This novel topped so many feminist must-read lists for so long, it almost felt like I needed to own and read this novel or I would be forced1.5 stars
This novel topped so many feminist must-read lists for so long, it almost felt like I needed to own and read this novel or I would be forced to never call myself a feminist again.
Basically, this novel is what you'd get if you forced The Handmaid's Tale and The Stepford Wives (the original film, not the Nicole Kidman remake) to reproduce. And that's basically it. Seriously, there's nothing else to it. You take both of these ideas, tweak them for a YA audience, and you have Only Ever Yours. The book even borrowed scenes and lines straight from the two.
However, both original works made a point about feminism, had something strong to say about it, whereas Only Ever Yours, not only fails to bring anything into the dialogue, I'm afraid it doesn't even know how to define feminism by itself. In every sense, Only Ever Yours lacks the sophistication, nuance and understanding to spearhead YA feminist literature like it sees itself as capable of doing.
Yes, this is a novel that deals with how horrible it would be for women if our future depended entirely one what men of power want, desire and choose for us. Certainly, it is a novel that focuses on how terrible our lives would be if women were to be everything that the media and society told them to be, if our voices were stolen, if our autonomy was stripped away, if our lives centered solely around being used and abused to men's needs and delights. Those are certainly feminist concerns, but as far as feminist theory or literature goes, not only is all this wholly unoriginal, it also merely brushes the surface of why these are issues to us in the first place.
Of course we are concerned with the ingrained sexism in the media, in how we are represented in social contexts, and the very real expectations that are formed from them. But it goes deeper than that. It's not just that we are tired of being asked to just look pretty and be happy. It's not just about the banality and shallowness of social media, or the evils of slut-shaming. It's about the reality that, in many ways, women are still second to men, not only in social, economic, and intellectual levels, but that sometimes we are not even human in the way that men are. We are something other, something else, something less. Sure, the novel presents these girls as they are being trained as dolls for older, powerful men, but aside from the occasional shock of the whole setting, the book fails to make any sort of powerful statement about what the fight for women's rights is about.
This novel barely brushes over racial and sexuality issues, even though the main character is actually a POC (a fact that is actually barely stated in the novel, when it could've served to make a powerful point within the context of the story). It perpetuates notions of white feminism, where the main efforts of the movement are addressed at fighting for the rights and concerns of the white, powerful majority, a generically applied misfortune that doesn't even begin to encompass the struggles of the minorities within the movement. There's a marked lack of intersectionality in the version of feminism showcased in a novel that, shockingly, actually features a colored main character. Just some passing commentary of the feshitization of black and Asian women, some sub-plot that cursorily dealt with lesbianism. The novel was so concerned with amping up the elements of what was supposed to make this world horrifying, that it failed to have it all mean something beyond just "this would suck, so maybe women should get a choice, ya know?"
This novel was obsessed with the superficial aspects of being a woman. I'm not saying eating disorders are not an important issue, but being skinny or fat are not the only fights women have when it comes to their image, and it is not always just about wanting to be pretty. Essentially, and very ironically, this novel actually reduced the experience of womanhood (both, the good and the bad) in similar ways sexist oppression does. This book's feminism is of the same superficial brand of so many other YA novels where the core of the ideology is either "Guuuuuurl power!" or "sisters before misters!," and that leaves so much to be desired because it simplifies complex ideas and removes layers of significance that give life to the movement itself. This book was so concerned with reminding us that this is what could happen to women for being women, that it forgot that the point of this is that nobody deserves to be treated like this because we are all human.
Moreover, I find it very hard to think of as feminist a novel where every single female character is horrible to themselves and to each other. Notice that my problem is not that they are unlikable, even though they are. My issue is that they are so one-dimensional, there's no nuance to who they are, what they do, and more importantly, why they do what they do. Girl-on-girl hatred and internalized misogyny are huge issues for me that are, unfortunately, deeply embedded into the YA genre, so I would expect a so-called feminist novel to address it in some way. An argument could be made that the competition these girls were bred into gives way to that, and that that in itself is an argument against girl-on-girl hatred and internalized misogyny, but that's very difficult to discern as a deliberate, serious point when all the characters are so shallowly defined. What makes it even worse is that all the girls and women in this novel were consistently vicious, cruel and horrible to each other at every single turn, when the very idea of feminism is sisterhood as an unified front among women.
