It’s just so disappointing when you hear nothing but praise for a book, and then, when you finally get around to reading it, you find that it just doesn’t live up to the hype. I’m not talking about just plain bad books, which are universally unpopular or badmouthed. I’m making the distinction here as “over-rated” and “disappointing” – and I certainly don’t expect everybody to agree with me here!
Maestra by L.S. Hinton
(I originally posted this for “Thrillers: What’s Hot, What’s Not” – click here to read the full post!)
In a word: vulgar
The hype surrounding this one was unbelievable. I’d just about never seen a book as heavily advertised prior to its release – book trailers as extravagant as film trailers, postcards in the mail, bus stop advertisement, author interviews and even attractive men and women in the cover’s signature red swimsuit spruiking the book on the shores of Bondi Beach!
Of course, I fell victim to the hype. I was burning with curiosity about the fuss and uproar around Maestra, so I managed to secure an advance copy and finished reading it just the week before the book hit the shelves. Sadly, I was quite disappointed.
Maestra tells the story of Judith Rashleigh, a woman of many faces. She works in a prestigious art gallery, but she has found herself increasingly jaded and bored by the industry. So, she takes an after-hours job at a bar in a less-than wholesome area. The core of the book revolves around a major conspiracy in the art world which Judith uncovers whilst working for the gallery, and before she can do anything about, she is promptly fired. So, when she is offered a trip to the French Riviera by one of her clients at the bar, she accepts, with disastrous consequences.
Although the book got off to something of a promising start (I could tell that it certainly wasn’t the best book in the world, but I felt that it could have been enjoyable), I found that in the second half it deteriorated dramatically. It lost all sense of plot sensibility and became purely about graphic and masochistic sex scenes and explicit scenes of violence – all of which, to be honest, I found repugnant. I tried my best to enjoy the book – I liked the fact that Judith was a complex character who wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I did enjoy the initial art/auction house conspiracy, but it became less and less about this with each page turn. Honestly, it was a touch ridiculous.
The fact that this was marketed as a “thriller” is the only reason it even made it to the “thrillers” post – because it certainly wasn’t thrilling. If anything, it is more of an erotic novel with some crime as a subplot. An attempt at making a high-end Fifty Shades of Grey that went terribly wrong!
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Every time someone asks me about this book, I always say that it’s unbelievable. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean that I literally could not believe a single word of it, which is worrying as it’s intended to be a believable story for and about young adults.
This was so highly recommended by many and varying sources – the world famous Zoella gushed about it on her vlog and added it as a must-read on her book club. My own workplace had it is a must read of the year and even featured it several times as a young adult book of the month. It even won the Goodreads 2015 young adult book of the year. And I still don’t believe it.
If you log in to Goodreads, the reviews of this one are gushy teenagers who tell how this book “changed them” and “moved them to tears”. I guess I should have known better…
All The Bright Places is primarily concerned with two main characters. Theodore Finch is our male lead, obsessed with death and killing himself, but in equal parts funny and eccentric. Violet Markey, our female lead, is grieving her sister’s recent death and generally keeps inside her shell. When the pair meet atop the bell tower at school, it’s unclear as to who saves whom – and so, they embark upon a friendship and romance that will change the scope of both of their worlds.
The main issue that I took with this book were the characters themselves. Their traits just didn’t seem realistic or compatible. Unfortunately Finch and Violet are total young adult clichés, and they could have done with a few more personality traits to make them seem really alive (no pun intended) rather than complete archetypes from a debut novelist.
But the main issue I took with this book was the treatment of mental illness throughout. Clearly, the two main characters are suffering from different forms of depression and bipolar. But their symptoms are effectively ignored by all of the adult characters in the novel – which again, adds to the lack of realism of the book. Would that not be concerning as, say, a parent, teacher, counsellor? Secondly, it was majorly glossed over as a legitimate issue plaguing young people in contemporary America and worldwide. It was merely treated as a cutesy way to experience a love story between the pair. I’m sure that the praise for this one would not be as high if the characters were suffering from a physical illness or extreme violence and it was treated in the same way as mental illness is.
I’m not going to get into too much of a rant, picking apart each and every individual reason why I didn’t like this book. Because certainly it wasn’t all bad – it was at its best at about the 75% mark of the book, but it was just too slow to start and I really strongly disliked the ending so it meant that I was ultimately very disappointed in this book.
However, I’m not going to give up on Jennifer Niven just yet! I took the chance of purchasing her latest release, Holding up the Universe in the hopes that I find it more enjoyable than her debut. It sounds like it has real potential, so I’m looking forward to (eventually) reading it. I will be sure to write about my thoughts!
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
(This has also been paraphrased from my other page, Ally’s BBC books!)
