I am not the person to talk to about this book. It's...okay? Blah. It's not flowery or pretentious - it just is what it is: a book of short, often swe...moreI am not the person to talk to about this book. It's...okay? Blah. It's not flowery or pretentious - it just is what it is: a book of short, often sweet stories about the different (but not all that different) lives of people in Dublin. I think my good rating might have more to do with the fact that I am insanely loaded down with work this week, and I kept looking at Joyce and thinking "uuuuugh" when I thought about reading it, because I thought it would inevitably turn out like "In Memoriam" last week - something I had no time to read and therefore had to half-read, while frantically flipping through the poem and trying to squeeze an essay out of it. But no. I sat down and read it all. Quick, riveting and pretty enjoyable. Though I can't tell if my relief is because, thank you God, it's over and I didn't have to kill myself to read it. (less)
The Lincoln Lawyer is a strange one for me. My feelings towards this book can be best summed up as - well, I was enamoured with it until I wa...more2.5 stars
The Lincoln Lawyer is a strange one for me. My feelings towards this book can be best summed up as - well, I was enamoured with it until I wasn't.
This was a VERY slow one for me - I read the first 60% in about a week, then I just...stopped. I took a HUGE break and I'm not even sure why. I got into it all right, and I liked Connelly's very matter-of-fact, direct, simple style...until I didn't. I don't really know what changed, but something did. Perhaps this book is just too long? The punchy, no-nonsense style works for a very intense, dramatic book with lots of twists and turns, but frankly this book had too many pages and too few twists and turns to sustain this kind of pace. Therefore, instead of feeling quick and explosive, it was a damp squib, utterly bloodless.
Essentially, it's a by-the-numbers legal thriller. The LA setting invested me to start with, but it's not remotely palpable beyond the odd name-drop of a place - "Boulevard", "Ventura" etc. The main character is a schlub with a conscience (of course he is) and, for all the blurb's promise of him being a "sleazy defence attorney", Connelly keeps everything very black and white by making his opponent, despite being a prosecutor, also a total sleaze and ensuring that, though Mickey does his job, he does it without any relish. He also doesn't do anything particularly controversial or dramatic. There is nothing original about The Lincoln Lawyer - sleazy rich boys, platonic prostitutes, an ex-wife he still loves, a daughter he never sees. You've seen all this before, and Connelly doesn't even seem to be TRYING to add anything new.
The fact that it says "Mickey Haller, #1" up there should already give this away - there's zero sense of danger. Sure, so Mickey occasionally appears like he might be up on a murder charge or that he's pissed off the wrong person, but he's not exactly going to die, go to prison or get disbarred. This is where the punchy style totally fell flat. It should have made the pages fly and instead it just robbed the weak and unoriginal plot of any emotional or dramatic impact. For instance, when Haller figures out (quickly, so this isn't going under spoiler tags) that Roulet isn't the "innocent guy" Haller thinks he is, I don't care, because Connelly didn't give me any reason to care about Roulet's innocence or guilt. It's just a standard legal story - Haller takes a case that should be simple, turns out it's not, somebody he loves dies, gets in too deep and then pulls himself out with the help of minor characters we've seen before.
Yet I can't quite drop the rating all the way because there was SOMETHING in those first pages that kept me turning them. There are good moments and I enjoyed the minor characters like Lorna (where did she go?!), Raul and Gloria. This seems like it's crying out for a film adaptation (I'm not surprised that there was one) because it seems to be begging actors to breathe life into the paper-flat characters, deliver the quick dialogue, set designers and directors to illuminate the Los Angeles setting and a half-decent scriptwriter to flesh out the basic plot. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Connelly. (less)
I read this through screenshots on tumblr. That is a) probably piracy and b) the most modern way I've ever read a book. I feel like a true teenage hip...moreI read this through screenshots on tumblr. That is a) probably piracy and b) the most modern way I've ever read a book. I feel like a true teenage hipster. Those people who are worried about Kindles ain't seeing nothing yet.