It's not that I expected - or wanted - this novel to take the Katniss or Tris turn and suddenly have this oppressed girl taking up arms and leading a revolution against the system, but a little bit of humanity in any of this characters, some spirit, just a more defined characterization or a more complex emotional and psychological drafting would've actually made all the more powerful the feminist message this novel pretended to convey. You cannot create a world where your point is that women should not be limited in such a way when your very own characterization, maybe inadvertently but still very clearly, reduces to women to the shallow, vapid and insipid creatures you are railing against. Maybe that was the whole point, but I find it difficult to, not only engage and root for characters like this, but see how this supposed oppressive government is destroying something that's really not there in the character.
In more technical aspects, the novel is simply not very fun to read. I did not enjoy the reading experience, and it actually felt a little bit like a chore getting through it at times. I can't remember if I felt anything beyond mild exasperation while reading this novel, and for an novel whose entire point is to make an impact, that is not good. There's a startling lack of convincing world-building, very one-dimensional characterization, and a feeling of disjointedness to the whole thing that made it a very difficult book to take as seriously as it wanted to be taken.
Ultimately, what really drove the nail into the coffin that was my overall experience with this book is that, by the end, the whole thing feels pointless. It rambles on and on for hundreds of pages about petty, shallow, insignificant things, making you think it's going somewhere, leading to some great turn, and it just... doesn't. Nothing gets done and nobody learns anything, and I suppose that could be seen as darkly subversive, but, combined with everything else, it didn't amount to anything from my perspective. ...more
This is my first review this year. So, let's make it an angry one, shall we?
The Dolls is, without a doubt, one of the biggest wastes (of time, paper,This is my first review this year. So, let's make it an angry one, shall we?
The Dolls is, without a doubt, one of the biggest wastes (of time, paper, money, etc.) I've read in my entire life. I'm trying to remember a more spectacularly insipid, preposterously vapid, profoundly shallow and endlessly frivolous novel and I simply can't. By the end of this self-imposed torture, I simply could not understand the why: why I have chosen to read this book or why had possessed me to pick it up and buy in the first place, and I, especially, could not understand why this book was even published in the first place.
Harsh, I know, but seriously, this is the type of idiotically pointless, flat and hollow and trivial crap that flooded shelves after Twilight. You know which type I'm talking about: super special, perfect, clueless girl is abruptly moved somewhere else where she meets a perfect stranger who seems to hate her for no reason, because it turns out she's strangely connected to some bizarre thing that only happens in this particular new, mysterious town, and there's some stuff going on in the background (usually an endless parade of murdered girls) and there's some paranormal crap that's supposed to be guiding the plot and some generic antagonist that threatens everyone's existence, but who cares because Makeover! Love triangle! Mean girls! Prom! Longing gazes! Stolen kisses! Taciturn, borderline bipolar love interest who is forbidden to love the main character for some half-assed reason that usually has to do with some selfish notion of honor or self-restraint!
The Dolls ticked every single item in that checklist. The paranormal aspect was nothing but a flimsy excuse to disguise, not even subtly, what is simply a "forbidden romance" cliche between one-dimensional perfect people who are remarkable in no way whatsoever and yet so, so special. Every single character in this novel was painfully forgettable, the plot dragged on and on, meandering with no clear direction in sight, the twist was entirely too predictable and, I kid you not, 75% of the entire novel was spent describing "fashionable" clothes. And it is so. freaking. boring. Repetitive to the point where I actually had to look at the page numbers several times because I actually thought I was going back and reading the same part over and over instead of moving forward.
Forgive me for thinking that YA had grown out of this stagnant, painful phase of vanity, shallowness and total meaninglessness. It's not that every book I've read since has been fantastic, but at least the criticism I leveled against them didn't go straight into the basics of simply being so utterly pointless and trivial and flimsy. This is outright generic, uninventive, and insufferably mediocre. The Gothic setting and atmosphere and theme are wasted, because nothing else matters in this story besides the contrived forbidden romance.
