I read a lot of heavy things, mostly in research. For a while, doing so placed me in quite a slump that I’ve had a hard time getting out of. It’s mostly just academic texts and folklore for writing research and inspiration, so leisurely reading has been difficult to get into. And yet, while I was still working at the bookstore in receiving, I stumbled across a beautiful color of skyscrapers and stars, and a premise that began and ended with music.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist! I’m your Scholarly Squid and here comes a stellar thought on:
The Sound of Stars is a sweet and fun little story of Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a young girl living in the aftermath of a massive alien invasion. All humans have been pushed into interment installations and all of our creative media have been confiscated and destroyed. Art in any form is illegal and anyone discovered with it face death by hanging as a demonstration. Having to navigate this dark new world, Janelle chose to become a rebel in her own way as her building’s secret librarian. She loans her personal collection of books in order to offer relief to others in these dark times and knows that if caught, her life would end. However, Janelle could just do nothing, living by the moto of “they can control how we die, but now how we live!”
Enter M0Rr1S, a manufactured version of the invaders meant to look and feel like the subjugated race in order to better conquer it. He discovered Janelle’s secret library and falls in love with a book of hers. Thus, he feels a meaningful connection with her spirited, yet subtle rebellion and enlists her to help him in obtaining his secret love: Music.
Through unfortunate mishaps, Janelle and M0Rr1S embark on a cross-country road trip to save humanity, never realizing that saving the earth doesn’t lie at the end of their journey, but in the connection, they form with stories and catchy tunes!
Alechia Dow is literally too pure for this world and so are her ideas. While originally from America where she worked as a librarian and has a detailed background in culinary, Alechia currently resides in Germany with her adorable daughter and husband. You can catch her tweeting and instagraming her delicious creations, participating as a mentor in #pitchwars, and writing a sequel as well as delving into Food Fantasy! She’s a big nerd and the sweetest little cosmonaut I’ve ever had the pleasure to interview. Not to mention her daughter is adorable. She hopes to bring happiness and some fun to the world she writes, keeping things lighthearted for those in dark times! It’s good goal to have when you’re competing with all the things wrong in the world and I believe she can do it!
I didn’t realize this was something I needed until I read it. The right type of simple, the right type of sweet, and the right type of hopeful! The Sound of Stars provided a kind, light hearted journey of discovery between Janelle and M0Rr1S as they learned each other and I learned them. While it did show some racial and social justice issues, they were delivered in a way that showed why Janelle became the young woman she is. It did well to show how even in the most dire of circumstances, the nature and inner prejudices of others are not guaranteed to suddenly change. Janelle feels true-to-life as a girl growing up in Brooklyn suddenly thrust into upperclass high-society area. The prejudice she and her family faced and the affect it had on them before the invasion. It embittered Janelle and makes her question if she truly wants the old earth and old humanity back.
On the other side M0Rr1S’s perspective – cleverly written in 3rd person – grants a voyeuristic quality to his narrative. He has no privacy due to his connection to what is essentially a hivemind. Showing emotion is dangerous for him, to the extinct that he could be “terminated” should he say or do the wrong thing under all those eyes. Often, he is not allowed a choice as other can simply press into his mind and thoughts at any time they please without his permission. His only solace is the music he has collected illegally from earth. He only solace is his love of the music of earth he managed to secretly collect. He allows himself to fall in love with the sound of earth and nurtures his desire to save the planet in any way that he can. His character is refreshing as many times the male protagonist is designed to be stoic, aloof, and often standoffish. M0Rr1S is the most happy-go-lucky guy I’ve ever read. He wears his heart on his sleeve where all can see. It actually can be a bit overwhelming, especially for poor Janelle who is trying to reconcile her vision of the alien overlords and… well this ball of sunshine and sparkles in front of her. However, M0Rr1S is very determined and carries a heavy burden to the end of the world. He is happy to have someone to share it with and help strength his resolve to do what he must.
Janelle and M0Rr1S are the products of their environments and share a resistance in letting it control them. Each of their perspectives are beautifully unique and cutely written. Everything about this story is very character-driven and positive foot forward. It’s easy to tell that the focus was never on the horrible future Janelle and M0Rr1s may face at the end, but on the connections and empathy that can be shared between two people even if they’re literally from different worlds! It pts pleasurable read that can be cleared in a couple days (one if you’re like the wife) and it leaves you with a fluffy, floating feeling like perfectly whipped meringue.
Honestly, I don’t have many complaints. It is very much a teen novel in its purest form and reading level. Fast paced read as the focus is on the story than trying to impress with metaphor. Dow’s crème puff personality shows vividly in through her word choices, descriptors, and references. You can tell which scenes are very important or loved by how much more goes into them. My only wish was that the novel had actually been a bit slower in its pacing. As it is a quick read, the event go by a bit faster and would’ve loved a bit more of a slow down and vibe in some scenes as well just tiny bit more introspection in others. Surprisingly, I would’ve wanted more screen time for 0rsa and Br1xton and wished I’d gotten more scenes or at least a bit more to them – perhaps I will in the next book! Overall, character development, romance, and structure are good. I feel Dow will get better and improve with each word and book she’s allowed to write, and I want more than anything for that woman to be allowed to write. The positivity in her writing is something we need.
I loved this book. I think there will be some who find it not to their taste because of the strange notion that Scifi requires a lot of science and action – especially in alien invasion type stories. In reality, it gave me the nice chill down I needed from all that academia reading as well as instilling me with a very new light and warm sense of hopefulness. To describe it, this book is fucking adorable! It brought me back to appreciating the Young Adult category and gave me just what I needed among all the serious fiction and allegories about blackness and suffering. Dow gave me a black girl who wasn’t in a state of constant suffering. Where her skin color, her experience, her traumas made her who she was, but did not define her and did not take away her happiness and will to do good for her world. Having black characters in sweet, hopeful narratives, having them be happy are so, so important and it hurts that these are not the stories that publishers want? That they want more of the Hate U Give. That they want more COBABs, that they want more Dear Martins, etc, etc. That they want more of our anger and our hurt.
That’s why I will hype the living hell out of this book as well as its sequel and any others that for once just let a black protagonist have an adventure that doesn’t end and begin with a metaphor about their skin color. I want to see more stories like this where even if things aren’t quite okay, the love and happiness are not just bittersweet interludes between pain on pain on pain and taking on the world. But rather just something that we can escape into that doesn’t look so much like our reality already. I think anyone who reads The Sound of Stars will be filled with the same warmth and sweetness that Dow poured into it. I hope the sequel gives that and much more.
So! I’m asking from the bottom of my heart to check it The Sound of Stars (( LINK )) and give it a chance. She deserves some attention as the debut of this gem was buried by COVID. It’s been out less than a year, so let’s turn it around. Make it so we can show that happy black adventures sell too!
I do have a Connecting Worlds interview coming up with Alechia on October 25th! So mark your calendars so you can enjoy this wonderful person as much as I did!!!
I have a confession to make. I have a severe problem with most YA Fantasy that begins and ends with Bad Writing, Weak World Building, and Boring Characters. I’ve read more YA in the past two years than I care to admit and out of all of them, only two of them have managed not to disappoint me. Unfortunately, they were both contemporary YA. YA Fantasy tends to fail often with me, especially of those of the self-proclaimed high-fantasy variety. Whether it’s the lack of cohesive worldbuilding, the hyper-focus on flimsy fast-paced romance, or drudging plots. So, when something comes along that not only subverts my expectations, but exceeds them…
Well, I just might want some sugar with my coffee!
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist, I’m your Scholarly Squid and I’m about to gush all over this review of,
((Warning: I’m about Hype cause this book snatched all my braids out!))
Blood Heir is a Young Adult High Fantasy set in the Cyrillion Empire – a Russian inspired country/empire. It tells the story of a lost princess, a corrupt monarchy and government, and an oppressive class struggle. It sets itself as a reimagining of the historical figured Anastacia Nikolaevna Romanov and while you will find some things similar to the more romanticized aspects of the lost Duchess, that is where any connection ends. Blood Heir follows Anastacya Mikhailov, a disgraced princess and fugitive thought to be dead by her empire. She seeks to find the man who framed her for murder with the help of the dastardly dashing disaster that is Ransom Quicktongue — a criminal in his own right and a conman who is on a revenge path against those who betrayed him.
