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REVIEW:  Deeper by Robin York

REVIEW: Deeper by Robin York

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Spoiler (Trigger Warnings): Show

The heroine of Deeper is the target of revenge porn and subsequent slut-shaming; this is a major part of the book and is discussed in the review.

Dear Ms. York,

I enjoyed several New Adult books when I first discovered the genre, but my interest faded pretty quickly and I began to feel like many of the books were so similar that I may as well just re-read my favorites. The premise of Deeper sounded interesting enough to give it a shot, however, and I’m glad I did.

Caroline Piasecki sees herself as a good girl, a driven student, with career ambitions and her life mapped out. Then at the beginning of her sophomore year in college, she gets a text, and a link, that changes everything: her ex-boyfriend has posted pornographic pictures of her online, along with identifying information. The pictures were consensual, but making them public was obviously not. Caroline had gone along with what her boyfriend wanted to do, even though she had reservations about some of it - and when the relationship ended, he used that to strike out at her.

You write in the author’s note that non-consensual pornography – better known as revenge porn – sucks, and it does. It is a horrible invasion of privacy, an attempt to embarrass and shame people (and especially women) about their sexuality, opens them to harassment (or worse), and can make it very difficult to trust people in the future. For Caroline, every interaction now carries a subtext: has this person seen me naked, having sex, do they think I’m a slut, are they judging me, are the pictures why this cute guy wants to talk to me? She gets emails with obscene photos and has a constant soundtrack in her head of men slut-shaming her. Caroline doesn’t want to be a victim, and she wants to move on in her life. Her challenge is in coming to terms with the fact that legally, she can’t do much, and the internet never forgets; she has to find her way to deal with what happened, and come out stronger in a different way.

Caroline’s first reaction is to try and make everything go away, which turns out to be a lost cause. But she doesn’t hide, though she does want to. She becomes closer to West Leavitt, whom she met when they first started college. He knows about the pictures, and she knows he’s seen them, but she feels right with him. Here’s how she describes it on one occasion:

Insomnia has made me her bitch, but it doesn’t matter so much when I can hang out with West and study in my little nook. I nap after class. I’m turning into a creature of the night. It’s all right, though. I guess I’d rather be Bella Swan hanging out at the Cullen place than, you know, school Bella—all pissy and defensive, clomping around Forks High, convinced everyone hates her.

West and Caroline had kept their distance from each other on purpose. She was in a relationship and had also promised her father to stay away from West; for West, there’s no place in his life for someone he could potentially feel strongly about. He’s seen his mother’s obsessive and unhealthy relationship with his father wreck her life, and he wants better things for himself: an education, a career, financial stability, and the ability to make a good life for himself and for his younger sister, Frankie. In his world,

Assuming you’re going to get into med school is like assuming you can walk on water. It’s a fairy tale, and people who believe in fairy tales are idiots.

To accomplish his goals, West will do just about anything: work multiple jobs, almost never sleep, deal drugs, do sex work – and all of it takes a toll. Still, I wasn’t as invested in West’s part of the story as in Caroline’s, and I felt at times as though you’d gone overboard with his difficult background and its effect on him. But Caroline only takes so much of his sending mixed signals and acting like a jerk before she starts calling him out on things, which was good.  I could see how these two characters that came from very different places fit together, and I wanted them to find a way to be happy. Also, I liked that Caroline’s character arc wasn’t just about her relationship with West but also with her best friend and with the new friends she makes as she tries to figure out who and what she wants to be.

In addition to West’s background, a few other things didn’t quite work for me – one is the introductions to each chapter. In several of them, the character narrating would basically give a preview of what was about to happen, which I thought that was odd. Another is the various references to things being deeper, a deeper connection, etc. in the second half of the book. I get that this is the title and a major theme of the book, but it was repeated a few too many times. Finally, I felt that as the novel progressed, there was too much focus on Caroline and West’s sexual relationship than was needed to advance the plot, the relationship or the characters. Again, I can see why this was done: West is used to thinking of sex as a tool, Caroline wants to take charge of her sexuality after what happened to her, and both are figuring out their relationship as they go. But it was just a bit too much at times.

