My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: Some of you might think you know what I’m going to say about this novel from the rating, but honestly, the words don’t come that easily. I’m not going to start this review with comparisons to a certain other work that could be easily ascertained (one that I personally read and loathed with every fiber of my being). Instead I’m going to start with a bit of meditation. I have to wonder what makes a person write a work with such a sheer level of pure ignorance about a group and then tries to justify that it’s supposed to help others, who may not be a part of that group, understand the experience.
There is no understanding here. Just complete demonization in a society that’s too fabricated to feel real, characters that feel like marionettes dancing upon a stage with unseen strings leading them along, emotional ties that feel too forced and familiar to the majority that we know in our society to the point they’re glorified while the minority is continuously ostracized, and too extreme to the point where it loses any kind of reach it’s supposed to lend.
Ms. Preble, you dropped the ball hard with this book. And you fail to understand the struggles of GLBT people with your crass representation of their struggles, their love, their well-being, and the strive for togetherness in our society. I would never recommend this book for anyone, let alone a young adult.
We need to sit down and have an open discussion on the thematic of reverse discrimination novels. You guys know I would never try to tell other writers how to write/what to write about, but when you’re tackling tough subjects like prejudice and discrimination against any measure of a minority or group – whether it’s a racial, gender, religious, sexual orientation or any grouping you could think about, you need to have an idea of the issues those groups face, the experiences they have, and an intimacy to the matter that allows readers a point of connection. In many reverse discrimination novels – it takes a majority group and puts that group in the position of the minority group, supposedly to place the reader, who may identify with the normal majority group in some way, in the “eyes” of the minority. Which means dealing with the kind of conflicts that minority group has to deal with in our regular society.
Yet writing this particular scenario in a way that comes across successfully is never so easily ascertained. In order to understand the experience of discrimination and understand the meaning behind deeply rooted prejudices, you have to have an understanding of the differences between BOTH groups and what the divisions between them are. That means examining the physical, mental, emotional, ideological among other designations that may go into that. It really isn’t enough to simply “flip the script” and apply certain slurs or language or experiences attributed to one group to another group in order to have the reader see vicariously through these scenarios. There needs to be a level of responsibility and care in the presentation of the divisions between these groups and a coming of terms.
Laura Preble’s “Out” is supposed to be a reverse discrimination novel about gender identity/sexual orientation. In the book, Chris is the son of a wealthy, powerful pastor who is betrothed to a man well above his age, and lives in a society where same-sex couples have predominance (there are no bisexual, transsexual, or other various groups in this novel, which further complicates the veracity of the claim that this is supposed to promote understanding of sexual orientation and identity).
Let’s establish the divisions in this work: Perpendiculars (a.k.a. Perps) are straight couples, Parallels are same-sex couples. I’ll admit these particular groups bothered me for implications on the level of the naming. When you think of a Perp, you think of a perpetrator – a bad guy, someone subject to the law for committing a crime. This is almost the exact opposite problem of Victoria Foyt’s novel “Revealing Eden” where Foyt terms the minority group “Pearls” and notes the precious name to be a “slur”. I promise that will be the only reference I make to Foyt’s work from here on out in this review, because I don’t want to draw too many links, even as the books have the same base level of problematic presentation. I question the naming of the groups also because it has underlying issues with the context of the book that I’ll delve into later in this review. Parallel seems like it matches the same sex designation but it seemed fairly simpleton to me. I decided to go with it though, just to see where the novel would take it.
Things take a turn in Chris’s life when he meets Carmen, a young woman who just so happens to be the daughter of the person who leads the Perp (Perpendicular) League, charged for punishing, even exterminating, Perps in the society that Preble has built. Reason? For going against the status quo, among other matters. He falls in love with her in the most arguably quick measure I could consider. (*starts singing* Ba-da-ba-ba “I’m an instalove machine, and I won’t work for nobody but yo-ou…”).