Another thing that bothered me immensely about this novel is the racial politics at play here. Don't get me wrong, I don't think this book is profound enough to deliberately present any sort of racial message, but, being the impressively dumb and senseless thing it is, this book actually does accidentally represent how racial politics still work in YA.
In this book, we have a New Orleans setting, a voodoo theme and a link to slavery, and not only is the main character extremely white, but she's also the leader "Queen" of a circle that deals in a branch of voodoo. And out of the three members of this circle of voodoo practicing "Queens," 2 of them are white, both described as having strictly white European characteristics. Only 1 (ONE!) of them is black. Think about that for a second and tell me it is not preposterous to even imagine a voodoo legacy story set in New Orleans where only 1 out of 3 characters is black, and where this single black character is not even the most powerful or central one. Look at this book and then dare to tell me this book doesn't perpetuate the terrible tradition of stealing culture from minorities and giving them to uninspiring white characters who are still better than every other colored character in the novel itself.
And there's the romance. It is particularly upsetting for me that interracial romances in YA are exceedingly rare, and it's even worse to think that most of them do not happen outside of "issue" novels where the races of those involved is crucial to the point of the novel itself. So, trust me when I say that interracial romances usually earn the novel I'm reading a lot of brownie points in my book. I know it was the intention of the author to showcase an interracial romance in this novel, but I personally didn't see it like that because of how whitewashed the love interest was. Do not give me a "black" guy with skin so light he passes as white with sky blue eyes, a guy people actually refer to in the novel as the "light-skinned black guy," and then pat yourself in the back for your progressiveness and openness. And this is not the first time I've encountered this type of love interest. Quite frankly, most of the times I've encountered a colored love interest, it was under the same description, because apparently, you cannot conceive the idea of your precious lily-white main character kicking it with anyone of color who is not an exception to the rule, who is special precisely because of how little he resembles his racial group and how much it resembles your own.
This book is so bad all by itself that its mediocrity almost overshadows the problematic elements it presents. Ultimately, there's little to no redeeming elements that make this novel worthwhile, much less that would make me even consider picking up whatever sequels this storyline can vomit into existence. It's one thing to offer a generic, mediocre story, but it's another entirely to present a product so unnecessary, so pointless and unremarkable, that is nothing short of a waste in basically every aspect possible. ...more
This book sets out to be a sort of homage to old-school horror films. As an ideal, it is certainly appealing, but I don't think the book succeeds. ThaThis book sets out to be a sort of homage to old-school horror films. As an ideal, it is certainly appealing, but I don't think the book succeeds. That is probably due to the fact that it is nowhere near as well written and clever as, let's say, the movie Cabin in the Woods, to be taken as a serious homage, nor is it campy and self-aware enough to be a more tongue-in-cheek kind of tribute.
I can appreciate the originality that went into the construction and development of this book. The authors' creativity really shone throughout the entire reading experience. But originality can only take you so far when, in all honestly, everything about the book is just plain bad.
Is it intentionally bad precisely because it is meant to imitate old-school horror films that are, by today's standards, kind of cheesy? Maybe. It's certainly a possibility. Still, even if they are cheesy today, what we like about watching all of those monster/slasher films is that they are fun. And guess what this book isn't?
Overall, this is is a difficult book to get through. The narration is insufferable. Winnie's voice is grating, whiny, immature, pretentious and hateful. And there's no purpose to her rampant, dismissive condescension and contempt. This is not some complex narrator we have here. She's just really that poorly drawn. And the narrative style itself is irritating and almost impossible to take seriously, never mind enjoy. At first, the use of visual aids through the novel was an interesting gimmick, but it got old really fast and it disrupted the story.
Moreover, the books spends sooooooo long setting everything, building up the anticipation for some big climax, for some spectacular reveal and then... nothing. Not only was it anti-climactic, by the time the end rolled around, I was as bored as I had been since the beginning. And it wasn't worth it. Not the overly dragged set up, not the eternal passages about nothing at all.
Plus, not a single one of the characters was even remotely interesting. Same with the ominous promise of a monster, the cliche horror, the contrived romance. The whole idea behind this novel was either to horrify or to entertain. In my particular case, it failed on both fronts. ...more