However, it is not so easy as simply capturing their target, because you see, Anastacya has something thing uncontrollable working against her — her affinity. Affinites are people born with supernatural abilities and subjugated by empire Anastacya is an heir to. She happens to have one of the rarest and most dangerous affinities in existence, a blood affinity. Charged with the murder of her father, the Emperor himself, by way of hemorrhaging, Anastacya is forced to become acquainted with the true face of her empire and the pain brought by the trafficking and oppression of Affinites while warring with the monster inside of her. She and Ransom function as two morally gray protagonists who flirt with good and evil both outside and within!
Amelie (Pronounced Ah-May-Lee) Wen Zhao is a Chinese Author who has, like many of us, been making up stuff since she was able to hold a pen. Though she was born in Paris, she was raised in Beijing within a diverse, multicultural community where she later attended an international school. This, I believe, is where she was able to emersed herself into other worlds and cultures and languages thus becoming such an incredibly unique storyteller. As I have interviewed her, I can honestly say she is a LITERAL fucking ray of sunshine! She has such a positive outlook that its almost a fault, but it makes it easy to see why she writes such intricate and complex characters. Now that she is writing full time, she will be delving more into fantasy and continue to push the limits of her imagination.
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. This book had a rough start prepublication. People swarming over something foolish that someone said and feeling the need to prevent its publishing and honestly, I’m glad they failed. Once I finally got a hold of this book and read the first chapter my whole world stopped. Not because I was blown away by some holier-than-thou prose, but rather that it was written so tightly and the imagery gave me something to grasp on to. I was placed into a small piece of the world Zhao had created, given an instance and an event that led into the opening of the larger world. THAT was something I hardly get to experience so smoothly in YA fantasy and it wrapped me around Ana and Ransom’s fingers easily. Their perspectives on the world they inhabited were vasty different. Ana realizing how dark and sickening the empire she and her brother were meant to rule was and Ransom discovering there are parts of it worth fighting for even as he tries his hardest to remain aloof and apathetic.
Cyrillia is a solidly built world steeped heavily in Russian culture and while some may find the names for things a bit jarring if they only lightly step into fantasy, but an avid fantasy reader you’ll have no issue with acclimating to the world and its words. The intrigue is slow – not sluggish, only slow. It’s the type of burn that isn’t meant to explode into a super massive climax, but rather show the ups and downs and turmoil the characters have to face. Much if it involves playing the parts of people that Ana hates and being at war with the violence and trauma inside of her and Ransom playing a careful game in which he must balance Ana’s trust with his desire to return to his former life. The conflict within them is absolutely enrapturing and Zhao is not afraid to allow her characters to do evil things in order to achieve their goal. She’s also not afraid to allow them to feel the damage of their actions and how it affects them as well as the people they’re meant to help.
The romance itself is certainly done very well. There is no insta-love. There’s more of an enemies-to-lovers feel as neither of them trust each other and Ransom spend a good chunk of the book intentionally playing Ana for his own means. This was perfect because they knew nothing about each other. Absolutely nothing. It gave time for them to learn, grow, and figure out that there’s some parts of each other and themselves that they can’t fix or change without a healthier path. This could’ve easily been a toxic dynamic, but instead they came out to be the greatest power couple I’ve read in a while and SPOILER: they don’t even kiss or get together in the end!
Instead you’re treated to a new level of trust between them that is healthy and important to show between younger people. That they don’t always have to start off as absolutely crazy about each other. That you both can be flawed and down right broken in a way in which you can’t help but use against each other. That in the end, its okay to take it slow and let it simmer. Zhao does some good relationship building.
Honestly, trying not to spoil it is extremely difficult because there’s so much I want to talk about but lets get to my favorite part!
Amelie Wen Zhao put her damn foot in this book.
Young Adult often has a writing (and often editing issue) where you’re often talked down to by the writing and its issues are presented in the shallowest of levels. You can often spot many, many errors and issues that remain blatantly present in the final product. With the rush of YA series debuts to be pushed out in two years or less (not to mention having a new book damn near every nine months to a year) often follows a diminishment of quality. Considering YA is a well-fed market, it often doesn’t matter.
Then we have Zhao!
Firstly, this woman is talented. She has a great command of how and what she wants you to see and what she doesn’t. The execution of her plot threads is impressive for a debut writer and near immaculate for her chosen category. Even though this is very much a Young Adult story, it doesn’t sacrifice complexity, in-depth character development, and a slow burn in favor of surface level tropes. Her prose is surprisingly smooth and the events and intrigue of the plot flow into each other almost seamlessly rather than the choppy “and then and then and then” I normally encounter in YA fantasy. It reads as a completed story in that everything she shows you has its due payoff that does not disappoint nor comes off as arbitrary. What isn’t paid off leaves you wonderful hints for the coming sequel, Red Tigress (available pre-order, click here). Honestly her command of her own narrative and her characters creates such an immersive experience that I — who is often disappointed in the quality and flimsiness of many YA Fantasy world building and execution — am enthusiastic to embrace more YA fantasy in the same way Mary HK Choi has brought me to embrace YA Contemporary
NOW that being said. This is by no means a flawless work.
There are some points in which I wished there was more introspection for Ana and Ransom — more insight into their heads for each other their chapters at certain points. I do wish there was more presented of Ana’s trauma response to a character’s death — though I appreciate that it was not simply brushed off and moved on. The ending might grate just a little NOT because it’s BAD, but because it feels rushed. It felt like there is something missing towards the end (perhaps cut in editing) that felt important for the build up to the ending. It also felt a bit sporadic as though there was a need to finish. The court scene at the end was very hasty but even with these complaints, I will say it did not lower its rating for me. Zhao took me on a ride that I enjoyed from start to finish and even in the bumpy parts I was never pulled out of the struggle and romance of Ana and Ransom which is one of the most satisfying slow burns I’ve been allowed in a long time.
Needless to say, any flaws I’ve found are things that can (and I have a grand feeling they WILL) improve as Amelie Wen Zhao continues her career in fantasy writing.
Blood Heir deserved none of the egregious drama it garnered from the mob and, unfortunately, other YA authors. This is a wonderful book! One I’m so happy Zhao decided to release despite it all. Knowing that I could’ve been denied this makes something in me act because I truly, genuinely enjoyed this piece of storytelling and now, having spoken to the author herself, I love it even more. The writing, the world, the romance, and most importantly, the characters all fit together well and while it may not be the title on everyone’s lips, I feel that the people who read and enjoy my blog will find that this is a fantasy that is just for them, as much as it was just for me. I think the best description I have for it is that its SOLID.
Show some love to Amelie Wen Zhao and buy Blood Heir and pre-order it’s sequel Red Tigress! Support her because she about to do some amazing things both with this series and in fantasy and absolutely CANNOT WAIT!
We spend a lot of our lives weaving in and out of each other’s lives without a second thought or glance backwards. We’re on a journey. We’re constantly seeking something that we don’t quite understand. A sort of acceptance of ourselves that we rarely get from other people. Even less from ourselves. The desperation in that search blinds us, isolates us, and often makes horrible decisions for us. All of this because we are searching so hard. Sometimes the desperation is so real, we don’t notice that our journey’s end is right in front of us. That our acceptance is right there. But, maybe its because we just aren’t ready for it.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist, I’m your Scholarly Squid, and here comes a perfectly normal thought on…
((This is a review of the Book, not the Hulu Original Show))
I hadn’t heard of this book until it was put on my stores “Book of the Month” and the idea was to pick one and recommend it to people so that it can sell. Being who I am, I can’t in good conscious try to push a book that I know absolutely nothing about. So I picked on that matched my checklist of interesting premise and was short enough to get through in a timely manner. So, I ended up with Normal People. I was not prepared and neither are you!
Normal People tells the story of two ordinary people named Marianne and Connell. Even their names are super plain. They live in a small town where everyone is young, dumb and horny, but most of all everyone is in everyone’s business.
Thus, you have eccentric and socially isolated Marianne, who breaks so many of the rich girl tropes of being “pretty and popular” by just being shunned. She is an outside who is socially awkward and considered everything between stuck up and weird. There’s not much positive in between. Then there’s reserved to a fault wedlock child Connell who is surprisingly well liked, but lives his life believing he has to walk the thin line of acceptance and ostracization. He lives in a state of internal anxiety over being judged while Marianne lives in a state of anxiety of never being loved. And thus, they discover each other and hurt each other. It becomes the most frustrating game of “will they, won’t they”, a game of “I hate you but I can never stop loving you.”, a game of “All the things I never said…”
And so, we explore the playbook of Marianne and Connell, an intimate playbook of life.
