Sometimes the blurb about a book completely sucks me in. I don’t pre-read others’ reviews before I read a book. I like to go in unspoiled and without expectations, if at all possible. I think it’s an injustice to a book to enter in with expectations. Sometimes you can’t help it; you love the author, or you love the subject matter, or a friend highly recommended it. But if you can go in with no prior knowledge I think that’s best.
The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher popped up on Netgalley (blah blah Netgalley gave me a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review blah blah) and the blurb sold me. It was a YA novel about suicide and slut-shaming in a high school. Um. Yes. OK. These are both topics I find interesting and timely and therefore I thought would make for an interesting book. (I ignored the fact that the title reminded me of that Saturday Night Live “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch with Sean Connery: “I’ll take SWORDS for $200, Alex.” *sigh* “That’s S-Words, Mr. Connery.”)
You know how awesome movie trailers are? Like, you’ll go to a movie, and you’ll watch the trailers (and to me, the trailers are pretty much my favorite part of the movie experience, and my dad always laughs at how excited I get about trailers and then people always TALK during them and I have to glare all around at the talkers) and you’re all “I MUST SEE ALL OF THESE” and then you see them and they’re not good at ALL because you were bait-and-switched by the damn awesome trailer?
This blurb was totally a bait-and-switch. Because this book was…um…yeah. Not good.
The IDEA was good. At least it started out that way. There was a solid idea in place. Poor writing and a seeming lack of follow-through made it all fall, like a delicious, yet flat, soufflé. Dammit. WHY ARE YOU RUINING MY SOUFFLÉ.
You probably want some plot, right? OK, I can do that. Angie walked in on her best friend Lizzie having sex with her (Angie’s) boyfriend on prom night. Angie’s a pretty, popular cheerleader. The school immediately turned on quiet little Lizzie and started calling her a slut. Writing it on lockers. Whispering it to her. Shoving her in the halls. She commits suicide not long after.
Angie blames herself, and everyone else who drove Lizzie to suicide, so after someone writes “Suicide Slut” on the lockers in Lizzie’s handwriting after she dies and starts putting pages from Lizzie’s secret diary in people’s lockers, she decides to figure out exactly what happened to Lizzie.
See? That sounds kind of good, right?
The writing was at about an 8th-grade level. The characters were all cardboard cutouts that said things and did things no one would ever do. Motivations popped up out of nowhere that were completely out of line with the character we’d come to know. There was a big twist, I suppose, if you want to call it that, but it was SO OUT OF LEFT FIELD that it was more laughable than shocking.
I read this book and do you know what it made me? It made me angry.
If she was going to write about suicide, slut-shaming culture among teenagers, and teens struggling with their sexuality (that was a plot point, as well), which are all valid and important things that need to be written about and talked about and exposed and brought to light in our culture, then dammit, you almost have a RESPONSIBILITY to do it justice. These aren’t joke topics. These aren’t topics to be taken lightly. These are topics that actual people are struggling with every day, and to write poorly about them, when teens might come to this book looking for some damn understanding, for someone who might get them, even a little, even for a little while, and they’d get this book? This shoddily-written book where no one can be related to, where the topics are only being used for shock value, where the writing is circuitous and terrible and nothing is taken with the right amount of gravity?
No. This kind of infuriated me. No, not kind of. It did. It DID infuriate me.
Books are more than paper and glue (or e-ink on your e-reader.) They mean things. They should have some import, especially when they promise to be about serious topics. And when they only use those serious topics to pique interest, and hiding behind that is an author who can’t write well enough to pull it off, who, honestly, I think was exploiting the seriousness for in order to snake-oil people in?
No. Not allowed.
Sorry, Chelsea Pitcher. I won’t pick up a single other thing you ever write. This book is the literary equivalent of writing about whatever the hot-button topic of the day is in order to play the SEO game. I’m savvier than that. I hope your teen readers are, too.
And, if there are any teens reading? If you want a better book about any of these issues, you contact me. I’ll steer you in the right direction, to an author who actually gives a shit and has the prowess to back that up. That is absolutely my promise to you. You deserve better, and I can send you to books that have that. I’d be happy to, if to just give you a moment’s peace from whatever teenage hell you’re going through. No snake-oil here, promise. Some things need to be taken seriously. I get that. Man, do I get that. And you deserve an author who does, too.