I should point out that Caroline and West do get a happily for now interlude, but the book does not have a happy resolution, and although the two care for each other, each of them has to head in a different direction. Their relationships with their families are also not settled, and Caroline still has to deal with the aftermath of her ex’s actions. Despite my reservations about certain aspects of this book, I’m interested enough to continue and see how things work out for them in the next one. Deeper gets a B.

Best regards,
Rose

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REVIEW:  Before You Break by Christina Lee

REVIEW: Before You Break by Christina Lee

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Dear Ms. Lee,

Last year I read and enjoyed your debut novel, All of You. Enough so that I looked forward to your next book. Before You Break is about Ella, the best friend of Avery, the heroine of All of You.

Ella’s younger brother committed suicide when she was in high school. This left a mark on her entire family. They worked through their grief and moved on with their lives, but it influenced Ella in many ways. She’s studying to be a psychologist. She works at a suicide prevention hotline.

Unfortunately, some of these things are less ideal. She’s dating a guy because of a tenuous connection to her dead brother. Hardly a reason to stick with someone under the best of circumstances and even less so when the guy is an asshole who’s cheating on you. But Ella’s boyfriend is part of a frat and through that frat, she meets Quinn.

Quinn is the university’s star catcher. He’s also not living his own life. Feeling guilty for an accident that happened when he was in high school, he’s living out the life that should have belonged to his best friend. Quinn loves working on cars, not playing baseball. He wants to open a garage, not become a business major.

Given the recent conversation about readers’ hard lines, I want to start off by assuaging any fears. There’s no cheating in this book. Ella ends things with her cheating boyfriend before starting anything with Quinn. But she didn’t end things because of Quinn (and in fact, doing so would have made me doubt the long-term viability of their relationship); rather, meeting Quinn made her realize some deficiencies in her prior relationship.

Before You Break is a novel that plays with dual identities. Ella and Quinn know each other through the frat house and Ella’s ex. They also know each other as Gabby and Daniel, the suicide prevention hotline operator and the guy who calls in when he questions why he’s still alive. Neither knows about the other relationship. Ella doesn’t know Quinn is Daniel, and Quinn doesn’t know Ella is Gabby.

This is clever and all, but I’m not convinced it adds anything to the narrative. I understand why the device is used. Quinn isn’t going to unload all his baggage to Ella. In fact, his opening up about the past is a major hurdle he has to overcome in order to start a proper relationship with her. But I found the dual identity plotline drawn out. When will Quinn find out she’s Gabby? What will Ella do when she realizes the reason behind Quinn’s reticence? These questions only keep you hooked for so long. After a while it becomes “get on with it already.” In some ways, this reminds me of the Lucas/Landon bit from Easy but not as effectively done because Before You Break is told from both the POV of Ella and Quinn, not just Ella.

That said, I really liked the brief glimpses of Ella’s family. Ella’s family is Polish and we get to see what culture played out in their home life when Ella goes home for Easter. I have a fondness for depictions of immigrant families in fiction, and this hit the spot. It’s the little details that worked: the making of the food for an extravagant meal, the men from the older generation having loud conversation outside the house, older members of the younger generation helping their littler counterparts eat their food, and the way you get sent home with tupperware after tupperware after tupperware of leftovers. It’s chaotic and loud and everyone is in your business, but it’s something I really identify with, coming from an immigrant family myself.

Before You Break is about two kindred souls. Ella’s life was changed by the suicide of her younger brother, and Quinn feels unbearably responsible for the death of his best friend, to the point of wondering why he’s still alive when his friend is not. Their home lives are also a study in contrasts: Ella’s tight-knit immigrant family and Quinn’s lonely but politically driven parents. it’s about working through the grief from losing a loved one, exorcising any responsibility you may will, and learning to live for yourself. I like these themes. In fact, I love them.

But Before You Break somehow fails to make them shine. I don’t know if it’s because of the dual identity narrative. I don’t know if it’s because it’s so somber and heavy. I might just not be in the mood for a story like this. I don’t regret reading this book but in the end, it’s a C for me.

My regards,
Jia

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