There is nothing remotely enjoyable about "Dark Places" and still I loved it.
Gillian Flynn really must keep writing, in the words of Camille from "Sha...moreThere is nothing remotely enjoyable about "Dark Places" and still I loved it.
Gillian Flynn really must keep writing, in the words of Camille from "Sharp Objects", "until [she] can count on her last days on one hand", because crime fiction is a lonely place for a feminist with a potent hatred of cliché, and she is a dark shining light.
Let's start with Libby Day. Oh, God, how I loved Libby Day. Gillian Flynn takes hold of the "surviving female victim" trope and makes it into something dark, utterly realistic and yet original. Libby is a victim, and we don't need to talk about whether the novel or the author defines her as such, because Libby defines herself as such. Flynn does not shy away from the fact that Libby has lived through a truly horrendous event, but she doesn't ever make it look pretty or glamorous. Libby is totally selfish and broken and, no, there's nothing sexy about that. Libby is not the strong and feisty female survivor, nor is she the fawning Mary-Sue. She's a weak and depressed kleptomaniac, lazy and childlike, who falls back on her reliable victim status as a way to cover up for her total inability to do anything. She threads the narrative with dark humour that I relished - she complains that, if another girl hadn't had her face burned off in a fire that killed her entire family, she might have been able to live off the sympathy money a little longer, because she'd have more. She plays on her victim status whenever she gets mocked or called out (because "nobody laughs at a victim.") She insists that, at the creepy crime fare she attends, she wanted her family to have the biggest gore booth because "my dead people were the best."
And yet Libby is wonderful, too. She's flawed, yes, but it really was Libby who kept pulling me back into the narrative. She’s darkly comic and totally realistic. Her arc is palpable and great, a woman who patches herself together and gets there in the end, slowly and painfully but with a kind of grim determination you wouldn’t expect from a woman who, by her own admission, has no stamina. She's my favourite kind of heroine, and I won't forget her.
The pain in "Dark Places" is real. That's what killed me. Everybody hurts, really hurts, and I hurt with them. Patty's woes over losing the farm, Libby's kleptomania, Ben's desperation to "be a man" when he's not even old enough to know what that is. Reading this is like being trapped in a slow-closing vice. It just squeezes tighter and tighter and tighter and then it begins to hurt and it hurts more and more and more but still it won't stop. I couldn't stop reading this and, just as I did with "Sharp Objects", I marvelled at the intensity and the joy of Gillian Flynn's talent. It’s all in the writing. Even after "Sharp Objects", I underestimated this in a stupid way, because I didn't think it was possible for Flynn to hit me so hard in the core again. She did. I felt so bad for Patty, going to be dead by the end of the day and STILL trying to do the right thing, STILL trapped in a situation that seems utterly hopeless and trying to find something to do about it when we know nothing will change the fact of her death and, perhaps even sadder, Libby’s total abandonment.
Again, though, the surprising highlight of "Dark Places" is the minor characters that flit as shadows around the corners of the dark dirty backwater they all inhabit. A minor character who had a far larger impact on me than I was expecting would be Krissi Cates, the young girl who grows into a washed-up stripper, who accuses Ben of child molestation in 1975 and gets tracked down by Libby in the present day.
She's lying - that is obvious immediately - but she gets both a raw, honest and sympathetic portrayal from Flynn. In the 1980s, she's an attention-seeking little brat, but Flynn gives a very realistic and harrowing look at the Satanic panic of the ‘80s, where "well-meaning" parents and shrinks manipulate (consciously or not) their children into accusing innocent people. Krissi's description of how/why they did it and the eventual karmic retribution on her and her family is deeply moving. It might have been fun – “like a sleepover” – but Krissi gets what she deserves in the end. That’s without even going into Crystal or the mysterious man in the cowboy hat and his scary, spine-chilling section towards the end.
But I can’t give it five stars because, frankly, I thought it totally failed as a mystery.