Sally Rooney is an Irish Author who was born in Castlebar, Country Mayo, Ireland. A mouthful. She attended the Trinity College in Dublin which is featured in her novel. There she studied English and was even elected a scholar there. Considered impressive, talented, and intelligent, she’s surprisingly decorated for her age. Rooney wrote her very 1st novel at 15 – which she thought was garbage, like most writers – and decided to start writing constantly in 2014. This resulted in 100K words in three months that went on to become her debut novel, Conversations with Friends. Ladies and gentleman, the baddest of bitches. She now lives in Dublin and is still constantly writing! She’s even working on her next novel and I can’t wait to read it and Conversations with Friends!
I’ve never met two people who frustrated me more simply because they are me. Normal People broke me on a subconscious level in only 278 pages. But to start, this is not a New Adult (whatever that menas for you) or a YA, like definitely not. It’s something that highlights the complexities and toxicity of our day-to-day interactions and assumptions, and further, how they shape who we are as people – as adults. The amount of self-discovery puts much of my own life into perspective and how maturity and wisdom come with age and experience.
With Marianne and Connell being so clumsy with each other yet obviously perfect for each other, it gets to the point of wanting to murder both of them. However, it gives a deeper understanding why they don’t know what to do with each other and its because they don’t know what to do with themselves. They are the result of too much pressure, too little validation, and no acceptance of who they are. Even though we the reader can say “oh my god, work it out already” or “just fucking talk to each other”, we are able to recognize our greatest flaws right down to the words becoming caught in our throats. Normal People begins and ends with a song about life about life, about interaction, and about communication.
I am so happy I was able to absorb this simple work of fiction. Never before have I felt myself and my never-ending journey towards the elusiveness of adulthood so fully represented. It was easily finding that you are not alone but also compartmentalize the frustration with your often feel with yourself and with other people. It reminded me that even when I’m worrying too much about the wrong thing or claiming I’m fully there for someone and love them, I am very much guilty of not listening, of not hearing the cries of help from others because I’m too deeply in my own head. Even worse when I am frustrated by my own cries not being hear, despite the fact that I don’t always say them out loud…
Normal People refuses to be an ordinary romance nor an over exaggerated piece of life and suffering. It refuses to be a meet cute in which the “will they won’t they” is caused and supplemented by a barrage of foolish, tropic misunderstandings. All of their issues, all of their miscommunications are internal! Internal and very real things that most often blind us to what’s right in front of us. But, when we are able to come out of our own head and clearly look at the world the way it actually is, not the way we fear it is, our journey ends and we find exactly what we’ve been looking for. Normal Peopleis very much about normalizing people, because at the end of it all, we are only that.
Much like Mary H.K. Choi, Rooney is very talented at saying so much in very few and very simple words. She doesn’t use quotation marks, which started out jarring for me and took a bit to get used to. However, once I found my footing it was like lightning. This book can be read in a matter of hours if you’re the type who runs through novels like a field of poppies. I am a slow reader who makes a lot of notes and absorbs slowly so it took me about four days between work and other projects. So definitely a quick read. But the important thing is how much of the writing is contextual. You cannot, I repeat, cannot skim this book. Gaining an appreciation of the nuances and depth hidden between the lines is something that can’t be rushed through nor achieved by skipping to dialogue only. Of course the no quotations format made sure you couldn’t. But the very real beauty of Rooney’s writing is not in her prose but in the subtle character interactions with society and each other. She creates a quiet place when portraying Connell and Marianne compared to others. Within the scarcity, or rather, bareness of their conversation lies an intimacy that is uncluttered by description. However, when they’re with others, when they have to confront themselves with others, Ronney is able to accurately portray the cacophony that ensues between the status quo and the “othered” by just portraying the conversation and actions and reactions. It becomes a certain type of voyeurism, if you will. This insight that by her use of words and implication, you are seeing the destruction and reconstruction of Connell and Marianne as though Rooney is spying on the lives of real people and can’t look away. Even more so, she is holding up a mirror and you are having to watch the very best and very worst parts of yourself playing out through two people you’ve never met.
Now there are some moments where there is a language barrier as I am American and this is set wholly in Ireland and written by an Irishwoman. However, they do not take you out of the story in the slightest. In fact, it makes the immersion deeper. The noting of the dates aided in immersion for me because I was able to relate fully to the time period. Rocking their earily 20s through 2010s landscape allowed me to identify much more with their mindset. Rooney writes for the working adult, the starving student, and the forever lost teenager that is turning 25-30 who still can’t figure out themselves and that is perfectly normal.
Normal People is one of those novels that, honestly, I feel was made specifically for me. That I was the target audience and thus was given the good grace and good fortune to read it. It was a surprising and unexpected piece of life that brought me eagerly from my reading slump and was a wonderful palate cleanser after the debacle that was American Dirt. Rooney grounded me and reminded me why I continued to do what I do. Why I continue to delve into social interaction the same way I dive into books even though I am disappointed more often than not. Because like Normal People, I stumble across people, conversations, and interactions that normalize my otherness. That normalizes me… That’s what this book is for. It’s normalizing our flaws and allowing us to grow from them to becomes just people.
Thank you for joining me today. I hope you found this Review enlightening and I hope you can experience Normal People yourself. If you like what I have to say and what I do, like and follow and don’t forget to support me on Patreon or Commission me on Ko-Fi, if you can. Things are getting weird out there and I’m unfortunately being affected by the weirdness. In the meantime, thank you always for this moment of your time.
(This review was written and published on 09/03/2016)
I’m a bit late to the party for this book. I saw it a couple of months ago when it popped up in my bookstore on the bestseller shelf. I thought it was just the usual bubblegum romance of quirky girl and cold-blooded guy. Well it is….but also isn’t.
From this point on, there are *SPOILERS* so if you have not read this book/seen this movie, I ask that you exit…
…..Still here? Alright then…
When I started reading the Me Before You I already knew what it was about before the prologue was over. Or rather I assumed I did. I was correct for the most part right until….the end when I got what I wanted and was heartbroken over it.
The synopsis is Louisa Clark being fired from her job as a waitress, one she’s held for many years and thus left at a loss of what to do. A great part of me was ready to hate Louisa with her pickiness about jobs, but then something really resonated with me. I realize she really was an every girl. We can talk about doing whatever we can to help our families and remain financially stable, but in practice we’re actually quite picky. Add to the fact that her family does not think very much of her skills yet are quite dependent on her income and you have a situation that is becoming more and more commonplace in our society. Yet she does try hard and for that…I don’t hate Louisa. I couldn’t.
Enter William Traynor and it all gets fairly cliche. Their initial meeting was fun and hilarious, though their further interactions left a lot to be desired. I suppose since we were viewing this from Louisa’s point of view majority of the time while Will remained a stiff caricature throughout most of the story and I cannot tell if this is genius or if this is just bad writing. William’s character is clichely defined by his injuries up until the end yet somehow it works well, but…it feels like there was entire chunk of the story missing that would humanize William Traynor and make him…well…real.
I believe that was my main complaint about this book. Where Louisa was a real person for me, Will was little more than a plot device for Louisa to evolve from. He was a mere catalyst rather than having his own motivations and emotions. Even when it is stressed that he hates people deciding things for him or attempting to take his options away the way the wreck did, it seemed more of a kicking and screaming attempt to say “see I have depth; I’m a real boy.”
The only saving point of Will’s character is the ending. The ending is what humanized Will because it showed him for who he was and how he wished to take life into his own hands as he always had. It cemented him as a character to make the choice he did to kill himself rather than allow his love for Louisa to change his mind. If anything, Louisa’s love for him and his love for her is what made his decision clearer and more expected. I was not disappointed by this ending. If anything…it was a strong and stable ending that remained true to the characters JoJo Moyes sought to portray.
Many have taken it out of context to mean that if you are “damaged” in the way that your quality of life is forever diminished then you should chose death. I believe that these people are simply looking for something to be wrong with something popular. Will’s choice to kill himself was a human one, one a lot of us would not have the resolve to make because in his mind he knew that loving Louisa would never be enough. It would never be enough because he could not hold her in his arms at will, could not kiss her when he desired to, could not be the lover he could’ve been had that fateful night turned out differently. Knowing this, Louisa’s love for him as he was then and the lesser ways he felt he could love her as a paraplegic would’ve only been more cause for guilt and pain.
