I was initially disappointed with going back to read the book that came before Gurtler's latest because I knew the reviews I'd read didn't give such s...moreI was initially disappointed with going back to read the book that came before Gurtler's latest because I knew the reviews I'd read didn't give such stellar feedback. But what do other reviewers know, anyway?
Unfortunately, this book (and the story itself) suffered from that thing that drives me crazy: cancer. I've gone on and on about the cancer before (to sum it up: snooze, I get it, everyone knows a person who died or survived, it's no longer as unique or special or individualized a battle as the tacky Facebook shared posts would have us believe), so I'm going to talk a bit about why I'M NOT HER stood out, instead. It's something you see a lot in YA books about sisters: the beauty/brains dichotomy.
There's the pretty sister and the smart sister. There's resentment from the smart sister, who is apparently not just smart, but socially isolated because her older sister's a flawless beautiful athletic superhuman goddess who counts calories and has a bright future in volleyball. There's obvious favoritism from the parents, who choose to ignore Tess and her interests for the most part, and let her older sister's bright future take over.
But it's such a straight dichotomy in the book. Not just in the way the characters are, but in the way everyone regards it and how it's presented. Tess isn't just a little resentful of her older sister's beauty and social standing, she regards it as being shallow -- like a person can't possible have both.
She's not the only one who puts it that way. Several characters draw that dichotomy out further, but sometimes in different ways. Sometimes Tess is the good one because she's "got something else" and that something else is intelligence.
Kristina laments the fact that she's hideous because she's got cancer and no one would want to flirt with her because of it, but when things get serious with her cancer treatment, the sisters have an eye-opening exchange that drives it all home. Kristina asks Tess is she likes being smart, and Tess says yes. Kristina tells her sister that she like(d) being beautiful.
And it almost redeemed everything else in the book for me, because that's a powerful line. These people in Kristina's life, Tess included, sometimes don't recognize that for some people, beauty is important. It might not be everything, but it's a huge deal. Some people spend immense time cultivating their bodies and their faces, learning how to apply the best makeup in the most flattering ways, counting calories and staying fit. And not every time does that get recognized as being worthwhile, because for years we've all been telling each other that beauty's only skin deep and it's what's on the inside that counts.
But it's not always. Guys, can we be real? Appearance matters. I think this book does a great job of working to remind people that appearance is important. It's not awful and it doesn't have to be terribly shallow for someone to be into how they look and try to look their best.
It's okay to love your face. We should all try to do that more often.
And even Tess realizes, as she's trying on some jeans that make her ass look great, that it's possible to have both. But that gets ripped away by her melodramatic mother, and what could have been a great plot point never really gets revisited. Tess' time in the spotlight fades as things get more serious with her sister -- and though I would have liked to see this girl come into her own and harvest her power, she only draws deeper into who she always was. (less)
Conflict wraps up too neatly with not enough exploration of each character's personal issues. Focus is on establishing a romantic connection between t...moreConflict wraps up too neatly with not enough exploration of each character's personal issues. Focus is on establishing a romantic connection between two broken individuals. Ridiculous plot points (the pig!?) and disappointing insight.(less)
PLAYING PATIENCE is the age old story of the "good girl" and the "bad boy" who find a connection and blossom into having an intense relationship. The...morePLAYING PATIENCE is the age old story of the "good girl" and the "bad boy" who find a connection and blossom into having an intense relationship. The obstacles come from their emotions and also from the people around them. Zeke is a "bad boy" with tattoos and piercings who plays in a band, and Patience is the sweet daughter of the governor. In this book, they come up against the families and themselves and who their respective environments turned them into.
PLAYING PATIENCE is also a complete and utter trainwreck from the first chapter.
Zeke is a douchebag misogynist would-be rapist* who collects bruises from his alcoholic father while playing for the accurately-named band BLOW HOLE. The band's name is just the start of the recurring issue with incredibly outdated, frequently awkward lingo and dialogue. At least once, Zeke refers to his supplier as "the local dope dealer," which, I don't know about you, but for me, totally conjures the image of Red Forman crossing his arms and yelling "THAT KID'S ON DOPE." Zeke's mother died from cancer before the start of the book, and we never really learn what his relationship with her was like -- though given the degree to which Zeke loathes women (excuse me, "females"), it's assumed she was also not a good person.
