My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Overall, I liked it well enough. It’s competently written with a great sense of place. Good plotting and pacing. The multiple pov’s were very well done. It kept me turning the pages, and was an intriguing glimpse into the lives of high-schoolers with Beemers and credit cards.
It would be easy to say that this book contains one cliched character after another, until one stops to think that the parts of us that make the news are one cliche after another. The Cheerleader. The Jock. The Misfit. The Brain. The Opportunist. It would also be easy to say that the events in this book are one cliche after another, until one recognizes that these are things we are seeing over and over again: Bullying, teen suicide, rape culture, privileged white kids behaving badly. Just Google “Brock Turner” or “Steubenville” or “affluenza.”
I was a bit disappointed that the book touches on important issues but then seems to gloss over them. It felt like Johnson didn’t want to put her characters through too much, so they do things, and other people do things to them, but they don’t seem to feel much about it. I can certainly identify with that, as it’s probably the biggest problem with my own writing, but it leaves the story lacking the depth of conflict that it could have. I got what they did, but not how they felt when all was said and done. I almost missed the parallel drawn by Miss Nichol’s assignment of The Great Gatsby. There was no reflection by any of the characters on the ugliness, no sign that they connected any dots or recognized their own culpability or learned a damned thing. Or perhaps that was the point, and I’m the one who’s not getting it…?
Still, these are things worth writing about. Johnson presents a YA book that doesn’t talk down and that portrays high-schoolers in this country realistically, with all the pressures to make grades, to be beautiful, to fit in, to achieve and achieve and achieve, to live up to the expectations of parents who seem to be largely absent, in a society that no longer gathers around the dinner table and is always looking at its phone. I would be tickled pink if this book were to be challenged in high schools, thus making it even more attractive to young people and starting some important conversations.
My thanks to Net Galley and Random House Publishing for providing an ARC for my honest review.
Bookshelves: advance-review, current-social-issues, ya, multiple-povs
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