The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
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Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 11th April 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. 

30653853Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness-except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I received an eARC from Penguin in an exchange for an honest review.

So this is a very cute book, like super cute.

Imagine a rom-com, with very little conflict and lots of teen drama, but so much better because not everyone is white and not everyone is straight.

The Upside of Unrequited was a very realistic and lovely insight into an alternative family lifestyle that’s loving and just as normal as any other. It’s also a very complicated look at the self-esteem of teenage girls and how new romance can be affected by that. I very much related to main character Molly now, more so than I would have when I was as a teenager (skinny and in a long term relationship), but I still find that appealing and it’s what makes Molly so loveable.

It’s great to read a book where LGBT people are happy and living a happy life. It’s possible, but many LGBT books concern themselves with so much drama and death and suffering. While I understand there has to be some drama within a book to actually have a plot, I found it refreshing that it didn’t ruin everything in it’s wake.

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History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 9th February 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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OCD-afflicted seventeen-year-old, Griffin, has just lost his first love – his best friend, ex-boyfriend and the boy he believed to be his ultimate life partner – in a drowning accident. In a desperate attempt to hold onto every last piece of the past, a broken Griffin forges a friendship with Theo’s new college boyfriend, Jackson. And Griffin will stop at nothing to learn every detail of Theo’s new college life, and ultimate death. But as the grieving pair grows closer, readers will question Griffin’s own version of the truth – both in terms of what he’s willing to hide, and what true love ultimately means…

25014114I don’t read a lot of sad because because surprise, they make me sad. I don’t like feeling sad; I often feel sad for no reason anyway…I don’t need to make more room in my life for things to make me feel sad. And you would think I would think logically when picking up an Adam Silvera book because guess what, THEY’RE SAD.

But I love everything about Adam Silvera’s writing because it’s so realistic, and I often latch onto his characters and find something relatable about them. In this case, it was the main character’s jealousy. This has happened before in other books like Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins and Solitaire by Alice Oseman because there’s just something overwhelming powerful in a book when it feels like it’s talking directly to you.

Not to mention while I was feeling all these things, MORE feelings were piled on. It’s not a spoiler to say that the story involves funerals and grieving and memories and it just HURTS SO MUCH. I had to keep taking breaks. Trust me, there were funny parts, and really lovely parts that didn’t make me burst into tears, but to summarize this book into one word would be; heart-wrenching.

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As I Descended by Robin Talley

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

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I’m not a massive fan of retellings.

True, I haven’t read many, but I guess that’s part of the criteria for ‘not liking it’. Retellings are often retellings of stories that I don’t really know about in the first place. Unless, it’s a retelling of a book that I do know, then I may get excited, but I purely picked up As I Descended because while it may be a retelling of Macbeth (a play I haven’t read), it was specifically an LGBT retelling.

Que fireworks and cheering!

So this story is very weird; it’s knee deep in magical realism and things happening for no logical reason. There were times I was screaming at the characters to act with more common sense, and I assumed when they didn’t it was because the characters from Macbeth didn’t. I don’t know. I haven’t read Macbeth, have I? And while I was surprised at everything they did because it was crazy and so unexpected, I did find it quite frustrating, but I assume Macbeth must be quite frustrating too.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters apart from Mateo, who seemed to be the only one who was self-aware and not acting strange, unlike the others who did silly things for silly reasons. But hey, so is the nature of a retelling – a modern day story with a similar plot to an older, maybe more dramatic story is always going to come across a little odd, but I still enjoyed the eeriness and the spookiness of the setting.

Will I read another Robin Talley book? Most definitely. Will I put retellings on the back burner? Most definitely.

Queerbaiting: It’s Time To Stop

I’ve never started a blog post angry.

And maybe, some would say that I should come back to it later, collect my thoughts so that I can write this piece with…I don’t know, a more level head, instead of a hot one?

Well, no, I’m not going to do that, because I’m tired™. I’m so tired of the entertainment industry and the lengths it goes to hurt others and in doing so, form the very dangerous opinions of others.