Louisa’s respect for his choice was a show of true love. While painful to herself, she allowed Will his choice…for the first time in the entire book.
This is the first time I’ve read a novel where Love was not enough. That realism is why even though the writing was barebones mostly, — and it was hamfisted about Louisa’s rape (though I felt it was quite unnecessary to the plot for this to have even been presented) — Me Before You successfully conveyed the story of two people who finally allowed themselves to make their own choices.
In the end, I quite enjoyed it. It was a quick read that I finished in a day and I did love Louisa’s character which is quite a feat since I hate most female characters in romance novels. I won’t be reading After You. I read the synopsis and I find I don’t appreciate the direction Louisa’s character is going to be taking after the strength she showed in Me Before You.
Hope you enjoy the book as well as my opinion on it!
(This review was written and published on 07/06/2017)
So, when I set out to read this story, I was given the premise that 1. It was a good story and 2. It was a positive accurate portrayal of mental illness – specifically schizophrenia.
I’ve disclosed before on this blog that I have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. I’ve been officially diagnosed since 2014 and before this, I was diagnosed as bipolar with PTSD and anxiety disorder. That being said, I have some personal experience in the illness as well as factual knowledge because when I found out, I wanted to make sure I know everything that was happening to me.
You know it would be nice to see something a decent percentage of people suffer from represented in not so much a positive way, but in a realistic way that conveys the realities of living with the symptoms of it.
So that being said, I’d like to say on a personal level… Fuck… This… Book…
WELCOME TO THE CEREBRAL HEDONIST AND HERE COMES A REVIEW OF…
We’re going to try something new in which I go in depth about the reasons this book fails on… a lot of fronts -takes a drink- Spoilers, Homie…
“Made You Up” by Francesca Zappia is a slice of life #contemporary story of Alexandra “Alex” Ridgemont who thinks it’s super embarrassing that her history buff parents named her and her eight-year-old sister Charlemagne “Charlie” Ridgemont after historical figures. Meh, it’s fine. She is diagnosed as a small child with schizophrenia after hallucinating setting red lobsters free out of her tank with the help of a boy who is dubbed “Blue Eyes” whom she doesn’t see again afterward. See how that’s bold? Yeah, we’re going to get to that. When her mother returns to her, the lobsters were still in the tank alive and well and certainly not red so out of concern rather than assuming Alex had a big imagination, she went for the something wrong with this kid on that instance alone and got her the mental illness starter kit (A diagnosis, pills, and an ingrained fear of being locked away).
Fast forward to present day (nowhere is the time period hinted at. There’s no mention of smart phones being a regular part of their lives, personal internet in their homes doesn’t seem to exist — they have to research at the library where they’re even more surprised that the computers aren’t on some form of network even though as a library it should be — and, um, absolutely no mentions of social media or selfies. Alex literally takes old Polaroids instead of using her phone which she doesn’t have cause mom won’t let her have one? I dunno; time period unknown) Alex is now 17 and after a bit of delinquent behavior that is held back until half way through the book for no plot-relevant reason, she is now forced to leave Hill Park Private School to attend East Shoal High — a public school — and do community service in the “famed” Athletic Support Club!!!! If that sounds strange to you, that’s because it is. Her vandalism is basically being worked off in a staccato paper thin version of the Breakfast Club where they don’t learn shit.
To add a bit of the dissonance I felt by that, Alex is also being forced to have a job by her mother and therapist to appear “normal”… where she spends her time talking to a Magic 8 Ball you later find out was never real… Gonna just… unpack that later.
But overall she works to help her mother make ends meet as well, she’s trying to work off a big mistake she made, and she has to get used to a whole new school. Sounds like a typical girl in a typical world who has a little something that makes her above average (schizophrenia) and has to face the challenges of being not quite normal in the face of a budding love interest and the prospect of not being alone anymore. Great Premise. Very interesting. You hit Contemporary Teen Bingo! You might wanna pick it up…
But Harli, you said you hated this book…
Let me break down why this book so ratchet!
Alex’s mother and father are historians, her father, in particular, being an archeologist while her mother’s occupation is never clarified that I can remember. Her father travels the fucking world like a mild-mannered Indiana Jones and her little sister is a gifted violinist whom they home school. Alex herself was homeschool to a certain point before her therapist thought it was a good idea to send her to real school and mommy supported it though it’s never stated that it was what Alex wanted (those two are just full of good ideas on how to deal with Alex’s schizophrenia). This led to Alex being in Private school in the first place. Yet… somehow they are so broke that they must give secondhand gifts at Christmas time, can barely afford $70 dollars for the East Shoal uniform and Mom takes three-quarters of Alex’s part-time paycheck just to help with living expenses…
Let that sink in…
So now that we discover that the author either doesn’t know how money works in real life or hoped no one else did, it simply comes off as a very disingenuine and not well thought out means to make us feel sorry for Alex and her struggles as a #poor teen and to emphasize that she’s having a hard time. Here’s the thing about that, Alex is meant to be struggling with what is widely considered a disability and is heavily stigmatized and discriminated against. That in itself should’ve been enough without breaking out the sad violin played by the starving artist on the corner. Adding this… mess merely suits to confuse the reader and doesn’t exactly invoke a feeling of “damn Alex is a good girl in a bad situation…” cause… I mean you don’t know what the hell she’s in, in all honesty…
The inconsistencies don’t stop there, but we’ll keep going for the sake of this review.
EAST SHOAL PUBLIC SCHOOL
East Shoal is….
Okay, let me preface this. They are apparently in the middle of bumfuck Indiana (they only dropped the name of the place once and it wasn’t in a context where it could be easily retained) and this place is described as so small that it not only doesn’t show up on the map, but you could pass through it in like 5-10 mins without realizing you’d ever been anywhere different. Like this might be mistaken for a corn field type small. Yet in this small… town(?) there are several living districts including a super rundown poor area and a super-rich Beverly Hills type area where there are literal manors that belong in Fortune 500 or some shit. On top of that, this super small place has a public high school and a private high school that somehow have enough kids to populate them, have full football teams, and perpetuate rivalry in which you have a full stadium…
East Shoal is not only populated by flat, forgettable characters of a not even comically tropey nature, but it’s also littered with unnecessary, contrived, and painfully tedious subplots. Between the snake living in the ventilation system, the obvious rape/molestation of one of the #meangirls by the principal, to the bullshit hatred towards the love interest for being German, and this weird… side plot of this couple being… dicks… I dunno, I stopped paying attention at a certain point there. Basically, East Shoal as a whole is trying to be Archie, Sixteen Candles, the Breakfast Club, Hemlock Grove, and Scooby Doo all rolled into one ABC after school special without solidly building up and creating a satisfying payoff at the end.
Tony Soprano is still in a coma! There’s no gratification for sticking with this!
THE BREAKFAST CLU– ER — ATHLETIC SUPPORT CLUB
Where weak characters fester around a strong character and no I’m not talking about Alex. The club is made up of six… -counts on fingers- yeah six kids.
Jetta: a super special awesome pixy dream girl who is also French and speaks French but who is also multilingual (she speaks like six languages) who also wants to go back to France to become a fashion designer, who is also the most loyal friend to Miles. She’s in the club for… um… reasons that I don’t remember because it was too inconsequential for me to retain. Upon meeting her, Alex (who is obsessed with Nazi and Communists because they scare her) immediately thinks “Foreigner! French Communist Party!” in a way that makes me go “Umm…” because — small history lesson — the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Francais) were against the Nazis… but, you know… being paranoid about something doesn’t make you learn everything about it I suppose…
Art: A black kid who is here because he was blamed for having weed when he didn’t. Okay. Alex believes she’s hallucinating because his pecs were too big… I bullshit you not —
“I turned to Art, a black kid who was a foot and a half taller than me and whose pecs were about to burst out of his shirt and eat someone. I gave him a two on the delusion detector. I didn’t turst those pecs.”
— Made You Up, Page 36
Theo: Theophillia and her brothers Evan and Ian are triplets with Evan and Ian being Identical. This is possible. No problem. I believe it. However, Alex’s reaction to them is
“I know how genetics worked — even normal identical twins didn’t look as identical as Theo’s brothers. My fingers tightened around my camera.”
