johns of yesteryear and hello to Rocket and Legend and Bryte. Whatever. Who am I to judge?
PRO: Get back to me on that.
CON: Remember the Twilight series? Remember how it caught a lot of flak for representing a relationship that could only, at best, be categorized as insanely unhealthy and codependent? Well, samesies! The relationship featured in this novel is similarly unhealthy. The characters do acknowledge this fact and Maggie sensibly calls for a “break,” but goes back on that request in fewer than 24 hours and some sweet talking. The entire relationship goes from 0 to 60 within 2 weeks, when ladyfriend gives it all up for a hunky boy’s attention, and then it only takes another 2 weeks for them to endure that tragic 24 hours apart and profess their undying love for each other. These are the “lessons” readers learn and behaviors being normalized in this text:
1. It is not only okay, but also totally satisfying and fulfilling to utterly obsess over your crush, abandoning friends/family/responsibilities in order to spend more time obsessing.
2. A couple of weeks of obsession and a little sweet-talking are enough to validate going from never having been kissed to going all the way.
3. Love is nothing more than infatuation, obsession, attraction, or lust.
4. If you’re pretty, there are no such things as friends, just men who want to sleep with you and women who want to kill you.
5. If you witnessed a horrific event and suffer from PTSD in the form of muteness, just find a cute guy who is a complete jerkface to you, because it probably means he’s dealing with something difficult and you can form a co-dependent relationship.
6. If you’re lucky enough to have family who want to help you overcome tragedy, ignore and lie to them and instead share your pain with another impressionable teen who knows nothing more than you do.
PRO: Again, I’m coming up empty.
CON: The school! The teachers! Who is monitoring these hallways?! There are cheerleaders prowling the halls with hyena-levels of bloodthirsty fierceness, assaulting and threatening their peers. There are teens making out and grabbing butts in hallways and having scandalous meetings in bathrooms. Kids are being pulled out of classrooms (with teacher approval) in order to make time for ownership and “love” to be discussed at length. Kids are skipping classes and arriving late with no consequences. Effectively, this school is not a place for learning, but more a place for socializing, confronting, canoodling, what-have-you. SUPER! Fab representation of school, thanks. Way to further emphasize the importance of the teen emotional breakdown and de-emphasize the importance of education. Kewl. That should help me, as a teacher of emotional teens.
It has become painfully clear that I now know what I think of this book. More cons than pros couldn’t be clearer; I’m glad I took the time to go back and forth, since it is now clear to me that I will need to monitor this text within my classroom. In the hands of certain personality types or life circumstances, this could easily steer audiences towards empty “solutions.”
Has anyone read this? Similar thoughts? Totally different thoughts? Or maybe you know what it’s like to be on the fence about a book? I’d love to hear from everyone!