**spoiler alert** I realize this book is not going to be for everybody. However, if you're a fan of Mean Girls (and who in my generation and the ones...more**spoiler alert** I realize this book is not going to be for everybody. However, if you're a fan of Mean Girls (and who in my generation and the ones immediately after isn't?), then you should absolutely read this book.
People spend a lot of time talking about how unlikable Courtney Summers' protagonists are. They aren't heroines. They aren't the underdog you're rooting for to succeed. They aren't even especially good people. Regina, in particular, is a ball of insecurities wrapped in broken-glass shards of vicious guilt, who occasionally borders on a sociopathic lack of empathy. She spends the vast majority of the book grappling with the guilt of past actions, attempting to convince herself and the reader that she felt bad for them while committing them earlier with little to no success. She's an unreliable narrator, a navel-gazing narcissist with zero self-esteem, and you get the impression she'd throw just about anyone under the bus in order to make herself feel better about situations she got herself into.
But that's compounded with situations where she, as a victim, is blamed as an instigator, and the genuine if cautious affection she begins to feel for Michael.
It's fascinating. Here, we have a character who tortures herself over actions that destroyed one girl's life, while unable to find even the slightest guilt at doing nearly the same thing to another. She never has a personal epiphany that magically makes her a better person. Her fear keeps her paralyzed from reaching out to someone who might be able to help throughout the story. She has moments of weakness and strength, moments where I want to shake her and moments where I want to hug her.
It's worth mentioning that I don't dislike Regina, the way so many people seem to. Even at her worst, I find her, if not sympathetic, at least deeply compelling. She's real in a way many YA characters are not (this is true of Parker in Cracked Up To Be, as well). She makes mistakes I believe. Decisions I believe. There wasn't a single moment in the book where I stopped and thought: "The author only put that in there because s/he needed a bridge from one plot point to the next."
Summers' is the only author I've read so far who has written convincing "mean girls." In her books, I believe the "social circle as antagonist" trope, which generally shuts me off on a book so swiftly I don't even make it to chapter 2. In most cases, I find myself wondering: "Why don't these kids just go to an adult? Who could possibly think this is a legitimate choice to make?" In most mean girl stories, the Queen Bee is a cardboard caricature of all teen girls' worst fears and insecurities, but I believe Anna and her chilly brilliance. I've been frozen out. It felt a lot like this.
So here's why I give this book five stars: The protagonist is real, and compelling, even if you find her unlikable. The conflict is smart and believable. The dialogue is masterfully executed. Regina's pain at jabs and torture we might loftily call unimportant is so immediate and gut-wrenching that you'll understand why she feels like it's the end of the world. Her frustration and powerlessness ebb and flow with her depression. You know why she feels unable to fight back, and you feel a spike of vindictive pleasure along with the dread when she does.
So this book might not be for everyone, but if you want a character who feels like a real person and not an idealized kewpie doll, it just might be for you.(less)
**spoiler alert** It's going to take me a second to gather my thoughts enough to really put into words just what this book did to me, over the course...more**spoiler alert** It's going to take me a second to gather my thoughts enough to really put into words just what this book did to me, over the course of the twenty-four or so hours I spent reading it.
Okay. Here's my first attempt: If I ever get a dog, I'm naming it Levi.
I know. Rave review, right? But I've never actually wanted to name a pet, or anything else, after a literary character (aside from my phone, which is on it's third incarnation as Zaphod). It's always seemed too familiar, too casual. Like they might be offended if they ever found out.
(Yes, I realize I'm talking about fictional characters.)
Levi, I suspect, would take it as a compliment. Familiar is his stock in trade.
But the whole book is like that.
How do I explain this? It's like putting on that shirt that was your favorite freshman year of college, that still smells like the discount detergent you used back then. It's the way I still collect quarters in a hollow wooden elephant, even though I don't need them for laundry anymore. It's going online and finding out all over again that there are people -- hundreds of people, thousands of them -- who love the things I love and see more in them than is actually in the text, or onscreen.
I, too, wrote fanfic all through college. And I was pretty good -- there was a time when I was maybe one of the best-known authors in my preferred fandom and pairing. I won awards. People wanted me to give them recs, quoted me for fandom manifestos.
And, like Cath, I took Creative Writing. Like her, I found fic so much easier. Like her, I eventually realized I had to put my work and real life ahead of the fannish one, even if it meant slowing updates and eventually stopping altogether.
I love that Cath is timid, and anxious, and that she's a little bit panicky, but that she also knows she's all those things and sometimes gives in to them and sometimes doesn't. I love Wren, and Reagan, and how they are unapologetically themselves. I love what a douche Nick is. I love Levi. (Is there anyone who doesn't love Levi? Again: puppy.) I love how Cath defends her fic, and still finds Nick's theft of her work personally insulting (which, of course, it is). Her professor reminds me of my own college advisor.
Maybe it's that this book reminds me that I love writing, and defines my fears about it all in the same place: the desperate, terrified grasping for words and place, the fear that my characters will never grow and take root in readers' heads the way my favorites live in mine.
Cath is not Every Writer, but she is familiar. This story is familiar, in all the best ways, so I encourage anyone and everyone who has ever loved to write or ever been one of Those Fans -- the ones who dress up, who want to live in that world, who care as much or more about fictional characters as about any in real life -- to crack it open, and take a trip straight back to those days.(less)
I've been looking forward to this book since I first read about it on Stacked, and it didn't disappoint. Lynn is a canny, whip-smart main character (I...moreI've been looking forward to this book since I first read about it on Stacked, and it didn't disappoint. Lynn is a canny, whip-smart main character (I hesitate to call her a heroine, and I bet she would, too) who still maintains the kind of oblivious innocence a girl in her situation would undoubtedly have. When you grow up with no company other than your mother and no purpose but to protect a pond and haul water, what would be the point of engaging in either philosophical discussions or caring about the whimsies of a world now passed away?
This is the dystopia I've been waiting for ever since I realized dystopias were a thing: the one where the main character isn't the hero, and isn't trying to save the world; she's just trying to stay alive. There may well be over-arching conspiracies in this world, but Lynn doesn't care about them, as long as she gets to keep her pond, and I love it. Wouldn't most of us be pretty concerned just with our own survival, as opposed to sniffing out the criminal or government organizations responsible?
I keep seeing the prose described as "sparse," but I'm not sure I agree; there's no Hemingway-esque lack of context of fascination with dropped dialogue tags. It's precise, rather; much like Lynn and Lauren themselves.
Lynn. I love Lynn. I love her dry, reserved way of talking, and her pragmatism. I enjoy her confusion about and shrugging acceptance of human affection and casual familiarity as something odd her visitors do. She's hard and cold towards her enemies, and reluctantly lenient towards her friends, and she's as prickly as a rolled-up hedgehog with a bite like a badger. Not once does she go soft, or expect anyone else to rescue her. The thought of "rescue" never even crosses her mind: this is her life, and she likes it okay. She's so far from the usual YA heroine, who allows herself to be overcome with grief and strain and requires the kindly touch of the Love Interest Du Jour that I want to cheer.
And it's refreshing to read a stand-alone, for once. The story wrapped up neatly, gave us an idea of what the world looked like, and closed the book, and as someone who often loses interest midway through a trilogy, I appreciate it.
A++ would want Lynn to be my apocalypse buddy, anytime.(less)