—Made You Up, Page 36
Yeah… I suppose Alex’s reactions are meant to be comical in light of her paranoia and schizophrenia but they just come off as insulting considering this is telling the average reader that these fun, quirky little things are what people like me are constantly concerned about. That these are things one might hallucinate about or have delusions of. (PSA: Delusion and Hallucination are not the same things. This author uses them interchangeably.) It’s just poor execution, not in any way humorous, and falls flat. Again there’s no joke here, just a “lol I see things” type of humor and Alex… is not… funny…
I wrote that a lot in my notes, I’m sorry.
These characters are introduced just to pad the club and try to give Alex potential friends. They lack distinctive personalities and pretty much act as… well dummies for Alex and Miles to play off of. They don’t have unique voices and can be interchangeable to the point that you wouldn’t recall who was talking or who did what without flipping back. Basically, they lack in everything that would make them memorable and tolerable outside of “that one guy/chick.” Even at pivotal moments, I couldn’t tell you which of them was doing what. But then there’s my boo… Miles!
THE CASE OF MILES (A BAMF TRAPPED IN A TERRIBLE BOOK!!!!)
Miles Motherfucking Richter… my god I fucking love this kid! I literally could read an entire story about Miles and the shit he goes through. Out of all of them, including Alex, he is the most sympathetic with the strongest voice and the real struggle that isn’t overplayed to death. Miles Ritcher is a German-speaking BOSS who basically has everyone wrapped around his fingers at the beginning because he’s the high school hitman. You pass him some money, he will make shit happen for you! Someone crosses you, go find the “Nazi.” He’ll put Icy Hot in your underwear and look you in the eye the next morning. Best of all he does not discriminate. He even pranks Alex, which funnily enough she responded by gluing his locker shut. Miles steals every scene he’s in and as long as he was present, Alex is a better, more human character. Their interactions were natural when Alex’s schizophrenia wasn’t shoved into it like a goddamn puffer fish in a school of fluidly flowing tuna! Honestly, the story itself often dragged when he was no longer in the scene. Not a good sign. But who gives a shit!
Miles is “Blue Eyes” by the way. He is the one who helped her free the lobsters which but her mother says they were never let out of the tank. However, Miles is said to have remembered lifting her up and helping her. Miles has eidetic memory… pretty sure he’d know. However, that’s never clarified, adding to the plot holes of this book. But fuck dat…
Let’s talk about my boi, Miles Richter!
Miles is initially presented as a high IQ’d asshole and is overbearingly mean, which later is explained that he doesn’t actually try to be mean, he simply lacks severely in social skills and doesn’t quite comprehend emotional and social cues from other people. He logically and objectively approaches everything with an unbiased mind and if you don’t conform to logic you are not worth his time. He literally stopped being friends with a kid named Tucker (who I had no desire to go into because he was pretty irrelevant through most of this) simply because to Miles, Tucker had intelligence and potential that he refused to use and wasted it often. He basically does not waste his time on people who do not use their head to further and better themselves. Reasons he’s 99% done with most of the people around him at East Shoal.
This is due to Miles possibly being Autistic but it is never explicitly expressed, which is the saving point. The reader can deduce and theorize but it doesn’t put a label on what’s different about Miles. It’s frankly ashamed that Zappia doesn’t use this method of vaguing the implied illness with Alex’s supposed schizophrenia. Probably would’ve saved… never mind; the only thing that could’ve saved this is if Alex didn’t exist and the book was about my man Miles.
Anyway! Miles is doing these jobs not because he likes it, enjoys it, or gets some form of schadenfreude from the results. No. He has a very real and actually very sympathetic reason. His mother was committed a while back because of her bipolar disorder after a clash with his abusive stepfather. June attacks him because he beat her and tried to drown her and thus when the authorities are called, the bastard claims the wounds were self-inflicted and that she was violent. Now while this is something that can easily be disproven and we all know it (cause you can tell self-inflicted wounds from non) this is not actually completely impossible. June being sentenced to her institutionalization is actually something that can be discreetly gotten away with if the husband is in good with the local authorities and/or judge and in a town small enough for this and prejudice enough against mental illness, it is plausible. This is hammered home by nearly everyone’s reaction to Alex’s condition being publicized. So yes, I can suspend disbelief on this part.
So Miles is left alone with this son of a bitch and thus is saving and making money at both school and a side job so that he can set he and his mother up far away from his step dad where they can be happy and safe.
Miles is a Ride or Die, no fucks given, goal-oriented badass who is both relatable and easy to sympathize with. He’s the strongest, most solid, and believable character in this story. His possible autism doesn’t define him, his abuse doesn’t define him (which this could’ve easily been a road taken and ruined him) and most importantly, he doesn’t let what he comes from and what he’s doing color how he treats Alex before and after he realizes he likes her. He loves her and respects her as a person and he is phenomenal as a significant other and goddammit why wasn’t this book about him!!!
Miles “Mein Chef” Richter you are my boy! Sorry, you began and ended in this garbage fire of a book.
Finally, we get to the rotten meat of the book where I try my best not to drunkenly rant and rave over the bullshit that is this book…
ALEXANDRA “ALEX” RIDGEMONT ( THE BELLA SWAN OF MENTAL ILLNESS)
Here we go ya’ll…
This… bitch… here…
Alex, as a person who suffers from schizophrenia, pisses me off a bit in that I know enough about the facts of my illness, the facts of the symptoms, and the facts of the treatment for it. Actually, it would probably piss off anyone who did a ten minute google search but… hmmph. Coupled with having the illness mentioned, I (and so many others who have read and wanted to burn this book) really can only say that this is completely unrealistic and honestly undermining it. Yes, relating to the goings on is fine. Nothing wrong with that. But what’s been happening is that normal people are reading Alex as the generalized version of what being schizophrenic is like and are saying “oh, I get it now, so this is how I should handle this and oh my god, therapist, and hospitals are AWFUL!” It, in essence, dumbed down a completely serious illness into a quirky gimmick for adding the “not like other girls” trait to Alex. Granted it did its job and hooked me into reading it, but it didn’t keep me. It insults the people who have it, the people who work with it, and the people who spend their lives studying and trying to understand it.
But back on topic.
Alex is quite literally ruled and defined by her illness throughout the book, but never quite suffers from it as you expect or faces the real challenges and consequences of it. She is depicted as having hallucinations and delusions but it is very often mild. She hallucinates about silly things like squirrels, Magic 8 Balls, and a phoenix that follows her home from school overhead. Most disconcerting is that she hallucinates a lot, like to the point where someone who has been living with it for a while would consider a change in medication (since it’s obviously not helping) or perhaps some more serious help. She has major, long-term hallucinations which don’t make sense in the context of the story such as:
The Magic 8 Ball – She’s been hallucinating her interactions with this thing since she started working there and apparently visibly interacted with it. However, no one once at her job slid up to Alex and went “hey what are you doing?” when she was playing with the 8-ball that wasn’t there.
She hallucinates the phoenix flying over her every day after school.
She hallucinates her dead sister Charlie for 4 years
bonus: her parents played along with it for the entire four years even though Charlie was dead and the mother often admonishes her for her hallucinations in the book under the guise of concern
Bonus: somehow in that entire four years, no one has called Alex out on her “interacting” with thin air until now
This was a poorly built plot device and had absolutely no emotional impact because you could already tell Charlie wasn’t real from her first introduction. Because of how little you are able to connect with Alex and how Charlie and her relationship with Alex aren’t really developed enough for you to even be shocked and awed by the cheap plot twist, you can’t really feel for her.
-Sighs- I can’t tell if the people who interact with Alex are willfully ignorant not to have already noticed Alex was strange or just intentionally written that way as a means to show that most people wouldn’t know a person with a mental illness even if they saw one. Either way, it’s bad execution.
The illness is also used as a deus ex machina in that it somehow acts as premonitions and such… which brings me to my next point of what the actual fuck:
Alex’s psychosis gives her superpowers!
She hallucinates Miles as a beaten up lake monster — even smells the pond scum — and later we find out Miles was almost drowned by his stepfather in a lake.
She hallucinates the original cheerleader who died from the falling scoreboard as #meangirl’s mother and the conversations they have which lead to plot relevant discoveries and eventualities. Turns out the dead cheerleader is #meangirl’s mother. Dun-dun-dun!!!
She hallucinates conversations between said ghost mom and the psycho principal causing her to figure out that the principal is going to try and kill someone…
Deus Ex go fuck yourself!