Not that I guessed it. Though I did, and I’ve honestly never felt so bad about foreseeing a plot development! I just was like, oh, I’m so sorry, you tried so hard, you did everything right, and then I came in and guessed what was going to happen before it did using totally ridiculous methods and thought patterns…(view spoiler)[it was because I guessed that Patty was probably involved in her family’s demise, because I know how fond Gillian Flynn is of the maternal characters who are not just bad mothers but profoundly horrible people (though Patty is not horrible, and her wish that she could take it back as she died almost made me cry). With this in mind, I picked up quickly on that mentioned-and-then-dropped Angel of Debt, and boom! The mystery came together. (hide spoiler)]
The plotting of this book is, let’s face it, not good. It kills me to say it because I LOVED Gillian Flynn’s knotty, dark, literary writing. I really loved it! But in the plotting area – let’s be generous and say that it was lacking. It was just so contrived, so much, especially when you remember that the 1980s segment takes place in a SINGLE DAY. I’ll give this to Gillian Flynn – she did capture the element of feeling that your whole life was going to shit in a very short space of time, the intensity of being trapped and wanting to get out and not knowing how. It kind of works when you are swept up in the pace of the novel (despite it not being brisk exactly), but the second I started reflecting on it, the whole thing pretty much disintegrated in front of me. It felt almost like Flynn was writing without an outline and, so, when it came to the part in the 1980s segment when she had to stop building the blocks up and start knocking them down, she just went back and ‘patched up’ the plot strands.
I know it’s a feature of Flynn’s grim Southern world that everything that does go bad will, and there will be nobody to help you when it does. But let me break down how she ‘explains’ the fact (red herring) of Ben being accused of Satanism and child molestation:
Exhibit #1: Ben has a minor ‘relationship’ with Krissi Cates, a grade-school girl, which is obviously him trying to be nice and her misinterpreting it through her crush. He even, at one point, gets an erection in front of her grade-school desk. Explanation: Ben was just being a good brother, wandering through his sisters’ school on impulse to see if they were okay, and then started thinking about his slutty and pretty nasty girlfriend Diondra while on his little trip. This brings out the erection, at which point he runs into his teacher (well, everything that does go bad will, right, Gillian?) AT WHICH POINT he turns around and happens to see that the desk he’s in front of belongs to (DUN DUN DUN!) Krissi Cates.
This bugged me because to me it’s so contrived. Okay, so a teacher meeting up with you while you’re trying to deal with, ahem, a situation? Awwwwkward. But it could happen to anyone (well, not me, I’m a girl, lucky me). A teacher then finding you with an erection in front of a grade-school girl’s desk? Which you just happened to wander to, apropos of nothing, even though you know she already has a crush on you and she’s already (unknown to you) accused you of Satanic child molestation? Um…
Exhibit #2: Ben makes jokes about Satanism on the day he ‘kills’ his family. (view spoiler)[Oh, no, you really must understand, Ben was just trying to impress these guys (hide spoiler)]…how? For what reason? It’s never that well-explained and it just seems like Flynn knows she has to connect another dot here.
Exhibit #3: BEN MAKES RITUAL ANIMAL SACRIFICES! Well, I can’t wait to see how Flynn gets Ben out of this one (if she indeed does): (view spoiler)[she indeed does. Oh, no, you really must understand – sure, Ben was there, but not only was he totally pushed into it by his psycho girlfriend (what a bitch!) but he didn’t want to do it in the first place and felt totally scared and creeped out by the whole thing even though, yes, he was on drugs at the time! But you must understand, reader, he didn't mean anything by it! (hide spoiler)]
(Huge spoiler follows) That's without even getting int the (view spoiler)[fact that Diondra murdered Michelle THE VERY SAME NIGHT that Patsy, in a totally disconnected series of events, decided to kill herself through the Angel of Debt so that her children could have the life insurance money). (hide spoiler)]
Yeah, these things didn’t sit right with me. They didn't feel like you wanted to zip through the pages and shut Ben up. No, I was just beginning to wonder if I believed in the Devil (I don't), because he clearly had it in for Ben if he did. Ben seemed almost like a character in a – but still, Dark Places is highly recommended. Though only for a day when you are feeling particularly happy. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm pretty sure that Gillian Flynn writes just for me.