Continue reading “Queerbaiting: It’s Time To Stop”

Fetishisation & LGBT Representation

So a television show has taken over my life. It’s not the first time it’s happened.

I recently started watching a Norwegian show called SKAM, which feels like a tamer version of Skins where I actually like all the characters and the plot lines aren’t juvenile. Skam is currently in it’s third season, and each season focuses on a specific character who all attend this one high school in Oslo. It’s a small time show, and has not garnered much attention until season three; where the main character is teenage boy, Isak, who is coming to terms with the possibility that he might not be straight and falls in love with another boy.

This sudden surge has got a lot of people questioning just why it is suddenly popular, but I think it would be stupid to not assume it’s because this show has two cute boys kissing in it. And the original fans of SKAM have noticed this too.

This does not apply to SKAM alone; shows, films, and books have all gained attention if there is a couple you can ship, and while seeing queer canon couples in media is hard evidence of progress, it can also pose many problems.

I’ve written many blog posts about books with LGBT representation, about why personally seek out LGBT fiction and also explain why all the stories I write include LGBT people in them. It is a subject close to my heart, and being queer myself, I think it’s very important to represent the diversity of sexuality in many ways, but especially on the subject of puberty and your teenage years.

It is why when I saw a gif of two male characters kissing, I sought out SKAM.

But there is a fine line between being desperate for LGBT representation that you’ll consume anything with it in, and fetishising queer relationships. It’s difficult, because fetishisation can very easily come across as support; having a whole army of viewers/readers/consumers enjoying a story that is predominantly about a queer couple/character and being full on vocal about it speaks volumes to writers, showrunners, producers, studios, and publishers. It is telling these gatekeepers that ‘this is the content we want to see, we want LGBT people in the stories we share, so please include them.’

However, at the same time, you have these same fans not enjoying content when there are no sexual scenes. At the moment in the SKAM story line (from when I drafted this post), Even, Isak’s love interest, has not been around for a few days (and is not replying to Isak’s texts). SKAM releases clips of the upcoming episode every day to create suspense, and it sometimes feels like I’m watching reality television. It leaves the viewer begging for more content where they will see Isak happy (he’s very stressed and sad at the moment) by us all chanting to bring Even back. But at the same time, are we wanting Even back so that Isak and Even can make out? If that’s the case, what is the point in the heart-wrenching story of Isak coming to terms with his sexuality? Of homophobia in his high school? Of his family situation?

These are not examples of being an LGBT ally, nor is it being supportive of LGBT relationships in fiction. This is fetishisation; when you do not want a story, when you could not care less about the struggles and the discrimination that LGBT people deal with on the daily, you just want to see two hot guys kiss. And it’s the same reason we look down on lesbian porn that is purely for the male gaze (and not actually for queer women).

I feel like this kind of viewership/readership is what creates queerbaiting. Queerbaiting is a downright stupid thing that is a result of consumers wanting to see ‘cute LGBT relationships’, and writers/producers/studios finding a way to gain that viewership without pissing off conservatives and the average viewer. Shippers will be able to identify subtle hints, while the rest of the nation can peacefully watch their shows without having to be confronted with ‘the gays’.

Examples of this include shows like Teen Wolf, that continually pointed out the possibility of Stiles being bisexual, including amping up shipping opportunities with another character, Derek Hale. However, if you completely disregard that idea, you can easily ignore it, as it is clearly not the case. And, as producers and writers have said in interviews, Stiles is straight. Yet they still include queerbaiting within their show to make sure they do not lose that viewership.

SKAM, like many shows, novels, and films (although less so), are front runners in the demand for more representation. They are unabashedly diverse, representative, and supportive of the LGBT community and their stories. I think if you love to ship (as we all do), I hope you are able to take a step back and consider why you are doing so. Of course, you want to see them together because you love them together, but it’s important to not boil down queer story lines to just their sex scenes. It is bad for representation as a whole and does no good in the long run.

And don’t get me started on real life shipping.

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