Monday, January 30, 2017

#CBR9 Review #02: Something Like Summer by Jay Bell

I had high hopes for this book, given the positive reviews I’d seen for it and the fact that, despite being a part of the LGBT+ “genre” the first line is “this is not a coming out story.” Now, I know I’ve talked about this subject before, and I know that these types of stories are important and can be very powerful, especially when speaking of individual’s real struggles and experiences, but man am I tired. Especially with the LGBT+ genre of movies: I’m drawn to these stories and they resonate with me because I myself identify as LGBT+, but 90% of this genre absolutely sucks (also why can’t LGBT+ romances be considered a part of the “regular” genres anyways? What, if a main character is gay or trans and deals with some of these issues but the book/film is simply filed under “romance” or “action” this is somehow misleading to the average audience? Nah). It’s all just struggles and pain and unhappiness and hyper sexuality, and I’m tired tired tired. I don't want to just accept what I'm given anymore. There has to be more. Being told that this was the first novel in a series that covers an “epic romance” I thought, maybe it will touch on some LGBT+ issues, but inevitably be like any other romance story, but unique to these two characters. Alas, I was very very disappointed, both with the story, how certain aspects are presented, and also the writing itself left a lot to be desired.

Something Like Summer is the first novel in Jay Bell’s “Something Like” series, which apparently is a collection of adjacent stories to this one, but from the perspectives of different characters (for example, the next novel covers most of the same timeframe as Something Like Summer, but from the position of the character Tim, who I will describe shortly, and later it focuses on a character named Jace, whose story begins before this one but then overlaps into the same timeline with the characters). The main character of focus is a teenager named Ben, who is openly gay in Texas in the late 90s. So of course, right off the bat, things are a little different, but not too too far removed in some senses. In any case, Ben forms a fascination with a new boy at school, named Tim. Tim is a popular, jock type, and after a seeming meet-cute, the two end up spending a lot of time together. And, well, eventually become an item. Kind of. It starts off mostly as sex, but ultimately they consider themselves boyfriends even though Tim refuses to admit that he is gay despite Ben pushing him to do so (he does reluctantly concede to the term bisexual), and Tim is still incredibly closeted with everyone around him. Hey, the teenage years are hard and they have issues, which ultimately lead to a breakup. We catch up with Ben a few years later, now in college and with a new boyfriend, Jace, who ends up being long-term. Of course, Tim somehow comes back in the picture, and we continue on over the years as Ben and Jace traverse their relationship, with Tim coming in and out at certain points. I won’t divulge too much, but there are obviously lingering feelings between Ben and Tim, and I know it’s hard to get over people if you don’t have full closure but… I don’t know. This didn’t seem as natural to me as it could have been. You know how love-triangles go, where somehow something happens so that the person in the middle doesn’t have to “choose” or somehow things work out in a way that just seems a little too laid out? In any case, who do you think Ben ends up with in the end?

A lot of the reviews I saw said that this book was incredibly emotion-inducing, and given how I tend to be an absolute emotional wreck and I figured I would at the very least be touched by some moments, but I just wasn’t at all. For a couple of reasons:

1)   The characters suck. I mean this to say that while some of the secondary characters were likable, they were not well-rounded at all and honestly seemed like one-note the whole time. As for the main characters, the only likeable one was JAce, but really, he seemed almost too perfect. Too kind, understanding, and forgiving. He was a bit older than Tim and Ben, therefore maybe making him more “wise” and “mature”, but it got to be a bit much at times. There wasn’t too much depth there. Ben and Tim, on the other hand: super unlikable and manipulative. Yet we are supposed to connect with them and feel for them somehow? There are ways to write unlikable characters that are still interesting or charismatic enough that you still kind of root for them, but this isn’t it. Ben, way too pushy and expecting too much of everyone; not understanding at all and also super fickle. He has a friend named Allison, and honestly never really seems to be there for her or to truly be her friend. She just shows herself when it’s convenient for Ben or the story. And then we have Tim, who I never understood what Ben saw in him besides a physical attraction. Ben tries to explain it later but there’s nothing there. Tim seems to take advantage of Ben’s giving nature and is also super pushy and crosses lines when he knows Ben is in a committed relationship. “But there’s another side to him”. Really? Is there? He paints and that means he’s artistique and deep? It’s not skeezy that when he’s in his 20s we see him dating a teenager? Nope, not feeling any of them.