I'm aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but hear me ou...more"Women love vulnerability. Most women."
I'm pretty sure that Gillian Flynn writes just for me.
I'm aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but hear me out: Sharp Objects is so full of things I love that it's impossible for me to properly, objectively judge it.
Like Gillian Flynn, I am obsessed with women who do Very Bad Things. Not in real life - I can't read about real-life killers - but in crime novels. This is especially difficult as crime fiction is, by and large, populated by women who are weak, spineless victims, either there to be raped/tortured/kidnapped/brutally murdered/fall in love with the troubled detective even though she is way out of his league and far more attractive and attentive than he is. If you absolutely loathe this trope, I feel confident in saying that you will like Sharp Objects. Somehow, somewhere, Gillian Flynn is linked to me and she knows that women like me exist - women who roll their eyes whenever the oh-so-hot, intelligent female lead fawns over the broken male detective and devotes herself to putting him back together/having great sex, who shudder through the pages of women being hoodwinked by killers and brutally tortured, who wince with the endless supply of misogynistic killer perspectives.
Sharp Objects is a beacon of extremely dark light in this stuffy genre. Camille Preaker, the washed-up journalist at the centre, is riddled with words that she cut onto her own skin. There is nothing attractive or aspirational about Camille's despair; though she is both pretty and broken, it's obvious that she is not one of those pretty broken women that also populate crime novels, damsels in distress for the male lead to save. There is also a cop, Richard, from Kansas investigating the murders at Windy Gap, and let's face it -- we all know that, at some point, they're going to wind up in bed together. But Flynn is no fool: there's no real blood in the relationship between Camille and Richard, they're both using each other, there are no cliches about their great sex or mad lust for each other.
Their relationship is also not particularly important. I am fascinated with dark and complex mother/daughter relationships and Flynn delivered the goods on this one, too. There's more than a hint of Southern gothic - though they're in Chicago - about the "bond" between Camille and Adora, which has become frayed and knotted by the death of Camille's younger sister, Marion, when she was thirteen, their huge rotting mansion and Camille's thirteen-year-old sister, Amma, a kind of Lolita parody. This is all about relationships between women. My favourite scenes were between the groups of women who were friends as teenage girls and have grown up into a bizarre clique of bitchy, hypocritical yet dead-on women, from Jackie and her gang of fifty-something boozers to Katie and her little group of sanctimonious, gossipy mothers. Their conversations have a superb rhythm and are full of intricacies and realism.
The best thing about Sharp Objects is the atmosphere. I love books set in small American towns - I'm obsessed with "Twin Peaks" and "American Gothic" for those reasons - and books set in less-exposed areas of America (i.e. not L.A., Boston or New York), which is why I'm obsessed with "The Killing." I also love the dusty, drab yet strangely quaint atmosphere of Windy Gap, full of totally bizarre yet realistic characters who loll around bars and big houses all day, being very cruel to one another and themselves. There is also something totally evocative yet oppressive about it, vivid and gritty. Creepy is the perfect word for Sharp Objects; it's one of those get-under-your-skin novels, and that it does. There is a kind of totality to Sharp Objects; from minor characters to the narcissistic and spoiled Meredith, girlfriend of the prime suspect, to her boyfriend (prime suspect mostly because of his un-masculine reaction to his little sister's brutal murder, i.e. crying) and the endless conversations of the little female cliques. Gillian Flynn seems totally devoted to her subject, and it's a joy to read.
It's not perfect, though. Perhaps more flawed than I'm willing to admit, because, as you can probably tell from the review, this is one of these books that hit me hard and give me just what I want. Gillian Flynn is a great writer, full of chilly restraint - (“Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.”; "Sometimes I think I won't ever feel safe until I can count my last days on one hand.") but the plot is somewhat underdeveloped, despite the great characters and atmosphere.
