I like the rain. I want to have a spring bookworming rain party full out with wellies—but not those Hunter Boots; absolutely not—, with yummy airy things like puffed pastries, meringues, mini fluffy cheese cakes, mousse dessert, macaroon, biscuits, crepe, and Earl Grey tea, definitely Earl Grey tea. and Tillandsia. We'd have lots of "air plants". Lots! And We'd read, but not anything structured. We'd bring books, trade books, read out-loud, pass books around between sentences and paragraphs. We'd leave with books we hadn't discovered.
I like books like I like my Jazz; euphoric, dangerous, occasionally a bit manic, sorrowful, bleak, raging, mood-incongruent, mournful, unforgivingly ragged, symbolic in a quiet way, warm apple pie for the soul. Give me a Plath style. Yōko Ogawa, M. Roach,
Criteria: Not rated on likability of characters. Not objective. I like Moxie Soda; chances are you don't.
time spent in that before bed reading slot:
5-until blurry eye 4-Later than I intended, but I still kept to my extended, extended reading time 3-I really should have been to bed an hour ago 2-customary 30 minutes. 1-book. side table. eyes closed.
How are common themes handled?
5-With an aesthetic that repurposes everyday themes into something fresh. Think of Hole Celebrity Skin covered by Cat Power 4-there is a comfortable air of familiarly.
3-Deja Vu 2. No deviation from its mates 1. Devastatingly trite, redundant, and stale.
Where would you keep it post-reading?
5-Next to my bed. 4-it's the center piece of my favorite bookshelf 3. On my other favorite bookshelf, but it's a bit dusty over their 2-Great cheap bookends 1-It never made it out of the box marked 'moving'.
5- Where is my teddy bear? Emotional-hangover 4- If I wasn't so emotionally stunted I'd cry. 3. Did James Cameron co-wrote this? Artfully contrived. 2- calculative emotional manipulation. This was literally written by James Cameron.1- I…feel…..nothing.
Mechanics (plot structure, voice, presentation, word choice, sentence structure, characters, writing style, pacing, and consistency):
5-Chanel 4-Prada 3-J-Crew 2-Gap 1-Old Navy
This is another Y/A novel that sets the standard of a boring and trite approach to the genre and one that follows the same trope of gay youth need to suffer to evolve.
The book begins with Dade, a 17 year old closeted guy scrawling a middle school-esque Name + obsession on the inside of a bathroom stall, during, all things prom. This sets the stage and the obvious atmosphere for the novel. Here we go again, I thought; another sad guy whom of course is going to get all self-injurious on his emotional and mental wellbeing.
He is hooking up with Pablo, a guy people at the school refer to as the sexican, or some foolishness. There are a myriad of problems with this relationship, the least being that Dade is being used for sex. Pablo sets the stage as an abusive person, and through emotional manipulation that he almost seems to relish in, he levies hurt on top of hurt on dearest Dade. Pablo is ‘straight’, but you probably already assumed that.
We have the disjointed family, because that hasn’t ever been fucking done, in like, a billion gay Y/A novels. Dad is, except a puppet automaticness that is cold but poorly rendered, detached from Dade’s life. They interact, but it is very much the same sort of relationship Dade has with Pablo, except for the fucking. It is just emotional neglect at it’s finest. Mom, a hippy sorta gal, is almost complacent with the cheating, and of course this leads her to drinking and pill popping. Together the parents are tyrants against Dade’s self-agency, self-esteem and integrity.
He meets a guy, Alex 22, and becomes infatuated with him, and their relationship hits hyper-drive pretty fast, which I considered pretty accurate considering the void that loneliness lends to turning off the rational and logical switch. This is his first legit loving relationship; so let him get a little overzealous. Yet, Dade is still eager for Pablo’s abuse, and most often he even admits it, but yet still ends up in situations where he acts like a sponge for verbal assaults, physical violence, and, well spit.
Alex and Pablo orbit Dade’s life with a whole ying/yang thing going on. As soon as Dade finds himself comfortable, conscious of his own securities, growth nourished by his relationship with Alex, we see him back into the glowing love of Pablo, either by his own volition, or through the spontaneous, and often aggressive persuasion of Pablo. For the most part, however, Dade continues to victimize himself. Then it rotates back into the safety of Alex. And repeat. We didn’t even need this, at least not to this extreme. Alex reflected a normal amount of distance and hesitation to engage in the relationship, and given Dade’s annoying amount of insecurity, this would have been enough to sustain a sense of uncertainty with himself and his relationship with Alex, and his sexuality. I believe a skilled author would edit down the whole Dade/Pablo escapade, and bring some of those aspects into the Dade/Alex relationship. It wouldn’t take much to have Dade’s damaged goods to inflict conflict on his relationship with Alex.