Considering this is an environment where being a “Perp” is dangerous to one’s livelihood, the two have to keep their relationship under wraps amid a society controlled by the Church (i.e. Chris’s father), which controls many other aspects of the society including the government and the media. One could think of this as a typically structured romantic dystopian novel (at first) that’s supposed to take place in some futuristic imaging of the United States, under a society where same sex couple mating practices are controlled by the government and any aberration against that structure is a threat to its constitution. Chris and Carmen are aware of this, and the story comes to a head when efforts taken not only to solidify their “love” are noted, but also to overthrow the powers that be in the Church hierarchy, including Chris’s betrothed and father.
To divert a touch from the work, I have to bring in some facet of the author’s background, which she’s mentioned in several conversations in defense of the novel written. Preble is a GSA advocate and PFLAG mother, and she claims it’s a “love story” for straight couples to see how same sex couples are persecuted and discriminated against.
Regardless of Preble’s background or intentions or intended audience for this respective work, it does not change the fact that the writing speaks for itself. And the writing here promotes a homophobic agenda that not only demonizes the relationships and differences between same sex and straight couples, but it also introduces a number of other disturbing assertions – like the portrayal of religion, sexual advances, rape, reproduction, among other measures.
Now that you know the basic structure of the story, I’m going to let loose on just about every criticism I could make of this novel, because it is among the worst that I’ve read in ANY spectrum of literature, whether young adult or not. I have two distinct categories I’m going to divide my critique by: the WRITING and the actual STORY itself. Let’s begin with the writing.
This story is so mediocre in its particular structuring that I’m, frankly, very surprised and appalled that very few (at the time of this review) seem to point it out or willing to critique it. This is intended to be a YA novel, but the protagonist voice (a 17-18 year old) sounds much younger than he actually is – with a scattered thought process that makes it difficult to follow and connect with. He doesn’t have a deep POV that makes it easy to feel what he feels, experience what he experiences in the heat of the moment. Much of Chris’s narrative notes the wrongness of the persecution he faces for who he realizes he is, but it’s very forced down the throat of the reader, in just about every chapter of this novel. Another thing is that the tone of the overall work is a complete mismatch with the gravity of the world that the characters face. I felt like Chris’s tone, especially in the early parts of the work, described the torment and persecution of Perps in a humored, offhand manner that quickly skirts through the more difficult aspects of the world, including the arranged relationships, the mating practices, the concentration camp-like measures that Perps are sent to ultimately to be “reformed”, among other measures of the scant worldbuilding.
Then you have to consider that this particular work falls into so many structural YA dystopian clichés that it’s difficult not to notice them – including the instalove relationship of the main couple, the lust the character feels for the MC (even the note that he makes of considering stalking her – how that’s considered romantic, I have no idea). The name dropping of different brands of automobiles were very weird as well.
That leads me into a good branch point to consider the story. I told myself that I would quote few passages considering the respective length of this review, so I’m going to try to pick the ones that are most representative of the problems in this work. have a hard time writing this particular portion of the review without feeling deeply rooted anger for the portrayals. Preble might think it’s okay to feel angry at this work. Yet my sentiments are not on the part of the injustices in this work, like perhaps it was intended to evoke. I’m angry at the utter mishandling of the story, the issues, and the insinuations made here about GLBT and straight couples. It’s messed up.
At its heart, “Out” is a dystopian novel taking place within a more extremist, controlled society compared to our own (it takes place in an alternate United States, apparently). The distinction of Parallels versus Perpendiculars and those designations in the scheme of this novel with no medium between somewhat baffle me. How are people supposed to find a point to identify with if Parallels are these tightly controlled, religiously diehard fanatics?
“We must fight the good fight, save those sinners or convert them, do whatever needs to be done, with love, of course.” He stares up at heaven, as if waiting for a message. And then… a slight increase in tension and intensity: “We Parallels have a duty to uplift and support the misguided brothers and sisters, to save them from themselves. Perpendiculars are children of God also, simply children gone astray.” He focuses on the floor, hands folded. And then… wait for it… he lifts his chin and, eyes blazing, points at some unlucky person in the third pew. “What have you done today to help God fix the situation?” he thunders. People squirm uncomfortably.