The main meat of what happened to Camille's sister Marion was immediately obvious to me (view spoiler)[Munchausen's by Proxy, that is (hide spoiler)] so it annoyed me that it took Camille so long to figure out the same thing. Although Flynn genuinely surprised me with the final twist (view spoiler)[that Amma, not Adora, was behind the killings, (hide spoiler)], which was fitting and perfect. The epilogue felt rushed, with a lot of things crammed into few short pages. I would have liked to see more time spent on Camille's cutting because that was the only aspect of the novel that felt something like shock value to me - more, "oh, look how damaged my protaganist is!" than a genuine exploration of what it meant to be that damaged, if it makes sense, more like a character quirk (as though thousands of scars spelling out words were something 'quirky' and 'fun' like pink hair or hipster clothes). Still, I loved this book and it is highly recommended for anyone who is sick of formulaic crime novels.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I downgraded this because, in all honesty, I think I was considering more my intense love of the premise rather than the weaknesses of the no...more2.5 stars
I downgraded this because, in all honesty, I think I was considering more my intense love of the premise rather than the weaknesses of the novel.
I love the idea of parallel dimensions. I love it! There seemed to be so many possibilities of interesting places that Hainsworth could take this...
MY READING EXPERIENCE IN STAGES 15%: Okay, so we're dropped into the typical Angsty Narrator. Poor baby, your girlfriend died...there is zero originality in this, and there's nothing original about Camden, our grieving male hero who wanders around in a fog since the death of his girlfriend, Vivian, in a crash which he survived. Well, where have I seen this before? But, you know, it's probably not Hainsworth's fault that the grieving process is so hackneyed in YA and besides...PARALLEL UNIVERSES! This is going to be cool. Just give Camden a minute to find his feet. 30%: Maybe this is moving a little slower than I expected. Blah blah blah, Camden's depressed, his leg hurts, he hates Logan, standard Jerk Jock...ooooh, this is promising. Who is this fascinating creature hanging around Camden, who insists that she know him? Well, of course, <>I know, but give Hainsworth some time, she has to build some tension and that takes time... 50%:
*READING COMES TO A SCREECHING HALT* ...a lot of time, apparently. Because we've just been introduced to the parallel universe now. Camden has just gone through the parallel "split" or whatever you call it. 50% of the novel is dedicated to his angsting process. 50%. And, Jesus freaking Christ, it's boring before that. Hainsworth has talent and that kept the pages moving, but it takes a lot of time to get the ball rolling. And, frankly, I think Harpercollins are mis-selling this book, or at least erronously presenting it. Until the 50% mark, it's a tepid mystery and angst-mobile about 1) his grieving process (all the YA clichés are present and correct - his dad is absent, he mopes around school, ignores the supportive coach who tries to get him back in the game, hates the popular kids, breaks a phone...) and 2) what is that weird blue light and what is that weird girl who says she knows Cam doing here?
But, of course, if you've read the back of the book (the Goodreads blurb), you know the answer to that question already. All I could think while reading was "damn, this would be a lot more compelling if I DIDN'T ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER."
Onwards and upwards. Surely this book gets x1000 times better once Camden is through into the next dimension and we actually meet Viv?
Well...yes. Sort of.
It becomes a pretty solid 3-star read, but it lacks the suspense, drama and epic sweep that it could have had. It also takes Camden a long time to figure out the other twist (that Camden 2.0 died on this side and Viv lived) so it plods for a little while longer. But they get back together and - FIREWORKS! Right?
Ish. Viv and Cam have cute chemistry and it flows along nicely. There's well-written underlying menace in the slowly-closing "rip" in time and Cam's slow discovery of the parallel nature of the dimension is creepy and nicely written.