We see this trend of ‘give me more, give me more, abuse’ throughout, and with other characters. Dade internalizes things, over intellectualizes, and it is with this method of processing that put him in the center seat for blame. Call him a faggot? He feels at fault. Don’t suck a guys dick and potentially avoid a rape scenario, well, that too is another situation where he feels guilt. For fucksake.
He eventually comes out, navigating this pretty well, and accepting the public attention of either those championing it or criticizing it. His parents pull the same freaking card that is often so imbedded in this genre that I doubt most even recognize it; but we, the parents, are victims here. The true nature of this narrative is one that reinforces the destructiveness of coming out. Look, I don’t expect anyone’s coming out to be like mine, that fucking jolly goodness that I experienced. I do expect a reasonable departure from the cookie cutter crap.
There are many secondary characters, but they are either incredibly one dimensional, or so over the top in one given emotion that it’s true stagnation. Sterilized down, we have the warm welcoming jock, a few ’60s versions of hope and wellbeing, bitchy asshole jocks, Barbie’s that are also bitches, those that victimize him and still get away with it, a warm and cozy guy who has to also deal drugs, and a cool, chill black dude. It is all so ‘The Fosters’, and it’s bloody annoying.
Very little happens here. Those that continue to harass, berate, and victimize Dade neither evolve, nor do they experience any retribution; if anything I expected it to escalate, but nope. Poor Dade experiences homophobia, and Pablo has a better response to this, and the letdown of hearing Alex say he will protect him and not follow through once required, understandably hurts Dade.
Dade’s notion of love remains on the precipice of disaster at his own hands, and, since his concept of love remains more obsessive and fast-tracked, he doesn’t take time to sit back and accept things as goodness, but as something he needs to consume as quickly as possible. His parents, the only secondary characters that achieve something beyond paper cut out dolls, rotate in the stereotypical roles of one absent and distracted and the other angry and reactive.
Jenny Moore… Of Jenny Fucking Moore. Throughout the story there is this secondary storyline of a missing girl. Her body hasn’t been found, but people have seen here, and in the weirdest places. First there was a sighting at the tree line of a golf course, then the balcony of an old independent theater that shows black and white movies, and then Dade swears he saw her when he was drunk and on one hella circle stumble around his yard. It all feels very significant; very meta in its own way. We expect it to hold something important, to help us escape the ordinariness of this novel. It doesn’t, though and crashes and burns in the last chapter. Suffice it to say this bestowed very little on the overall plot, if anything at all.
Dade’s abrupt life transition at the end of the book is off kilter, and it reads as an epilogue that outpaces the slow, lethargic writing of previous sections. It is, as many have pointed out, just plain ole telling. I know as of late that there is huge controversy over telling versus showing, but I still believe that a book is more effective if the author adopts a style that is more showing than telling. With the wrap up of Jenny and the ridiculously abrupt finale of Pablo versus Dade—which, btw could have been totally more successful if it wasn’t all pissed on by telling—, this ending was a bright explosion disaster.
Another issue is the depiction of ‘teenagerness’. Yes, it had a lot of drugs, drinking, violence, etc, but it was so vague that it rarely went deeper than surface level. This didn’t lend well to character development, nor did it help drag the storyline up by its armpits. It flattened it. It wrecked it. It felt more like an author writing from an objective, detached place, rather than really getting into the heads and lives of these characters.
Here we find sex as the biggest issue. Yes, it isn’t important to know exactly how it went about, if Dade’s a top or a bottom, but to skip the details, the Circus Soleil of both body parts and mind, is a huge fucking disservice to this genre and those readers exploring sexuality. We never really felt Dade’s eagerness or lack of eagerness to have sex, the mending of bodies and what it meant to him, and the meaning making behind the event post-sex. Ok, we did, but not enough. As a result, I as a reader could barely contrast the differences between Dade having sex with Alex versus that with Pablo. His troubles with Pablo made no difference, because there wasn’t anything to weigh it against. Sure, we got the physical reactions Dade had to Pablo’s advances, but because the focus was on the casing rather than the undercarriage of emotions, I had a case of ‘get over yourself Dade. It’s your entire fault’, because all I had experience with was emotionally-reactive-self–imposed-victim Dade.
We learn that Dade’s fantasy of writing a book about the summer, of not changing names “to prevent the innocent, because everyone is guilty. Especially me”, was actually what was going on, and he is in college telling us all this. And there we finish with the guilt; again with the guilt and victim blaming. It is terribly sad that he hasn’t weighed through the experiences of that summer and begun to understand them from a place of growth, maturity, and equally, understand and accepted his role, and forgave himself. Then again, in that short little piece at the end, we see very little growth. I would expect him to conceptualize guilt as a thing that includes taking responsibility without self-hate, yet there is very little evidence that he is even headed in that direction.