*A direct quote from the book: "Please. That chick’s as straight as they come. I’d have to drug her, too, to get her to put out.”
Patience is the stereotypical, quiet, wooden girl from a slightly more affluent family. Her father is the governor, although we don't actually ever see this have an impact on her life in any way other than it being a fact about the character. She has little to no personality, and what's there is incredibly peculiar. She's intended to be the smart one of the two, but everything she says and does comes off as completely stupid -- and not in an endearing teenager way. In an "are you from this century?" way.
See, Patience is roofied during a night out. That's how her and Zeke meet. He's in the bathroom she's stumbled into, he helps her by bringing her to get medical attention. And then he gets arrested for drug possession because for some reason the police had a reason to search his car (!?!?!?!?). Except instead of taking time to get her stuff together after being drugged, Patience... returns to the same bar where she was roofied within days.
Now, I'm not saying this couldn't happen. But with what we know about Patience, it makes absolutely no sense. Patience's father rapes her frequently. We know this from early on, and it's one of the big plots in the book. While it does inform Patience's harsh reactions to Zeke's advances, it is really the catalyst for the poor, sexually abused girl to be rescued by the flawed hero. When Patience comes into her own, it's only to turn around and pine for her lover and become nothing without her. She's not a strong character, she's impossibly weak and malleable -- and while it would be understandable to see this through the eyes of the misogynist Zeke, we're actually seeing it through her own eyes. Patience does not change in the book. Her character does not grow.
This is not a love story. If anything, this is amped-up lust, possibly limerance. These characters believe they are in love because they were thrown together by circumstance, but we see no reason other than action to understand where the supposed love comes from. It's not insta-love, it's absolutely nothing. They rely on each other with desperation -- and I think the book would have been a much stronger success if it wasn't portrayed as love and connection, but rather two people in desperate need of counseling grasping at the first thing they can touch.
Patience escapes the oppressive, abusive reign of her father and runs straight into the arms of someone who will in all likelihood also abuse her.
Look, I'm going to be frank. Zeke is a douche. When Patience won't sleep with him (for reasons we understand and for reasons Zeke is supposed to understand, but doesn't empathize with?), he turns around and sleeps with another girl, and says “A man has needs, snowflake.”
whoa man, that's so romantic and deep and special. A man who doesn't care about the girl he's supposed to be in love with and just wants some booty. Charming.
wait no, excuse me
he just wants to DIP. HIS. STICK.
Okay, so characters need to be real and sometimes the raw ones are the most compelling, right? But tell me, what's compelling about a man who talks about raping women, who calls them "females" and sluts, who looks at them as nothing but sexual objects? Characters, even the unlikeable ones, need something to make us root for them. We need to be on their side in order for the story to work. But there's never a reason for us to root for Zeke. He doesn't grow as a character either -- he learns to care about Patience, or so we're meant to think, but we don't actually see him doing anything about it.
When presented with gratingly unfavorable characters and a run-down, trampled plot that's been done more times than the macarena was in the 90s, we can hope the writing is there to guide is through and make everything seem a little less frustrating.
Except PLAYING PATIENCE wasn't edited. If it was, and I was the author, I'd be firing that editor and finding someone new. The story is full of typos and grammatical errors (six alone in the first chapter, and I'm not even a Grammar Person), filtering, repetition, passive sentences, I, I, I, I, I, and worst of all, confusing timelines. For the most part, Zeke and Patience have the same voice with different words. And since it's broken up into perspective chapters, we get the "treat" of going back and reading the same scene from the other perspective. Instead of picking up fluidly, it's all over the place and you have no idea where the next chapter is going to start.
Empty black dots surrounded by a sea of blue swam inside her eye sockets
I’d known just by looking at her that she didn’t belong on my side of town (seriously?)
“Shit,” I said out loud to myself.
Her impassiveness pissed me off.
Her eyes crashed into mine.
This book was not ready to be published. It reads like a first draft. Had I never read the author's works before, it would be the last time. There are only so many times you can read about things crashing, banging, and assaulting someone's senses. (less)