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REVIEW: Handcuffs by Bethany Griffin

Dear Ms. Griffin,

038573550201lzzzzzzzI’m always up for reading more young adult novels.   In fact, reviewing more YA novels is one of my more nefarious goals for Dear Author.   But your debut reminded me why “problem” YA novels often don’t work for me.

Parker Prescott is an ice princess, both self-identified and labelled by friends and family.   After all, it’s better to be an ice princess than it is to be pathologically shy.   Ice princess means choice is involved.   Shyness implies a character flaw.   When you’re a teenager seeking acceptance, one is definitely preferable over the other.

Parker has the usual teen problems.   A family that doesn’t understand her.   An older sister who’s the beloved golden child who can do no wrong.   A younger brother who’s the cherished miracle baby.   A hot ex-boyfriend she’s still in love with.   A cool best friend she wishes she were more like.   An enemy determined to ruin her reputation as revenge for a past wrong.   A rival for her ex-boyfriend’s affections.   I think that’s my main problem with the book.   It has all the pieces we expect to find in a “problem” YA but they don’t immediately come together in a way that’s coherent or logical, let alone present them in a fresh, original fashion.

I found the first half of the book to be disjointed and episodic.   Some readers don’t mind episodic books but this went beyond that for me because I often couldn’t figure out what the point of many scenes were.   The story became clearer in the second half when the truth about Parker’s older sister, her stalker, and how they both impacted the present come to light.   I can’t help but wonder if I would have liked the book more if these things were given more importance in the first half.   Subtle hinting and foreshadowing is one thing, but the second half almost read like it came from a different novel.

The handcuffs of the title refer an incident in which Parker’s parents catch Parker handcuffed to a chair in her father’s office by her ex-boyfriend as part of a sexual game.   But given the title and its focus in the book’s blurb, I expected the scene to have more importance than it did.   As it was, it felt almost gimmicky.   I realize cover blurbs can be very deceptive, but even the second time handcuffs came up in the narrative felt gimmicky.   Perhaps I wouldn’t think this way if the storyline culminating in the second handcuffs incident had carried more weight than it did.   But again, it read like an afterthought than a major part of the novel.

The uncertainty in Parker’s relationship with her nameless ex-boyfriend (we never did learn his name, did we?), while true to life, didn’t exactly make for the most gripping read.   When writers say real life doesn’t always translate to interesting fiction, I guess this is what they meant.   Truthfully, I started getting very annoyed with it and once I reached the end, my reaction was that’s it?   I don’t even want to go into Parker’s sister and her romantic problems, if you could even call them “romantic.”   Suffice it to say, I was a little creeped out by the end.

I realize I sound like I’m coming down on problem novels, but that’s not the case.   I like a well-written problem novel.   My issue with Handcuffs is that it skims many different teen problems without delving deep in any of them.   Sex, being true to yourself, popularity, perceived reputations, bullying, alcoholism, domestic abuse, date rape, stalking, and family relationships are the ones that come immediately to mind.   I could easily be missing some more.   That’s a lot for one novel.   I’d venture to say that’s probably just too much. C-

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or ebook format from Sony Store.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at jia@dearauthor.com!

16 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Dec 22, 2008 @ 16:54:54

    The handcuffs of the title refer an incident in which Parker's parents catch Parker handcuffed to a chair in her father's office by her ex-boyfriend as part of a sexual game.

    0_o !!!!

    I see YA novels have come a long way since I was a gel.

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  2. Nicole
    Dec 22, 2008 @ 20:20:44

    I like YA novels, but personally, I tend to stay away from the problem ones. I lean more towards the fantasy/mythology ones.

    Thanks for the review. I’d also like to see more YA reviewed here.

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  3. Julie Robinson
    Dec 22, 2008 @ 22:18:48

    Call me an old fogey, but I am appalled that this cover and title are YA fiction. That being said, Jia, I appreciate your thorough review, since I have not read the book. Most stories do focus on GMC. So it sounds like the author could have used the many different themes to write several novels instead, which would have then been more profitable for her. Julie

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  4. Ann Somerville
    Dec 22, 2008 @ 22:24:59

    @Julie Robinson:
    What’s wrong with the cover?

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  5. Julie Robinson
    Dec 22, 2008 @ 22:31:26

    Ah, it’s just the implication of the handcuffs.
    Julie

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  6. Jane
    Dec 22, 2008 @ 22:33:59

    @Julie Robinson The handcuffs thing bothered me as well. I remember commenting on it when I saw the deal published in PM.

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  7. Ann Somerville
    Dec 23, 2008 @ 02:54:31

    @Julie Robinson:

    Ah. I can only just see a hand – the image is too dark for details.

    I do find it ironic that it’s perfectly okay for American teenagers to be told how to have kinky sex, but not how to get pregnant while doing it.

