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REVIEW:  All of You by Christina Lee

REVIEW: All of You by Christina Lee

Dear Ms. Lee,

I’ve been slow to climb on the new adult train. I’ve read a few but I keep running into what I call the Trauma Wall. So much trauma. So many victimized characters. I get that angst is very popular in the genre right now, but I can only read that sort of thing in small doses. Still, I was intrigued by the idea of a virgin hero so I picked up your debut.

all-of-you-leeAvery doesn’t do relationships. One night stands and friends with benefits are more her speed. When a hot tattoo artist, Bennett, moves into the apartment upstairs, she thinks she’s met her next hook up. There’s only one problem. Bennett wants a more lasting relationship with her, and that is the one thing she can’t give him.

Like many NA protagonists, Avery has a traumatized past and the fact that she’s female should give a big clue as to what type of trauma it is. The narrative treated it as this big skeleton in the closet, but it was very obvious what had happened in her past. By the time the details were finally revealed, I was tired of all the skirting around the subject. There’s a fine balance between keeping a secret to heighten tension and just drawing it out needlessly, and I think All of You tips towards the latter.

One thing I did like about the treatment, however, is that there were lasting effects on her behavior. Avery is in complete control of her sexuality. She controls who she sleeps with and when, where, and how it happens. She’s not ashamed of her sexuality and screw anyone who thinks she should be.

Both Avery and Bennett come from similar family backgrounds: no father present while they were growing up and a neglectful mother with a tendency to date terrible men. It gives them common ground. But while that history made Avery not want to form any permanent relationships with men, it made Bennett very cautious and careful about who he has sex with.

I liked that the usual relationship dynamic was flipped. In All of You, the heroine is the one with lots of sexual experience while the hero is a virgin. I thought that reversal was great, and I got what the subversion was trying to accomplish. In other romances, the sexually experienced hero sleeps around indiscriminately until he meets the heroine, and then he stops because he’s met The One. In All of You, a similar thing happens except the gender roles are switched and that’s refreshing. But because Avery is a woman, there’s an aspect to it that’s not present in the male character equivalent. Namely, because of her history and family background, the subtext is that Avery sleeps around because she’s broken. Her own brother even implies it. Like there has to be reason why she sleeps with multiple partners beyond she wants to. And this is where the subversion starts falling apart for me. If a hero can sleep around because he’s alpha and hot, why can’t a heroine sleep around just because she’s alpha and hot? Does she need a traumatic, broken backstory to justify that behavior?

For the most part, Bennett is all right with Avery’s sexual experience but only in a theoretical context. There are a couple times in the novel when he comes face to face with her previous partners and loses it, but I found that reaction believable, sadly. Despite these scenes, I was fine with those depictions because the narrative makes a point to say he has no right to feel that way. Bennett is genuinely sorry he reacted the way he did. The same also goes for Avery. The narrative clearly says she has no right to feel jealous of the girls Bennett talks to because she’s made it clear she wants no relationship with him. She knows and Bennett calls her on it.

The main complaint I have pertains to the subplot involving Avery’s stepfather. The way that played out seemed forced and contrived. It seemed like it was present for the sole purpose of bringing Avery and Bennett together and then once that happened, the set-up required some closure.

I thought All of You was a good portrayal of two people with opposing desires falling in love. They spend a long time negotiating the ins and outs of their relationship. They go from an initial attraction to determining it wouldn’t work because they clearly want different things to trying to be purely platonic (and very much failing). I enjoy reading about evolving relationships and how they change as the people involved get to know one another and in that sense, All of You delivered. B-

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Secrets and Lies by Kody Keplinger

REVIEW: Secrets and Lies by Kody Keplinger

Dear Ms. Keplinger,

I’m a fan of your contemporary YA novels. I really like their empowered teen girl and positive female sexuality outlook. While Secrets and Lies isn’t a brand new novel-length work, I enjoy your writing enough to give shorter stories a try. Here, we have two novellas that reunite readers with characters from The DUFF and A Midsummer’s Nightmare, respectively.

Secrets-Lies-Keplinger“Abbreviations and Alliterations” features Casey and Toby from The DUFF. Casey is the best friend of The DUFF‘s heroine, Bianca, and Toby is the guy Bianca dated briefly while trying to break it off with that book’s hero, Wesley.

Both have since graduated from high school and are home from college during winter break. But things have changed for the former cheerleader and nerd, and the two eventually hook up. And much to their surprise, their relationship eventually evolves into something more. Unfortunately, Casey feels guilty about dating her best friend’s ex and rather than telling Bianca the truth, hides her relationship with Toby. This, of course, leads to some problems.

I feel conflicted about this novella. I understand that it can be awkward to date your best friend’s ex. It does feel vaguely incestuous. That said, Bianca dated Toby for such a short period of time and it wasn’t very serious. I liked that Casey was a flawed heroine, trapped in her own desire to be the perfect best friend, but it was hard to sympathize with her at times. Due to her guilt, she put off telling the truth to Bianca, which led to her telling outright lies to keep the relationship with Toby a secret. Keeping the relationship a secret only hurt Toby, who wanted to be public about this great, new girl in his life. No one likes being someone’s dirty secret. Her actions didn’t speak well of her, of her friendship with Bianca, or of her relationship with Toby. C-

The second novella, “People Worth Knowing,” reunites us with Bailey, who we first met in A Midsummer’s Nightmare as the little sister of the book’s hero. Bailey is now in high school and on the cheerleading squad. She wants to be popular but finds it easier said than done. The amount of performance necessary to fit in and play the part is exhausting and stressful.

But when the school’s queen bee takes an interest in her, Bailey thinks she’s finally joined the cool kids. Unfortunately, she soon discovers her new best friend has some questionable tactics and a cruel streak. Now she has to choose between supporting the status quo or doing what’s right, even if it means destroying her own reputation in the process.

As far as I’m concerned, “People Worth Knowing” is the stronger novella. While the romantic subplot is almost negligible, I thought the bullying storyline was well done. Like A Midsummer’s Nightmare, the novella portrays the shape bullying takes in an era of the internet and social media. I like this because it drives home the point that bullying isn’t just being beaten up after school and having your lunch money stolen. It takes other forms too.

Bailey’s dilemma was genuinely portrayed. Yes, we’d all like to think we’d do the right thing and turn in the bully, but when you’re the new girl trying to fit in with people who’ve known each other since they were five, doing the right thing might not be so easy. I also thought the twist at the end regarding the girl who was bullied put an ironic spin on a novella that might otherwise be too heavy in tone. B-

While I thought both stories were worth reading, I was also left wanting more. I feel your writing suffers at the shorter lengths because there is less room for subtlety and layers. I know it’s a limitation of the form, but not all novelists make good short story writers and vice versa. Still, fans who like revisiting old characters might enjoy these. Everyone else, start with one of the full-length novels.

My regards,

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