This is not a badly written book – I just didn’t enjoy it.
It seems like sacrilege or anti-rebellious of me to say so, but no, I didn’t like it. I know that a lot of people hold this one dear to their hearts (hence why I’ve included it in this post as “overrated”) so I will try not to be too scathing.
Salinger, a well-known recluse, published this book in 1951 centring around a few days in the life of Holden Caulfield, following his expulsion from prestigious Pencey Prep. The first lines of this book have become famous and synonymous with the so-called “typical” adolescent:
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
These apathetic lines set the scene for the manner in which the rest of the book will be written. Salinger allows Caulfield to speak using colloquial language very much of the time. The language in the book is perhaps what makes it unique – at times it is quite vulgar and startling. It was certainly not without controversy upon its first publication.
The controversy however could not be confined to the face that it drops a few F-bombs here and there (although the 1950s were a much more culturally sensitive time). It depicts some disturbing incidences, such as a notable encounter with a young prostitute, Sunny, as well as other sexual references, violence, the promotion of drinking, smoking, swearing and blasphemy.
Even though I’ve just labelled them “controversial” subjects and themes with which the text deals, I think that it is these things that make this book so well-loved with so many readers. The fact that Holden is something of a rebel, an outsider and seemingly so fed up with a world full of what he sees as “phonies” perhaps holds some kind of iconic charm for people.
My personal opinion on this book though – it holds no charm for me. I studied this book when I was in my final year of high school, so I was about seventeen years old. So I was roughly the same age as Holden is supposed to be in the duration of the book. I’m not going to fall back on the horrendous cliché that because I had to study the book, it was a foregone conclusion that I wasn’t going to like the book; or that I studied it to death and it was a mere consequence. No, from the outset, I did not like this book. That opening sentence does not define for me the “spirit of teenage rebellion and feeling of displacement” (or something like that).
I have several problems with this book, and I’ll outline them very roughly now. First off, a fairly base superficial problem – I find that this book was inappropriate to study at school. Though maybe not for the obvious reason, for I am not the pious type. Frankly, I don’t see the point of reading a book which is essentially a teenager whinging and complaining about their lot in their apparently devoid and tragic life for 200 odd pages, when I got that every day from all of my high school companions!
Secondly, for a character who is so very obsessed with the fact that the world is full of aforementioned “phonies”, and who so laments this fact though the also aforementioned 200 pages of complaining, he is completely blind to himself. Holden is too busy complaining about other people that he forgets to focus on himself, and how he is, in fact, just like them.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
This was perhaps one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever read. Not only was praise heaped on it by reviewers, critics and fans, but also by close friends and people with whom I normally share similar taste in books. But when I finally got around to reading it, I was sadly disappointed in what it had to offer me.
This one, like All The Bright Places, tells of two eccentric and slightly unbelievable teenagers, Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters. They meet at a cancer therapy support group – Hazel has is terminally ill with cancer. But her entire world is about to be turned upside down from the moment she encounters Augustus Waters. At first, the pair become remarkable friends, even developing a secret code language of sorts, and bonding over eccentric poets and novelists (which no normal teenager would never have any sort of affinity for, but of course, these are not normal teenagers *eye roll*).
What didn’t I like about this book? It’s already written for you before you even start the book. It deals with a terminal illness, what do you really think is going to happen? Yes, it’s very sad, and I’m certainly not denying the illness the respect it deserves as an absolute bitch to those it affects. But it seems like a foregone conclusion what will happen – and why you have been aggressively told by teenage and adult readers alike that you will cry at this book and it will change your life. It didn’t, I’m sorry.
In a way, the two main characters of this book annoyed me in the opposite way that Violet and Finch annoyed me in All The Bright Places. Violet and Finch were total archetypes; Hazel and Augustus speak nothing like teenagers and, as such, I couldn’t believe that they could ever be real people and not just the author speaking to us through the guise of characters. I understand that they don’t speak normally because they aren’t normal, but extraordinary. But, this goes beyond the extraordinary and becomes outlandish. No teenagers speak that way and expect a broad readership to believe them and recognise them from our everyday lives.
It wasn’t that I hated the book; no, in fact, I found the first half quite engaging. The second half left me rather flat – it certainly didn’t make me cry and nor did it change my life. Unfortunately, much like the World War Two/Nazi Germany novels, the “cancer book” has become something of a trope in contemporary fiction, and I didn’t find that this was a particularly remarkable contribution to the “canon”. It’s the unfortunate truth.
I’m sorry to all of my friends who I have offended in the writing of this review and in all of my others. But doesn’t it just show how amazing books are? That they can evoke such a sense of love and power in some, and such a disappointment and resentment in others (me)?