So Alex, as far as her illness, is so ill-thought out that I’m pretty sure she was not thought out at all and very poorly researched (though this is questionable since the author admits to never having experience with schizophrenia in any form and that if there were inaccuracies in her portrayal her agent, editor, or publisher would’ve probably caught it. Not gonna touch that) Doesn’t help that this story was initially started when the author was 10… This portrayal is littered with stereotypes and most assuredly what an unknowledgeable person would assume the illness to be, especially in how its handled by her family and therapist in the end. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.
Authors, please do your research when working on something like this. Save a life.
Alex as a person/character is really only her illness. She has no unique, definitive traits nor a standalone personality outside of the “crazy girl.” All you could say about Alex is that “Nazi’s and Commies are scary” and “I see shit” you don’t know her hobbies, you don’t know what kind of things she likes, her goals, or even what she wants to become. She is simply a doll being used as a plot device which is often a role delegated to a side character, not the main protagonist. You don’t even know what motivates her to get better or try to be “normal” as she puts it other than she’s afraid of being institutionalized which doesn’t work that way. She doesn’t even really show herself as… well… Anything. Until Miles! Miles is the only thing that brings her into significance.
Well, Harli, she likes photography!
No, she doesn’t. She takes pictures to make sure she’s not hallucinating something which is proven not to work… at all…
Not even going to go into the subplots but all-in-all she and others in this story are less characters and more caricatures of ideals and stereotypes. Except for Miles, you can’t tell me shit about Miles other than he suffers from Third Act Syndrome. He could’ve carried this entire story on his own.
WRITING/STRUCTURE/STORY BLAH BLAH BLAH
It’s… it’s bad. As far as the writing goes, it’s not absolutely horrible in that there is a cohesive story somewhere in there. What makes it such a goddamn dumpster fire, however, is that this cohesive story is not visible. It’s bogged down in the needlessly complicated subplots that are not given enough time to develop and thus offer absolutely nothing of substance and, worse, no payoff for all those threads. The emotional “ah” and “oh” were not earned in any part of this story from Alex nearly dying from the scoreboard to her reconciling with #meangirl. All of the parts that are meant to bring you to the pinnacle of emotional investment are hollow and stale. Most of that has to do with Alex being the subject and the fact that the author does little to SHOW us things. She simply tells us. This character sleeps with other boys to make her boyfriend jealous and get said boys beat up. This character is former army and loud. This character is aspiring queen bee and wants attention. Basically, you are told every bit of everything without a single descriptor or weaving of these things into the narrative. You’re getting more of a play-by-play rather than experiencing a story. You are not allowed to experience what she experiences, just simply told that she’s experiencing them…. except when she interacts with Miles.
Honestly, this book suffers from “Stephenie Meyer” Syndrome: Write one good, immersive, well-written scene (often romantic) and then write some inconsequential fluff around it to make it novel length. Share —> Profit.
The entire novel reads like someone’s 2nd Draft. There’s a severe lack of editing, plot building, and character consistency, but most of all, it’s as though Zappia had a hundred ideas that she dumped into this one novel without thinking it through. It’s easy to read because there’s no effort in making it an immersive experience as “slice of life” or any narrative is meant to be. After all, contemporary teen lit is meant to echo the human experience… there’s meant to be feelings and thoughts inspired that may or may not stick with you.
Unfortunately, I felt nothing and was ready to toss it away… That’s what upsets me most. The fact that this novel made me feel like I wasted my time. No story should ever make you feel that way…
If you choose to read this book, you should not go into this believing this is an accurate (meaning factual and not just relatable to personal experience) portrayal of schizophrenia or any mental disorder related to it. It is not factual in how it’s handled. Keep that in mind and don’t use it as a guide on how to interact with your buddy who floats off into hallucinations every now and then.
So you might choose to read this hot mess, go right ahead! You might like it, you might enjoy it, you might love Miles as much as I did or absolutely hate him. But it’s your choice… just like it’s my choice to call this a waste of time.
It’s badly planned, too many subplots with no proper pay off, drags terribly at points, and is so inconsistent from the plot to the characterizations. Not to mention poorly researched… again. Alex’s attempts at humor are terribly unfunny and come off as just her saying something to be edgy. Honestly, with some rewrites, editing, and fact checking and more time devoted to it, it could’ve been a good story. Hell, a damn good story.
But it’s not… this is what we got…
It’s god awful. Never going to revisit Alex and Miles again… unless Miles gets his own stand alone novel. WRITE THAT! Jesus.
I’m sorry guys, this one gets an F on the grading scale. Solid F. I don’t really have a desire to read anything else by her in the future because of it.
“Made You Up” could’ve used a little more “Making Up’ in the everything department…
So as you can see with the lengthiness of this review, I’m attempting to give you guys some actual substance in what I like about books I read, what I don’t like, and what I look for in reading. I’m going to continue doing these in-depth breakdowns of books I read to give you a better idea of what works in my mind and what doesn’t and what can actually go fuck itself. I hope you found this enjoyable, informing, and be back for the review of “The Light We Lost” by Jill Santopolo
Thank you for sticking it out…
I’ll someday make videos, but I think I’ll start with a book I actually like.
In the comments, by all means, recommend some stuff to me or tell me why you think I’m wrong or why you agree with me. I enjoy conversation and enjoy book recs. Gimme!
The Human experience is often full of regrets that rose-tints our world with what we call nostalgia and paints an elegantly beautiful image of the world that once was for us… as well as the choices not taken. Even on a good day we looked back and wonder “what if?” and we dream and glamorize how that should’ve been the choice we’d made and how much amazing it would’ve been had we not chosen… well… whatever we’ve chosen at this point in your life. However, we’ll never know…
Sometimes it’s good that we never know.
It makes it easier to focus on the world of now and make real choices.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist and here comes a dull review of:
(This review was originally written and posted 11/21/2018)
“My girlfriend’s pregnant.” He said suddenly, startling himself.
Penny tilted her head.
“Well, she’s my ex.”
“Whoa,” she breathed.
“Yeah. I still love her though.”
“She cheated on me.”
“Wow,” she said.
Penny’s fingers inched towards his. Sam thought for a fleeting moment that she would hold his hand, but instead, she went for a couple of cashews and was extra careful to avoid touching him.
“The first one is the worst. By a lot,” she said crunching.
Sam wasn’t sure if she was talking about panic attacks or pregnant ex-girlfriends. Not that it mattered…
-Emergency Contact, page 106-
The well of slice-of-life stories is deep. It tries to handle the tough stuff that young people go through as they transition into the adult world. But, very few are capable of capturing what is truly sought after in order to find the real world.
The ability to connect to the world is a much sought-after thing that is often described as fitting in, being great, or even falling in love…
But sometimes Connection is just finding a way to live.
My name is Harli V. Park
Here comes a thought on:
Mary H.K. Choi is a creative jack-of-all-trades but is best known for her urban/hip-hop journalism, comic book features, and, most notably, being the author of the infamous biography/Success help book, D.J. Khaled Keys. Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in Hong Kong until she was 14, Choi immigrated to San Antonio Texas and majored in Textiles and Apparel at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally set on a Career in Fashion, Choi, through sheer determination leapfrogged herself into quite an impressive career in which she is in constant creative expansion. Now, Choi presents us with YA debut Emergency Contact, released March 2018!
Emergency Contact is a contemporary YA that follows Penny and Sam. Penny is an off-putting and sometimes endearingly awkward eighteen-year-old college student pursuing her passion to be a writer. Sam is a twenty-year-old barista/baker living above a café and trying to get his life together.
By chance, they meet through Jude, Sam’s sort of niece (marriage is strange like that) and while they regard each other with mutual attraction neither are permitted to indulge in it. For Penny, she suffers crippling anxiety about even remotely considering the option and Jude insists none of her “friends” try to date her “Uncle Sam”. For Sam, the idea that anyone who is friends with Jude – whom he still views as a little girl – is far too young for him and he certainly has no desire to complicate his life with anyone. It doesn’t help when his ex-girlfriend Lorraine’s positive pregnancy test crashes into his barely stable life.
Both Penny and Sam are trapped in limbos of their own personal making and only manage to communicate further due to Same collapsing in the park and Penny happening to be in the area to help him. She gets him in the car after he refuses to go to the emergency room and they discover it was a panic attack. Thanks to Penny and her magical doomsday bag, Sam is able to calm down. This is when it is revealed that Sam’s ex is pregnant, and Penny is just like “…Word?”