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  8. karmelrio
    Dec 23, 2008 @ 10:03:45

    I haven’t read this book, but when I saw the title “Handcuffs” and a genre of “YA”, something in my admittedly libertine brain went “YA my ass.” Sexuality + handcuffs? This is adult subject matter. Does anyone know how old this teenaged heroine is? Fourteen? Or eighteen? When you bring handcuffs and sexual games into the mix, I think her age becomes a key consideration. And regardless of her age, I question the decision to market this as a YA book.

    I’m 100% against censoring a child’s reading material – if they can get their hands on adult books and understand what they’re reading, more power to them – but I’m frankly appalled at the marketing decision here. Handcuffs? YA? Come on.

    I have a question for the parents out there: How many of you wouldn’t have an absolute COW if you saw your fourteen year old daughter curled up on the couch reading a book titled “Handcuffs?”

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  9. Jia
    Dec 23, 2008 @ 15:17:30

    Parker is 16 in the novel.

    And the reactions here remind me exactly why I felt the handcuffs angle was overplayed and gimmicky. The scene in question isn’t longer than a page or two and even in the context of the novel as a whole, it doesn’t carry the weight that I suspect was intended.

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  10. Julie Robinson
    Dec 23, 2008 @ 20:34:04

    Jia,

    That’s why I said I liked your analysis of it. It sounds like a ‘busy’ book, and it makes me wonder how any emotional depth can be explored and resolved when there are so many issues to address.

    Julie

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  11. Julie Robinson
    Dec 23, 2008 @ 21:10:16

    Karmeiro,

    You expressed it well. I wouldn’t want my 17-year old SON to read it. I would hope that in my 17 years as a rape crisis phone counselor that He’s been raised so that he doesn’t even think of treating girls in the manner implicated by the title and the short scene in the book. Because BDSM is s lifestyle choice made by adults not YA, involving a lot of trust and emotional intimacy between partners.

    As far as abstinence programs go, we have quite a few social/hospital programs (as well as church seminars) available here in America. And Drug Prevention programs. And Battered Woman’s Programs. And Family Counseling programs, and Child Advocacy Centers, and . . .
    Sorry, as a social worker, I sometimes have to refer callers to specific agencies that are better trained to handle the particular problem the caller is dealing with . .

    All in all, with regards to the book review, it does sound like the whole concept of the title is a gimmick to promote the idea and sell the book. I mean, when I read a book involving handcuffs, I want the handcuffs to have a major play in the story, so to speak. Not just a short scene!

    BTW, thanks Jane, but what is PM?—–Publishers Monthly?

    Julie

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  12. Jia
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 10:58:24

    @Julie Robinson: PM = Publishers Marketplace.

    ReplyReply

  13. Julie Robinson
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 11:23:17

    Thanks.

    ReplyReply

  14. Babbie Rosenthal
    Jan 14, 2009 @ 12:39:16

    I just became aware of this book from a piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal, extolling “Handcuffs” and its local author. I will commit the cardinal sin of commenting upon a book I have no intention of reading- just to say that this review has confirmed my worst fears. How wonderful that teenage bondage fiction has been written by a high school English teacher! She must be a real student favorite!
    According to the interview, she holds some interesting attitudes :”You learn things by reading because you learn that other people have different experiences than you and other people have similar experiences as you,” Griffin said. “It’s not supposed to be, ‘Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex.’ While I know ( from personal experience) that misquotes and misinformation abound in such interviews, I am appalled that this is a teacher’s response. Well, Mrs. Faith (her married name), it seems you need to add, “Do try bondage, just don’t get caught!” We can quite clearly see what it is that Mrs. Faith wishes to teach.
    Other (quite gushing ) reviews I have read have praised her capture of teen and family life. Can her work capture an audience without the kink factor? Her next novel will be about a bisexual teen in a downtown Louisville neighborhood, a good choice to keep the curiosity level up. There may be a good ear and some real talent there, but I question what I consider this woman’s lack of a sense of responsibility and judgment .

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  15. kerrie bloomfield
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 02:30:59

    Wow, if your gonna take the time to write a huge review, you might want to read the book first.
    I personally, loved it. As a sixteen year old girl, I didn’t find this book inappropriate. It was deep and absolutely addicting.
    Teenagers are growing up faster these days. Its something to get used to.
    An artist”s expression should not be limited.

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  16. Babbie Rosenthal
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 13:24:43

    Well, Kerrie, if you are going to take the time to read a “huge review”, you should work on your reading comprehension skills. These are all just our own opinions, and everyone has one.
    We were all young once, dear. There certainly were books that we read surreptitiously (with the “good parts” underlined) and passed around to each other in high school way back in the ancient ’70′s, but they were published for adult consumption. My point was that I felt that it was not appropriate for a Teacher to be providing that sort of “moral guidance”. My belief is that teachers have a higher responsibility when it comes to their influence on our youth, than the average person. In my day, teachers took that sort of book away from you – now they write them for you! See the difference? Yes, “times change”; but all change is not, in and of itself, good.

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