2)   The writing was inconsistent, skipping over what should have been important conversations in dialogue (“and then we discussed this and this is how it went and how things ended up”. Um… what?), and also skipping ahead in time in order to cover ground in a way that didn’t seem entirely natural or like the previous section had really had it’s closure. There wasn’t enough for me to grab onto. Not even any quotes that I remember that stood out or resonated with me. It all seemed too matter-of-fact despite trying to take on more emotional and human topics such as love and identity. Something was lacking.

3)   Something that bothers me in a lot of LGBT+ literature and films is a preoccupation with sex. A lot of the time, it almost seems hyper-sexualized and/or fetishistic. This is a problem for me because it then often makes LGBT+ lives seem inherently NSFW or not appropriate for children, but hey guys, you know that there are LGBT+ kids, right? While sex is definitely a part of our lives as humans, that isn’t all there is. And in Something Like Summer, strong emotional connections are trying to be established, but it’s glossed over for more of a focus on the sexual interactions taking place, or that seems to the the main emphasis of the relationships in some ways (especially with Ben and Tim when they meet again later in life, during their college years). I don’t know, y’all, the whole thing seemed to put too much stock into the sexual relationships being the basis of something more. And this occurred even after both Tim and Ben described doing sexual things with other straight boys during their younger years, as though it was just what gay boys did, a part of their job to get people off. I don’t know, but everything together just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Ultimately, I did not like Something Like Summer. At all. As it began, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and kept going until the end. But I was supremely underwhelmed by everything, particularly how the ending played out. I mean, it was worth a shot to see if it could be a new series I might want to get into, but at the end of the day, I just can’t see myself sitting through any more. Especially not if I have to focus on Tim and his perspective in the next novel, considering how much I disliked his character and never understood what the big deal about him was. “But Lisa, maybe seeing things from his point of view will make you understand or like him more?” Mmm, I’m going to pass. There are so many more other books and series I would much rather try out. It didn’t take long to get through, though, so that’s a plus. Buuuut, that’s about it.

(Also I have been informed that the first book of this series is going to be made into a film, and upon finding images of the initial posters for his as I was looking for a photo of the book cover to add here, I must say it looks cheap and atrocious. The photo-shopping and editing is so bad that it looks almost like a porno. Or kind of like how Chuck Tingle’s book covers look! I know y’all know what I mean.)

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Monday, January 9, 2017

#CBR9 Review #01: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A new year, and new books to read and review! Yaaay!

This book was a part of one of the CBR group discussions last year, or the year before, wasn’t it? I knew it sounded familiar but alas, had not gotten around to it until now. I’ll be honest I had no idea what Station Eleven was about when I started to read it, but I received it as a gift from a friend and I must say, she did a great job choosing something that she thought I would like! It looks like quite a few other people have enjoyed it, too. But let us dive in, shall we?

Station Eleven begins with the death of an actor on stage. From there, a deadly flu takes out the majority of the population of earth, and we are left viewing the lives of the survivors. Those we encounter, however, are all somehow connected to this public figure whose death preceded these events. While most zombie/illness outbreak movies and stories that I have seen tend to focus on the immediate downfall or just a few weeks after, Station Eleven deals with not just when everything started falling apart, but years later as people start to find their groove and develop a new, albeit smaller and simpler world. And when I say years, I mean years: 20 years later when there are children growing up who have never experienced the world before the flu. It begs the question of how lives are differently affected by the world having experienced it or not, or even simply knowing about it or not. 

Another difference which really set Station Eleven apart for me in terms of other outbreak/post-apocalyptic stories is that this one is not focused on the violence and technical hardship of the lives (though there are some aspects of that present), but it is a more emotional look at the individuals and how they have responded to the world now: those who want to find others for connection, who want to keep the arts going for their passions, those who want to rebuild, and those who want to control. Since years have passed, some of the violence and initial turmoil has died down and people are now really coming into how their lives will be for the time being. It’s an intimate look at how different lives are interconnected and how people all handle trauma, disaster, and even the general events of life so differently. 

There is a really effective balance between darkness and light in this book: a gentleness, but also an honesty of emotion? The only thing that I can really complain about is that a few of the characters almost seemed extraneous, or that they were going to play much bigger parts than they did? At least, in my mind that is what it felt like. In all honesty, even though I had no idea what this book was going to be about, I ended up enjoying it immensely. There is pain, but also hope, and I absolutely love that.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]