They exchange numbers, beginning their roles as Emergency Contacts (Title Drop!). They text back and forth as the throes of life test just how stubborn their holds on their personal limbos. Both are forced to grow up and discover that there is more than just their own personal hells and that escalation is the only way to escape the boundaries of their closed-off worlds.
I initially picked up this book because the rose-gold cover caught my eye and the art further intrigued me. It wasn’t because it was good but because of the position of the characters. A girl and a boy who seemed to come from two different walks of life, curled tightly and safely away from each other at opposite ends of the cover while staring at their phones with what can be described as vulnerably open expressions. The title, of course, showed me they were communicating with each other, but the image expressed a sort of disconnection. I was curious. I took it, wondering if these two would ever cross the distance shown in the image and what kept them safely staring at their phones away from each other.
In short, this is what you would call a very successful cover.
I began to read the first chapter – a thing that I do when I’m searching for something new to read – the first thing I was presented with was a surprisingly sad but comical scene with Penny going to buy her first iPhone. Her mother, whom Penny describes as an airheaded MILF whom she is burdened to keep an eye on, is being flirted with by several men whom she gives attention to despite the fact it was meant to be Penny’s day. She was leaving for college soon and she wanted her mother to be her mother. This sets a standard in which for a while, I thought Penny was being a bit of a jerk, but at the same time, I understood her teenage mindset. I became interested in the very light tone this was taken in and wanted to see just what Penny’s problem was. So naturally, it went into my book haul.
It starts out quirky, humorous and then… it suddenly gets very, very real. It wasn’t an overdramatized telling of one bad day after the other until someone collapsed in a nervous breakdown. Rather, it was a realistic idea of what living a life of troubles you are forced to handle alone is really like, how you cope, and what kind of person it makes you in the long run without help.
From Sam’s codependency on his emotionally abusive and gaslighting ex-girlfriend to the serious paranoia towards physical interaction and seemingly inexplicable anger penny feels towards her mother that Penny lives with every day. These are things they have never been able to or allowed to express to anyone. Choi presents these real things happening to real young people and everyone who are hated and blamed for them right up until they realize that it’s okay. That they’re strong enough and not broken, allowing them to deal and most importantly to move past it at their own pace. At the very least, allowing them to start living rather than just surviving.
Choi does such an amazing job drawing upon the uniqueness of human character through Penny and Sam. It is very important that neither of them is a “too good for this world” cinnamon roll trope and that they have done nothing wrong. In fact, they’ve done plenty, but there are reasons. Not excuses, reasons. They are flawed individuals who are very capable of hurting the people around them with their dependency on their constructed limbos and, while they find help in each other, they forget those around them in the whirlwind who are truly trying to help, trying to get in, and trying to be their friend. Despite this, I feel that Penny and Sam would’ve never grown to understand the backlash that came in the wake of their communications had they never connected and helped to put each other’s worlds into perspective. Through each other, they realized they needed to do something, that it was them that needed to change.
In this way, they grew up.
The main theme of Emergency Contact is not the adorable and somewhat bittersweet slow-burn that is Sam and Penny’s romance. The main theme is growth. Realizing that maybe you are not the only one who has it that bad, but at the same time, your pain is not invalidated. Maybe, just maybe there are people around you willing to help you and that there are people trying their hardest to be there for you, but you can’t see it because of your own toxicity that you hold onto because you could never believe someone would listen. Worse, you would never believe that it didn’t make you less of a person, that it didn’t make you broken. And Worst, you believe people are as bad as you have told yourself they are.
It’s actually a very beautiful study of real life that forces you to notice context, notice the characters actions, quirks, the way they speak, their mannerism so that when you discover why they are the way they are, it hits you that much harder because just like them, you are probably dealing with something that no one knows about and that you feel you can’t share. The most important thing is that there is no grandstanding, no sweeping narrative, there’s no plot twist or love triangle. There are only the people. There are only the experiences and they come together in a surprisingly solid narrative about two young people going through their lives.
Emergency Contact urges you to be okay and urges you that no matter how you connect to the world, your experience is valid, and that its okay to be angry, sad, or even not very well put together because, in the end, we all connect with the living world when we’re ready for it and when we do, we find a happiness we didn’t think we needed. But most importantly, it shows that things do not wrap up neatly in a tight bow. It shows that not everything can be instantly fixed, it takes time to find that equanimity in life where as long as you keep moving forward, you can always get better.
I’ve heard many people mention how “lame” the teen talk is in this book and I just assume that no one realizes there are people who talk like this? Like, there are literally some extra-ass teens out here that will say some weird shit like smitten mittens kittens. Most reviews I’ve seen for research on the reactions to this book talk about the slang is trying hard and Choi is trying to show that she’s down with the teen vernacular. I think people forget that slang, no matter the age, varies from area to area and state to state much like accents do. Funnily enough, I live outside of Houston, and some of us talk like this, but the slang varies with age and which part of the area you’re from.
Then there’s the weird shit Penny says sometimes, but I don’t think that’s really “teen talk.” I believe that’s her own eccentric way of communicating that is meant to highlight just how “other” she is among normal people. The only person who seems to follow her “language” is Sam. This is something common in nearly every person. In that regard, Choi is highlighting and diversifying the characters by having the way they talk be unique. You would always know if Mallory is talking, you would always know if Jude is talking, you would always know if it’s Sam. That’s actually a pretty positive thing since a problem in writing is that people sound the same.
In context, the slang and such makes sense and most major cities in Texas are surprisingly behind on what’s cool slang and what’s not – even more so considering slang changes for every second a tweet is published.
Now, the writing, however, is something we can talk about.
The book is skeletal, which suits the themes and story it is trying to tell. It’s simple and barebones so that you aren’t distracted from the point and that is the gentle but blunt honestly between Sam and Penny. Strangely, that works so well with the slice-of-life style. It does have a few points where it could’ve been filled in more and perhaps better detailed. I personally would’ve loved a bit more about the minor characters. However, the fact that with Jude, Mallory, Lorraine, and Penny’s mom being so far into the background and ineffectual right up until they weren’t in the context of the book hammers home just how self-absorbed Penny and Sam were in their misery and just how unfair that was for the people around them. (Or in Sam’s case, how easy it was to get swept up into Lorraine’s toxicity.) Choi doesn’t go into severe detail until it truly means something and even then, its always from the perspective of Penny and Sam. The limitation in that style draws a great example of how despite all of what’s going on around us, we can’t see outside our own lives either falling apart or unfortunately, our own cynicism forcing us to see danger everywhere.
Choi writes this story in a way that I haven’t seen in such a long time and it’s not about the drama, it’s not about the romance, it’s not about the heavy stuff. It’s not even about that pretty ass rose-gold cover.
It’s about how life is not pretty and rarely ends neatly wrapped, but maybe something good can sprout from it if you give yourself the chance to see outside the misery.
Choi drives that point home well.
It is very noticeable that this is her first time in fiction and while she certainly has a great understanding of people and heavy, true-to-life issues, there’s still a very novice feel to her prose. I feel she’s limited herself too much in this novel because there’s something secretly great hidden – you will notice in Penny’s small writings about the Anima. The limited perspectives of the characters focus and work well in this story, but I can’t imagine it allowing her to branch out further. If she continues writing, then she will improve because the skill and talent and creativity are certainly there. I hope she takes the time to fine-tune and develop it. There is so much potential for her to become a fiction favorite and I hope to get more from her in bigger and detailed stories and more oh-so-real characters.
Nothing. There’s nothing. Like for real. There’s nothing problematic about this book.
Let’s unpack this real quick.
There is a growing culture in the BookTube Community and book blogs where as long as there is something heavy within a piece of fiction then there’s a high chance that it will be called out for being problematic. It’s a term slung around so often in the book world that at this point it’s become its own genre. There’s a serious problem in that particular bit of calling out and that’s Context.
Emergency Contact tackles some real shit that, going into this book, I recommend you do your own research on because I don’t particularly trigger warn. If you’re reading this book from start to finish there is absolutely no reason for you not to notice when you’re about to run into something heavy and, even then, it is handled easily and concisely.
The potential problematic issues dealt with are slut-shaming, toxic masculinity, body image issues, racism, abuse, alcoholism, and the common denominator in most of the reviews, sexual assault. When I tell you that, it makes you very, very wary of picking up this book to read. This is because you have no context for these things and most reviews do not provide enough context considering it’s a novel worth of character development and events behind these things. So it’s hard not to see these things in negativity.
