When it comes to YA Lit, there are simply too many books to choose from nowadays. The numbers are out there, you could pick up whatever you want as long as you’re willing to read. Which I doubt most young adults nowadays are. Keeping this in mind, the next bit might come off as a bit preachy. I have no intentions to offend anyone with my next statement, but here goes nothing:
Shouldn’t young adults be reading better books?
The best books to read as a teenager, pretentious and condescending as this sounds, are classics. No other time in your life will you have the time or the patience to read them, or the wisdom to grasp their underlying textures and not-so-smooth surfaces. On the other hand, what teenagers have nowadays are capsules – swallow with water, forget before you pick up the next one. All YA nowadays fits into either romance or dystopian sci-fi. Think about it – 99% of YA lit can be classified in one way or the other into these two broad categories. Which really isn’t giving the most impressionable age of our lives a good mouthful, is it?
So that was my mini rant against the grim state of YA Lit. I don’t hate all YA. But it feels like kids these days have limited options, despite the numbers. Now, on with the review.
Genre: I was just ranting about YA Lit. So the genre this one fits into, in case you haven’t guessed it yet, definitely isn’t Shakespeare (upcoming pun unintended).
Summary: Hadley St. Clair, a girl with an unusual name and massive daddy issues, has earned quite a reputation at her school. Sam Bennett, a new student, is also from a dysfunctional family, falls for her the moment he sees her, but when he learns her last name, he realizes they can never be together (too melodramatic for a bunch of seventeen year olds, but whatever). He knows something about her that links the two of them together, but he really does not want to reveal the truth. A few months before the occurrences described in the book, Hadley comes home to find a bunch of notes about her father’s affair. No points for guessing with whom he’s having said affair.
Narrative technique: Told from both Hadley as well as Sam’s points of view in alternating chapters. This would have been great, but their narrative voices are almost identical – this results in the reader getting constantly confused about whose dad is involved with whose mom. Not that taking away the infidelity/dysfunctional family will change this story in essence.
Language: Amateurish.Some editing errors.
While we’re speaking about the language and narrative, I feel I must mention this subtrend I’ve noticed in YA Lit lately – all the characters make a gazillion references to notable works of literature. As if the author is trying to tell the reader “I’ve read these books. Take me seriously.” It all comes out looking pompous and callow, though the intent was probably the opposite. In this book, both the main characters become friends while working on a Shakespeare project (the title of the book is from a line in one of his plays). All the subcharacters are into TS Eliot’s poetry and conversations often end up being synonym wars (not kidding, I swear). Authors nowadays seem to be going out of their way to prove their grammar is impeccable by turning their characters into grammar nerds (I hate the phrase grammar nazis). This would have been fine, had the book not contained sentences like, “Her eyes literally lit up.” This reminded me of a cartoon I saw once where Tweety pulls a string to “turn off” Sylvester’s eyes.
Large chunks of the book could be taken out without affecting the overall story. Avoid the done to death cliche of girl-with-daddy-issues-and-a-reputation and you have the same story. Remove the dysfunctional families, you have the same story. Remove the obvious “big reveal at the end”, you still have the bloody same boy-meets-girl story.
There are some books that you go in hoping to love them but you don’t. With this book, I went in prepared to hate it (I believe the first words I said after reading the first page were, “I’m too old for this shit.”), but in spite of everything I’ve said above, I did not hate it as much as I thought I was going to. It’s an extremely lazy read, a silly story, an escapist novel that does not evoke any emotions. If there’s too much on your mind, maybe this book will help you forget it for a few hours.
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Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group