I was promised dessert of some kind

Well, aren’t you all just the luckiest, duckiest lucky ducks of all. No fortnight of silence between posts anymore, my friends! No, I am determined to remedy my slothful ways and produce weekly “read it” book reviews supplemented by photographic evidence of the most benign form of feline exploitation. I am, after all, little more than a reluctantly immobile gentlewoman hobo who happens to live in a house (for the moment). Seeing as the majority of my days are spent playing at being a pioneer lady, perfecting my zombpocalypse survival skills, and reading, there’s ample time to blog about what I’m reading.

Unemployment, y’all. It’s a frakkin’ biyotch.

So today, it’s back to YA. It’s like crack or blue meth or pictures of Michael Fassbender. You can never get enough, no matter how many times you’re told it’s bad for you. So here’s my admittedly rather desultory review of Sarah Zarr’s Sweethearts.

Confession: I read this quite a while ago, but since I am currently in the throes of a mega re-read that is occupying most of my time, thoughts, and swoon tendencies (cough Brisbane cough), I thought I’d share my reactions to this book, rather than fan-girl out on you about the books comprising the re-read (which you get next week, if I manage to find a way to marshal my book-love into something that approaches coherence).

So here’s the sssssynopsissss:

Jennifer Harris used to be a social outcast, but she didn’t mind so much, because she had her best friend and fellow outcast, one Cameron Quick, to help her survive the cruelty of boring, normal children. But then, one day, Cameron disappears, and if anyone knows where he’s gone, they’re not telling Jennifer. She is forced to go on without her closest friends, never knowing where he is or if he’s all right. By high school, Jennifer has transformed herself into Jenna, shedding the extra weight that used to relegate her to the fringes of the social sphere. Now, though, thin, pretty Jenna is actually one of the popular girls, funny, sociable, and adored by her friends – and her boyfriend. Yet despite all of this, Jenna never really feels like Jenna; in her heart, she’s still just chubby outcast Jennifer, still missing Cameron Quick. Then one day, Cameron reappears, and Jenna/Jennifer must (ugh, do I have to keep writing this? Jeeeezuz) confront, um… stuff. Like memories. And the past. And what made Cameron leave and Jenna/Jennifer eat. And (here I must quote the book jacket), “the drastically different paths their lives have taken” (ugh).

Boring. BOOOOORING. Boring boring BORING.

I started reading this book with some high expectations. The lovely writers at Forever Young Adult love this book and seem to worship Cameron Quick as some sort of YA Fassbender (their review of the book is here). And the GoodReads.com rating of this book is 3.64, which I guess is pretty high? I dunno. But for me, this book was truly excruciating to read. Like, thumbscrews excruciating. The kind of excruciating one experiences witnessing my Idiot Brother trying to do a Scottish accent (ye gods, the horror!).

Problem number one: the cover image. But, Robyn, you all shout, the author has no input into the cover design. This cannot count as a strike! Yes, yes, I know, calm yourselves. Still, somebody MUST be held accountable for this unforgivable deception! That, my friends, is one delicious looking cookie. I mean, it’s got freaking frosting swirled all artfully on top. That is a high class cookie. That is straight up artisanal, you dig? And yet there was not one single mention of so beautiful and clearly scrumptious a cookie being devoured at any point in this story. Not. One. I kid you not. You know me. I would never joke about dessert. It’s f***ing blasphemous.

Other offenses: the story. What the hell? That’s all I can really bring myself to write. I can’t get into details, because that would be spoiler-y, but I will try to be like Gandalf the White and talk in riddles. There may have been some sort of shared childhood trauma that made Jenna into an emotional eater and then made Cameron Quick disappear like a mob informant into the great unknown, and this childhood trauma was, a) the most cliché childhood trauma ever, and b) not at traumatic as it was made out to be.

Please please please don’t think I’m being insensitive. I have the deepest sympathy and respect for anyone who’s ever experienced even the slightest bit of what Zarr writes about, but since this is a work of fiction, I feel entitled to express my opinion. About fictional events and fictional characters. Okay?

So I just thought it was dealt with poorly. Like it was this huge spectre and then it wasn’t and then it was again. And honestly, a lot of my problems with this might have been allayed if the writing style was better. I haven’t read any of Zarr’s other books, but the language and style of Sweethearts felt listless, unfinished, and anemic. There was no joy in the way in which the words were put together, and that is perhaps the greatest failing any piece of writing can have.

The characters were similarly enervated. Jenna/Jennifer is a cipher, though perhaps her lack of characterization was due to the first-person point of view and her role as narrator and witness of the story’s events. I didn’t care for Cameron Quick or for the awkward, luke-warm “romance” (worst romance ever, guys, seriously) that sort of just existed, inexplicable and poorly portrayed, between the two protagonists.

Damn. I just did not like this book. I felt completely miserable and melancholy after I finished reading it. In fact, I seem to recall that I spent the remainder of that night crying and listening to Birdy’s cover of “Skinny Love” while I flipped through old high-school yearbooks, desperately craving pink-frosted cookies and the unrequited hate-crush of my youth who inspired so many terrible poems.

But I dunno. Maybe you’ll like it? Who the hell knows. You’ll just have to read it and see for yourself, and if you love it, you can take off your glove and give me a smack and we’ll have grass before breakfast like all the classy people do.

Best lines(s): There was actually one quote I really liked (I know, surprise, right?) It was this: “Life was mostly made up of things you couldn’t control, full of surprises, and they weren’t always good. Life wasn’t what you made it. You were what life made you.” (page number go out and get the book yourself because I can’t remember what page it was on.)

Rating: One out of five delicious, freshly-baked, still-warm vanilla shortbread cookies topped with pink frosting so sweet it makes your teeth hurt and your heart sing.

And now, Book Cat’s thoughts:

Reading this book was even more unpleasant than the events pictured above.

That’s all, folks.

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