I've never really liked the graphic novel adaptations of Neil Gaiman's short stories, but this is the worst out of all of them. The artwork looks terrI've never really liked the graphic novel adaptations of Neil Gaiman's short stories, but this is the worst out of all of them. The artwork looks terrible - apart from making the main character (a teenager) look like he's in his mid-forties and completely failing to evoke the 70s, it's just plain ugly to look at. As usual, there are way too many quotes directly from Gaiman's narration, explaining things that could've been easily expressed through the dialogue or the artwork. The result is that this story just feels awkward and wrong in a visual medium. And the worst part is, this isn't even one of Gaiman's best short stories - it's based on an unfunny joke, and there are no stakes or arc or anything. I like Neil Gaiman, but this is the worst thing I've ever read from him, no competition....more
Maybe I just need to stop getting my expectations up for books. Between this and Lost Girl, the last book I had been looking forwardDNF at 120 pages.
Maybe I just need to stop getting my expectations up for books. Between this and Lost Girl, the last book I had been looking forward to reading, high expectations just make it all the more crushing when a book turns out to be bad. Then again, with a premise like this one, I'm not sure how I could have anything but high expectations - I love contemporary sci-fi, I love magical realism, and I love books with gay protagonists. I thought this book would've been perfect for me.
Here's the thing, though: for a book with such an interesting premise, it's shocking how tired and even derivative this book feels. I guess I'm going out on a limb to assume that Hutchinson has read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but given that he's a gay YA author and David Levithan is basically the most famous gay YA author out there, it seems likely that Hutchinson has read it. I bring that up because this book is essentially what it would be like if lowercase-will got abducted by aliens. The difference being, Hutchinson isn't nearly as funny or insightful as Levithan. I might just be biased, since Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of my all-time favorite YA books - after all, it's not as if Levithan invented the cynical, snarky narrator. But I've read plenty of cynical, snarky narrators, and lowercase-will is the one that Henry from this book reminded me of the most. Their voices are pretty similar, and they have nearly-identical character arcs. Once I noticed this, about ten pages into the story, it became impossible to unnotice it - I hate to define a book by comparing it to another one I liked better, but I couldn't stop thinking about how much I would rather be rereading WGWG than reading this book.
Because here's the thing: Levithan executes this type of cynical, snarky protagonist far better than Hutchinson does. This book completely lacks any subtlety and restraint. Levithan isn't exactly a master of either of those, but he does at least have the sense to hold back some: he takes some time in building up will's character, gradually establishing his mindset and what his character arc is going to be. With Hutchinson, it feels more like he's constantly pounding into you how cynical Henry is, and how awful his life is. You can probably guess what his character arc is going to be from the very first line of the story:
Life is bullshit.
Consider your life for a moment. Think about all those little rituals that sustain you throughout your day - from the moment you wake up until that last, lonely midnight hour when you guzzle a gallon of NyQuil to drown out the persistent voice in your head. The one that whispers you should just give up, give in, that tomorrow won't be better than today. Think about the absurdity of brushing your teeth, of arguing with your mother over the appropriateness of what you're wearing to school, of homework, of grade-point averages and boyfriends and hot school lunches.
Think about the absurdity of life.
Unless you've literally never read a book before, you probably know immediately upon seeing those opening lines that Henry's character arc is going to be about learning the value of life and not to be such a negative prick all the time. Nothing in the pages that follow feels natural: I was constantly aware that everything I was seeing was setup for that arc. Also, while I said that Henry's voice was pretty similar to will's, the big difference is that Levithan is funny. Hutchinson makes some attempts at humor, but they don't really land, and they don't do much from stopping this book from being an endless angst-fest. Reading this made me really appreciate the purpose that Levithan's humor in WGWG served - it provides some kind of counterpoint to all of will's negativity and depression, so that the book doesn't end up being so depressing to read.
I also want to elaborate on Hutchinson's lack of restraint and subtlety in this book, because it's another part of what really sinks it in my mind. I honestly found a lot of the awful aspects of Henry's life to be exaggerated, particularly in Henry's school life. In that regard, this book reminds me of one of Courtney Summers' really bad books - I like a lot of her work, but in some of her books, she has this tendency to paint high school as this parallel universe where popularity is everything, and people who aren't popular are literally constantly tortured and abused, to an absurd degree. Hutchinson does basically the same thing here. I get that bullying is real, but the reality of it is mostly the cumulative effects of a lot of small things, with only a few really big ones. I've never met or heard of anyone as constantly horrible as Marcus (or for that matter, Charlie, whose characterization is even more exaggerated). The reality of bullying is a lot more complex than this - that's not to say that bullying doesn't have the kind of effects that Hutchinson portrays, but in my experience at least, this isn't how it happens. But the reality of bullying isn't big and punchy, and everything in this book has to be as big and punchy as possible, lest we ever forget just how bad Henry's life is.* Here's the biggest way Hutchinson reminds me of Summers: both are good at making me hate characters, but bad at making me believe them.
Oh yeah, and this book also has aliens. I really do love magical realism, so I thought this would be the element of this story that I liked best. But no, the aliens are basically just here to give Henry the choice of whether or not to stop the apocalypse, a metaphor so blatant that it shouldn't even count as symbolism. From the moment the scenario is introduced and Henry says that he won't stop the apocalypse because the world is so awful, we know that he's eventually going to see the light and stop the apocalypse, probably just in the nick of time. Apart from that, the aliens feel really tacked on, and their consequences for the story don't even make logical sense. (The first time in the story they abduct Henry, his family notices that he was missing for an evening, but the second time, he's missing for two whole days, and his family says nothing.) I thought the aliens were going to make this book weirder and more interesting, but Hutchinson plays them incredibly safe, so that they essentially don't amount to any more than a gimmick.
I wanted to like this book - as I said above, I had high expectations for it. But it mostly disappointed. There were some scenes I like, and taken on its own, Henry's voice isn't actually bad, but that's about all that works. If you want this exact same character arc done way better and with more flavor, read Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
*Side note: this also applies to Henry's grandmother with Alzhiemer's. As someone who's had multiple parents with dementia, I didn't buy a word of her portrayal. I know not all dementia is the same, but seriously, this is a sit-com version of dementia, made for big, impactful moments rather than the more gradual, quieter reality....more