24 hours have passed since I finished this book. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to approach writing a review, and I've come to th...more24 hours have passed since I finished this book. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to approach writing a review, and I've come to the conclusion that this book deserves an autopsy instead. The structure and narrative flow of WTCB could have made this a pretty clever YA novel, and I'm fairly sure that so many people have raved about this book because of those qualities. However, the juvenile, horny, wish fulfillment that is Cullen Witter, and the author's deplorable, degrading, and irresponsible depiction of women and girls absolutely negate any interesting plot devices. Since I'm presenting a dissection of this corpse against hundreds of positive reviews, a William C. Morris Debut Award, and a Printz Award, I'm going to clinically lay out the blunt force traumas.
I'll start with some of the women.
Woman 1: Dead body (p. 1) Woman 2: Cullen's mom, who cries (p. 2), and cries (p. 4) Woman 3: Aunt Julia, Oslo's mom, who Oslo guilts into making "her forget that she failed to raise him right" (p. 3). She cries (p. 4) and in her guilt about how Oslo turned out "rambled on and on about wanting to die" (p. 4). And cries, "could barely utter a sentence without bursting into tears (p. 28), and cries "Julia is wailing from her metal folding chair" (p. 18) AND cries "'Is she ever going to stop?' I asked Gabriel" (p. 19). And, what's that? Oh yeah, she cries "Aunt Julia down the street with her screaming and crying" (p. 31). Woman 4: Ada Taylor, Cullen's object of lust, who is given "black widow" status after two of her boyfriends die (p. 6). However, all the males in town are still in lust with her due to the belief that "If I have to die to get that, then death it is" (p. 7) Woman 5: Libby Truet, Gabriel's best friend. As Gabriel is the most angelic character in the novel, she, by default, is the least offensive female depiction. However, her character is only mentioned twice. Woman 6: Mena Prescott, Lucas' girlfriend, who Cullen barely tolerates and would like more if she behaved differently, see below (p. 11). Woman 7: Benton's date, "little" Susie: "I have this on good authority, little Susie was seen kissing and hanging all over that pathetic and sinful kid of Stanley Baker's." Benton later realizes: "He couldn't be with some skanky girl like that. He was better than that" (p. 67). Woman 8: Vilonia Kane, proclaimed psychic (p. 104) who is portrayed to be a nut.
The nobleness of male characters by how they treat women:
Lucas: "He smiled at the pretty girls but always managed to say something nice or sweet to the not-so-pretty ones" (p. 5). This results in girls being able "to feel good about herself for maybe the only time that day she had a huge zit on her cheek" (p. 5) "Lucas pretended to love her [Mena Prescott] as much as she thought he did. But it was all bull, really" (p. 12). Cullen shows tenderness and comfort to his brother Gabriel: "pats his back several times, like he's hugging and old woman at church" (p. 32).
Their lives could have been better, but it's all their fault:
"If Sara Burch would have ignored the boys in fifth grade when they called her a bookworm, then she might not have become the glorified slut she is today" (p. 8) "I call this the Pretty Paradox. Pretty girls always want guys who treat them, and almost everyone else, like complete shit. It is perhaps one of the most baffling phenomena in history" (p. 9) "She [Mena Prescott] also made me uncomfortable by always hugging on me or kissing my cheek, always doing something that I assume she thought I would find flattering or sexy, but instead just found annoying and offensive" (p. 11). "I also hated her [Mena's] accent...hearing her voice made me ashamed to be human" (p.11). Lucas' sibling is dead, but it is presented as "Since his mother couldn't stop one child from getting drunk and driving into oncoming traffic on the interstate, he had to suffer the consequences" (p. 30) Lucas' mother, "let her husband hit her two small children, so I never really took the time to know her" (p. 119). Ada telling Cullen she needs to go back to a previous boyfriend who is paralyzed, "I owe it to him," "It's my fault, any way you slice it" (p. 178). The boyfriend had been in a completely different state when the accident happened.
All the teen girls are shown as sexual deviants:
"Mena Prescott had a past that did not involve innocent, good-natured boys like Lucas" (p.13). The description continues on the next page, illustrating that in her past she has made drunkenly made out with drug users before realizing they were losers (p. 14). And they can be procured, like buying produce: "That's right. The one, the only [Alma Ember]. Oh yes, my friend, she's all yours" (p. 48). "I had decided that even if Ada Taylor was showing me attention and affection purely because she felt sorry for me, I was still madly in love with her" (p. 100).
Despite having close to no visible redeeming qualities, all the girls Cullen finds attractive perform for him sexually, almost immediately after he realize he wants them:
"R-rated moment with Laura Fish" (p. 33) Alma, after saying no more than hello to Cullen, begins to kiss him and bite his ear (p. 52). Cullen uses the word "cannibalize" (p. 52). Cullen fantasizes that this will lead to "mediocre sex with a used-up college dropout [Alma] who does nails on the weekend for extra cash" (p. 52). Other characters also comment on the immediate performance: "She was ready to take you home," "She was over you all night," "She must really be desperate" (p. 53). Alma pity performs for Cullen after his brother disappears. He takes her to the same place he had sex with Laura Fish and she jumps him so vigorously his back digs into a rock and he requires stitches (p. 61). After returning from the hospital he ends up in Alma's bed where "she showed me what being a good wife had taught her" (p. 61). When Alma's mother finds him in Alma's bed, "She leans down, kisses him on the forehead, and continues on with her vacuuming" (p. 61).
Women can't handle things things men can:
After Gabriel disappears, Cullen's mom "decided it was appropriate to pretend to be okay...in the hopes that Gabriel would reappear just as easily as he had vanished" while "My father, on the other hand...talked to sheriff's departments all over the state" (p. 70). "It was the nine-week mark when my mother stopped doing things. Things like buying bread and milk. things like showering or brushing her teeth." Cullen's father steps in and handles his mother's business. "My dad remained patient. He calmed her down" (p. 171).
Lastly, women should be honored by the presence of their men:
"'You're a jerk,' she [Ada] said. 'I'm [Cullen] the nicest guy you've ever met, and you know it'" (p. 130). She then sleeps with him.
As an added bonus, the novel is set in the town of Lily, which is set upon and invaded by numerous woodpecker fanciers, but she, the town, should be GRATEFUL for the invasion because of all the things it will bring to her. And during the Woodpecker Festival we are treated to a rhapsodic interlude between a boy and his corn dog: "There is a certain uniqueness to a festival corn dog...of hunger built up from maneuvering around the crowd. I like my corn dogs bare and thrown nonchalantly into a paper sleeve. I like to see how fast it takes me to talk myself into a second or a third one."
I'll leave out too much of a lecture on how reading and books are inescapably linked to education and intelligence, and what it means when our tools for learning depict and portray girls and women in this manner. While some of the instances in this book could be chalked up to the ways the characters think and not how the author thinks, the sheer volume of instances prove that this is a pervasive, systematic, and all-encompassing world view in this novel, a view seen fit by multiple acclaimed book awards to be worth celebrating.(less)