So, let’s give it some context:
*Minor Spoiler and Trigger Warning!*
Slut-shaming is Penny calling her mom a MILF and complaining about how oblivious she is to the men who creep on her. Also, a bully calling Penny’s mom a whore right in front of her while said bully’s married dad flirts with Penny’s mom. You learn later why Penny is so wary of this and why she views every interaction as a girl asking to get hurt. This is realized when Penny finally admits that it isn’t about her mother.
Toxic Masculinity is Sam’s constant but subtle degradation of himself because he feels he’s supposed to be manly. He’s supposed to be tough and want to beat up other guys or even want to be buff to be more attractive because that’s what’s been projected on him by those around him. It is also expected of him because he’s older despite him being sensitive, emotional, and very much a passionate romantic – traits that aren’t particularly held high in stereotypical men. This is mainly due to the lack of role models and constantly being looked down upon by Lorraine for crying when they broke up and even cited his being emotional was the reason she would often get bored with him.
Body Image Issues are Penny and Sam’s discomfort with their own skin and view themselves as undesirable.
Racism is Penny’s boyfriend merely dating her because she’s Asian and fetishizing her as well as other men sexualizing her mother.
Abuse is Sam’s childhood under his mother and, further, his liquor-fueled relationship with Lorraine.
Alcoholism is Sam’s inability to cope and sometimes having a weakness – something, unfortunately, he inherited from his mother through her toxic behaviors.
Sexual Assault is Penny’s recollection of her rape by her tutor when she was just barely a teen and her inability to deal with it outside of herself because not only did she feel she caused it by having a juvenile crush on the man, but she was angry because her mother was asleep upstairs when it happened – having left them alone. Her mother was always her friend, but never her mother when she needed her, and Penny felt she could never rely on her because of this, especially after this happened.
With context, these are not things put in for shock value, nor do they go unaddressed by the material itself. Each of these things shows what type of people the characters are, what they’ve been through, and why they are the way they are. These are not problematic things. These are human things. Things that do happen in all too real ways. Therefore full context matters in fiction so much and why these types of things shouldn’t be cherry-picked as automatically creating a terrible book simply because they contain these things.
The Final Thoughts
Emergency Contact is one of the best YAs I’ve read in a long time. It delivers on a quality of Contemporary and Slice of Life and hell even in just fiction that I don’t get very often with YA these days and breaks many of the tropes that I have come to understand as law in the YA world. That is – to say the least—refreshing. The gentleness in which Sam and Penny handle each other in an age where sometimes text is the best way to learn a person’s context and know who they are outside of what they appear is something beautiful. Sometimes knowing someone else out there exists who can and will listen to you and believe you and your experiences are valid gives you the courage and the strength to validate yourself and finally join the world that was always yours.
And that completes the thought. Thank you for listening/reading.
Hey guys! So this is my very first Booktube/Bookblog combo Review and I’m so excited that I finally have it up and running now! I’m so happy that you guys made it this far with me and that you can start to see the fruit of your patience! I hope you liked. Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my review and tell me why. See you next time!
It’s not often that a reading slump takes you so hard but when it does, it feels like nothing you read feels good, or worse, it drains your energy to even look at the page. Then, when you’ve abandoned hope entirely, something wonderful happens. You’re sparked by an intriguing, anime as fuck cover, with two steely-eyed bishonen who are on a mission. Gorgeous art, great premise and the promise of a whole new world the moment you read the first page!
The best part, it was an indie author. I chose this one on my own guys, and she actually let me have that ARC!
As always, I never miss!
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist! I’m the Scholarly Squid and here comes a thought on:
(This review was Written and Published 03/09/2020)
The best moment to die is when you’re no longer afraid to.
There’s a completeness when you have fulfilled yourself as best you can and taken the steps needed to be everything you wanted to be. You allowed yourself wins, moments, and risks. Rippling out, you have affected people you know, don’t know, and people who aren’t even alive yet. So, when your time comes, you are no longer afraid to be missed, because you know you will be celebrated. Even if its just by a small pocket of existence.
Welcome to the Cerebral Hedonist.
I’m your Well-Read Squid and this is:
Welcome back guys. I’ve been stalking this book since it came out in 2017. I’d read a good chunk of it for work and was never able to finish it. I’ve read a lot of end-of-the-world premises, even in YA but never had I read one that was just about people and their time to die. It seemed so mundane and to be honest, incredibly morbid. However, I was intrigued by what their last day would mean to them and others. So I was given the privilege to follow Mateo and Rufus as they try to live 100 years in a day and discover through each other, everything they’d been missing in their young lives. And all of it because of a phone call.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“You’re constantly going to be rediscovering yourself, no matter the age.”
Adam Silver is a full time YA writer best known for his two hits History Is All You Left Me and the co-authored What If It’s Us. He is a New Yorker born to a Puerto Rican mother who suffers greatly and openly with depression. He prides himself on being a part of the #ownvoices movement. Being gay, mentally ill, and a person of color, you can imagine how important it is for him to tell those sorts of stories in a way that offers respite and representation to those like him. There’s something normalizing about the way he writes his characters and I believe that’s intentionally – to show marginalization in a natural setting that doesn’t focus solely on their marginalization. At least, that’s the air this book gives.
They Both Die At The End hit me hard from the very beginning as I’m someone whom death is very close to. I was already tearing up when it sunk in for Mateo that he was going to die and his father would never know until after it happened. What truly made this book for me though, was the slow-burn friendship and later romance between Mateo and Rufus as two people dealing with all the things they never did and said but determined not to do this alone.
I feel that the Death-Cast System can be viewed as evil, but I also think that’s a mistaken view. I feel that in the reality of this book, it gives you something we all wish we had. Warning. But most importantly, an opportunity. A blessing. How many of us wish we knew what was going to happen so that we could just say everything we couldn’t and do everything that we never did. Or at the very least, say goodbye before we exited. In the book, they have 24hrs to make peace and be who they always wanted to be with no worry for the consequences.
From Mateo branching out and being open to new experiences after playing it safe to Rufus reconciling his anger and survivor’s guilt over his family leaving him behind when they all received their call in the same day. In one night, they take the opportunity to grieve, to shout, to curse at how unfair it all is and then they begin to celebrate the life they had as well as the one they could’ve had. Most importantly, Death brought them to each other and they found love and acceptance in the final moments where most wish they could’ve. They found peace. So, in the final moments before Mateo dies, he feels invincible. In the final moments when Rufus dies, he’s happy and has something to look forward to and that’s finding Mateo.
Even if their deaths are abrupt and wrong, who they became before the end were people who understood how to live and how to regret nothing. As well as people who, intentionally and not, gave the others more reason to live and keep moving forward.
Adam Silvera isn’t a prolific master of prose or anything. Like most YA, the writing is simplistic, easy to read, something that can be flashed out in a single evening. His characterizations manage to be deep and relatable despite there not going into much depth. He is very good at implied depth and allowing you to draw your own conclusions about each. Each person still feels relatable. The dialogue felt very realistic and I could actually picture these kids as real teens dealing with the death of someone they care about and how lost they feel. The romance was very well written, managing to be slow-burn despite it happening in 24hrs. I believe I liked most that it allowed them to be in love without the strange, disconnecting feeling of it happening way too fast or being unbelievable. I think Silvera has a knack for the mundanity of real life and using it to paint these beautiful and complex experiences for his characters even if they seem like something as normal as riding on a train. I would love to see what he would write if he did an adult book and gave himself more room to explore outside of this category. In the end, Silvera seems like he has a lot he wants to say and I feel he will say it no matter what. I appreciate that about an author.
While I absolutely loved this book and everything it stand for, I probably won’t read his others as their premises don’t interest me. I tend to choose my books solely on premise and the others fall a little flat for me. That being said, They Both Die at the End is a stunning take on Mortality and the finite nature of existence that I highly recommend if you are searching for something that explores just life in general.
Despite the morbidity and bittersweet subject matter, They Both Die at the End offers hope. A voice to remind you that your life is both your own and other peoples and if you aren’t doing exactly what you desire, if you aren’t celebrating each day, if you aren’t being honest with yourself about who you are and what you desire, you are wasting it and will regret. You are important in some way – even to people you will never meet – and if you are truly living then there’s nothing to fear. After all, We All Die at The End.
I hope you enjoyed this reveiw and the art as much as I enjoyed the story. If you liked it and want to see more check out my other Reviews and let me know what you think in the comments below — suggest what you might like to hear my thoughts on!!!
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