But then we get into the latter stage of the novel, and it becomes a whole different cliché: the bunny boiler novel. I guessed that it was probably going this way from Camden 2.0's message to Nina, but, even though it was quite thrillingly discovered and written, it all ended up as a bit of a damp squib. Camden's suddenly changes his mind on Vivian from his world and his view on their relationship, and while that should be quite interesting, it happens too jarringly and abruptly to properly be a twist or a real emotional development. There's a lot of potential here, but it doesn't amount to much.(less)
"I did not write this book to sensationalise or shock. I intended Dell's story to serve as a window into her soul - the soul of a broken human being....more"I did not write this book to sensationalise or shock. I intended Dell's story to serve as a window into her soul - the soul of a broken human being. I wanted you, precious reader, to feel the pain of the bullied, the neglected, the heartbroken and the humiliated. I wanted you to experience the absolute power of words - whether said or typed online. Words count." - Author's Note, K.M. Walton, Empty
Those few short lines summarise all my feelings about Empty, both good and bad. The pain at the centre of this novel is bleak and total: Dell's parents have split up, her father has revealed himself to be a selfish asshole who won't pay child support or give any attention to either of his daughters, they are stuck in a grim hovel while Dell's mother spends all their money on pills, Dell eats her feelings, she's cut from the softball team, she has one friend, who is on the brink of ditching her for The Popular Girls. It sounds like a lot, but it is credit to Walton's clear talent that she interlinks the cause and effect to make it an almost unbearably realistic picture.
Dell is a good heroine. She's very well-depicted, full of loneliness and despair, but a preciously optimistic person. She's not perfect, but she is highly likeable, sympathetic and realistic. I really couldn't put this book down, and it's thanks to Walton's good, fluid writing, Dell's engaging voice and the compelling awfulness of the picture she paints. Warning: it's not a book you can enjoy reading, but that doesn't mean it's not a good one.
But then comes the plot. I am going to reveal a lot of it here, but I'm keeping the ending a secret, which is why I'm not covering my review with spoiler tags. If you wanted to read Empty and you feel like you have been spoiled by my review, fear not, because this is much more of an inward than outward focused book. The plot is not all that important.
If you read a reasonable selection of contemporary YA, you will be familiar with Empty. I hate typing this because it's obvious from the Author's Note that this is a book that Walton considers very Important (and I don't mean that in a pretentious way), and I suppose it is, but I couldn't really feel any of it.
Excuse me for my coldness, though, because there was literally nothing original about the plot of Empty. Dell is date-raped by the most popular and handsome guy in school, whom she thinks she likes. (Hello, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, imagine seeing you around these parts...) Dell binge-eats and struggles with her body image and weight gain, especially against her totally unsympathetic family. (I'm getting a little bit of déjà vu from The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler...which also features rape as a significant plot point...) Her parents have divorced and her dad is behaving like a total asshole. (Try Just As Long as We're Together by Judy Blume or Mice...) Dell's best friend is on the brink of ditching her for the popular girls (try every YA book ever, but since I'm currently pulling these from my own reading history, let's go with Pretty Twisted by Gina Blaxill...and Speak again...). And that message about how much "words count" was much more darkly, intensely and meaningfully imparted by What Happened to Cass McBride?
Quite frankly, though, the book that I couldn't help thinking of as I was turning the pages would be Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. Popular girl is very almost raped by her best friend's boyfriend and, when said "best friends" find out, they make her life a living hell in very similar ways to what the totally cardboard popular girls do: cruel comments about her on social networking sites, public humiliation and bitchy notes. Some Girls Are has a very similar bent but, frankly, it's far better. I understand that nothing is original, but in Empty, nothing is even slightly original. By being so obviously connected to other YA novels, Empty shows up its own shortcomings, and it's not a flattering comparison.
I did feel strongly connected to Walton's attack on the in-built concept in society that rape victims are always pretty and skinny. As much as anybody who's ever been to a Health class can recite to you: "rape is about power not sex, rapeisaboutpowernotsex" but it doesn't change the fact that even shows like Law & Order or Veronica Mars always suggest that rape victims are conventionally attractive. Well, that's why they get raped, right? Of course not, but it doesn't stop that portrayal of rape and rape victims becoming embedded in pop culture. Howeverrrr...I've also read that message before, in Amanda Davis's Wonder When You'll Miss Me which, like Empty, features a teenage girl who is raped by a guy she has a crush on. It's just so goddamn familiar, and that stops it from being truly meaningful.
This is only highlighted by the ending, which I predict will cause controversy. It's quite a wham, unexpected by me, but I found it manipulative and totally unearned. One of the problems with how Empty leans on such familiar YA tropes is that you can't help comparing them to others. As awful as the bullying Dell undergoes is, it's nothing in comparison to the crazily intense cyber, mental and physical torture of Regina Afton in Some Girls Are. As terrible as the rape is, her feelings about it are nowhere near as intense and tear-jerking as Melinda Sordino's in Speak. As emotionally involving as her struggles with her body are, they're not as interesting as Virginia's in The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things. Walton is definitely an author to watch, but I'd recommend this more to people who haven't read a great amount of YA literature, because it can just feel hackneyed to someone who has. As horrible as this is, I found myself thinking, "c'mon, girl, it could always be worse...what are a few bitchy comments in a private Facebook session in comparison to a hate site which the entire school joins?" (especially when you've read worse in better novels).
If this book changes the opinion or the outlook of just one person, it's worth it. But it didn't change mine.(less)
I went backwards and forwards on the rating. I originally rated it 4 stars because I don't like the "sitting on the fence" tone of a 3-star r...more3.5 stars
I went backwards and forwards on the rating. I originally rated it 4 stars because I don't like the "sitting on the fence" tone of a 3-star review. I am glad that my Goodreads friends liked this, and I'm not surprised that they did, but "What's Left of Me" is not the kind of book I would ever normally read: a dystopian thriller with a truly interesting premise, but I feel conflicted because I truly do think that Zhang is an amazing writer and the right kind of reader will love this. Because I think one of the main reasons I didn't like this book was the series nature ~ I promised myself I would stay away from series novels because I just don't like that half-finished, incomplete nature of them. Zhang was good at this, but the book still felt kind of like treading water - setting up and getting ready for the good stuff to happen in Book 2.
Zhang is a truly superb writer. I'm a twin, and the Hybrid novels have this fantastic and deeply resonant subtext with me, as Eva and Addie are like twins sharing one body. When Eva talked about the push and pull of their relationship, the wall that would come down between them and their intricate bond is beautiful. Eva and Addie are the most important person in each other's lives, and that never changes, not even as their romantic subplots develop. How amazing - a dystopian novel where two characters manage to share one brain yet keep control of it. They need it each other, they love each other and it is perfectly written. My heart ached with the beautiful description of their bond and their shared strength. This one hurt, but so beautifully.
The beauty of the writing made me wish I could nod my head to the beats of the plot a little more easily.
I am not a fussy one for world-building in YA dystopian. I was always terrible at biology/chemistry/general how-the-world-works, and I can never apply any of my physics knowledge to a fictional setting. I have no problem accepting the Game of Thrones world, with its extended seasons and bizarre logic. When reading, I am one of those, "if you write it, I will believe it" readers. Yet something felt fundamentally impossible at the heart of the Hybrid chronicles. Hybrids are separate souls in one body. They have hopes, dreams and emotions that are entirely separate from one another. Eva cannot control Addie's body at will, but the other Hybrids are able to take control of one another as they wish. As Eva notes, she and Addie can barely agree on anything, and that's when she's weak enough to remain the recessive soul in the body with no true power. So what is so horrendous about trying to get rid of one soul?
That might sound fundamentally horrible. But, seriously, my sister and I once had a total vicious physical fight because I thought she'd hidden my towel (turns out it was under my bed...oops). If we were in one body, it would be the craziest, most inconsistent and self-destructive body ever. The emotional impact must be horrendous but, to me, it seemed like a necessary evil. An evil, but an unavoidable one to maintain a stable society. But, even then, what was so wrong with hybrids? Is it a racism metaphor? After all, colour is only skin deep - but it didn't stop the repeated discrimination against them for such a long time. Perhaps, but it still felt seriously shaky and both elements undermined the impact of the general, overarching plot for me.
Also, unfortunately, the blurb on Edelweiss compares "What's Left of Me" to "Northern Lights" (yes, shut up, I'm English and it's not The Golden Compass). It is an apt comparison - perhaps a little too apt. The latter half of the novel felt very...heavily "inspired" by "Northern Lights." On its own, the Hybrid Chronicles has a great and unique plot. However, when Addie and Eva is shipped to a mysterious hospital (like the hospital for children with daemons in "Northern Lights") where children undergo invasive and brutal surgery at the hands of shadowy doctors and nurses. It's a small complaint, but it nagged at the back of my mind while reading, especially as Addie and Eva's proposed escape from the hospital reminded me a lot of Lyra's in "Northern Lights", and it spoiled my enjoyment.
The other big thing that bugged me even though it perhaps shouldn't was the Hero Syndrome that afflicted Eva throughout the last segment of the novel. It was a faucet of her personality that hadn't been explored really at all up until it became necessary for the plot but...it just felt very necessary to the plot. It was like, as soon as Addie and Eva found a way that they were going to get out of their situation, Eva had to go and dig a bigger hole for herself. Of course, YA protaganists are frequently kick-ass, deeply noble and caring in a perhaps excessive way. Yet it seemed to occur too often in "What's Left of Me", to the point where Eva's own nobility seemed to pad out the plot in a slightly idiotic manner. (less)
This book is, frankly, trashy. Really trashy. The characters are paper-thin (the dutiful but boring dad! the flighty drug-addict runaway mum! her scum...moreThis book is, frankly, trashy. Really trashy. The characters are paper-thin (the dutiful but boring dad! the flighty drug-addict runaway mum! her scumbag husband! the bad twin, all sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll and screaming fits! the good twin, all saintly halo and perfect temper!) and never once ascend above the annoying stereotypes they have been given. The twins are particularly frustrating characters - Georgie, the "bad" twin, is not "bad" in as in "evil", but she is foul-tempered, foul-mouthed, violent and she has always been this way. Kay, on the other hand, is perfect. Sweet, loving, ambitious, NEVER a cross word to her dad. There are simply no people like this, no people who are such extremes. And it is vital to sympathise with the twins, which I didn't.
The plotting is addictive but atrocious. I read this one really quickly, and I didn't stop reading for a lot of it. It's fast-paced and the writing is so minimalist that you can get through a lot very snappily. But Fitzgerald totally fails to capitalise on any of the interesting things about her premise. Should he let one girl die? Will only contemplates that very briefly, and while on drugs. Doesn't go through with the organ donation thing. The twist about the parentage is no twist at all because it's obvious from the start. The plotting is pure pulp, with a special mention to the end, which is so XXX that I spent most of it saying, "Oh, God, it's not going there..." (but it is, and it's sad that the novel had to end on such a duff note, because my rating might have been kinder had that not left a sour taste in my mouth.)
There are so many strands that seem pointless or left hanging, such as Georgie's brief, bizarre non-relationship with the seventeen-year-old stalker Will hires to track down Georgie's mother, which just ends, or my personal favourite, Will's relationship with Linda, which seems to be there solely to assure the adult readers that, really, ignore the two eighteen-year-olds that are central to the plot, this is not a YA novel. I have no problem with sex scenes, even the S+M ones on display here - they're not at all graphic, but they are so pointless and gratuitious, contributing absolutely nothing to the plot except another character and a bit of very "adult" sex. Yawn. It felt like it was supposed to be funny, which it wasn't.
And yet the writing is good. The humour is especially great. Even though I don't have my book to hand, I can still summon up this one from my memory: Will is watching his twin girls in the hospital beds, both of them are very sick and he's beside himself with worry: "Will would have shot himself right then and there had his gun not been filed under G in his filing cabinet." (less)