Oh, yes. Perpendiculars. I know, it’s wrong, and if Perpendicular couples lived freely, society would go to hell, there’d be chaos and unplanned babies; God wants Parallels to be parents because they choose the experience. With Perps, it’s all lust and gratification, no thought to the future. Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, right? Parallel relationships are clean, safe, sanctioned by the church. (Chapter 1)
This is coming from the very uncertain perspective of Chris, the protagonist. But Chris contradicts himself in a number of different points throughout the narrative (I would argue the narrative as a whole contradicts itself in many points. ) He falls in love with Carmen, and when he’s dealing with these respective (and by his terms, “sinful”) feelings, there are people coming out of the woodwork supporting his identity as a Perpendicular, even when it’s charged as a morally wrong construct in the society, punishable by torment or eradication. Sense this does not make in the worldbuilding, nor does it make sense in the realm of identification.
There’s also the matter that Chris is betrothed to Jim McFarland, a powerful political figure in the realm of the church in this society. Let’s list a few considerations (in no particular order) with this respective relationship:
1. Jim is at least twice Chris’s age. So imagine an 17-18 year old being forced to marry a guy who’s closer to his father’s age than not.
2. Chris DOES NOT LOVE Jim, he NEVER does. The relationship is NOT consensual. Matter in point, Chris makes this clear to his father in Chapter 1 of the novel, and Chris’s father says love has nothing to do with it, that it’s a political/religious tie. That’s an unhealthy mentality and measure in a novel that’s supposed to illustrate the importance and equivalence of love. It also portrays religion and political measures in a negative, irrational light. I was appalled personally when one scene shows Jim making an unwanted sexual advance toward Chris. Even when Chris is touched by Jim in a bathroom encounter, it’s an unwanted measure:
He follows me. “What is wrong with you?” He sounds angry. “Are you that pure and virginal that you can’t even stand a man touching your hand?” I say nothing. (Chapter 12)
What does purity and virginity have to do with anything here? Chris does NOT love Jim, and that should clear regardless of the same-sex/straight couple variations in this work. Jim should not be touching him, period.
Carmen’s introduction is equally infuriating because, being the daughter of a League designed to get rid of Perps, she seems to easily dismiss her ties with it and call it “bullshit.” I kept asking why and the narrative gives contradicting viewpoints that don’t really make any kind of sense.
As I read through the work, I became more angry at some of the insinuations made. The underlying subtext of the narrative seem to suggest that the straight couple alliance between Chris and Carmen is the essential pairing because of the mechanics and religious ties of the relationship, not because of the affection (which is very loosely drawn up until this point) between the two.
This isn’t wrong. My body can’t lie. God made me this way. This is right; we fit. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m telling the truth. (Chris, Chapter 8)
The second sensual encounter (in the next quoting) seems to have more of a romantic leaning, but I couldn’t help but have an awful sense of discomfort for the whole “fitting” tie:
Silence sits between us. Sounds of the forest fill in… night birds, gust of wind, creaking of tree limbs, and far away, the sluggish rush of a nearly frozen brook. I cup her head in my hand, my fingers threaded through the silk of her hair, and pull her to me. We fit together so well, two puzzle pieces— arms entwined, legs curling around each other, her face fitting into the hollow of my neck. All my world is her scent, her curve, her line of jaw, the contour of her hips as they rise to meet me. (Chapter 10)
I understand in terms of a romantic tie in its many dimensions – physical, mental, emotional, sensual, etc. – that people feel like they share a very rooted connection, but why emphasize the word “fit” here when there are other implications (i.e. biological) behind that term, particularly if Preble meant to show their romantic connection by its lonesome? Romantic connections are more than just a physical spectrum, and this is never established in Preble’s work. The sex even feels mechanical and inappropriately noted because the main character didn’t want to “die a virgin” (Chapter 8) and there was even the mention of Chris’s physical response to his visual arousal in one part of the book. How do the main characters even know the mechanics of Perpendicular sex and this physical enactments of it coming from a same-sex society that seems to be rooted tightly around them and something they, supposedly, knew all their lives? I didn’t understand that in the novel at all. It isn’t explained. Not to mention there’s very little uncertainty, which often comes with respect to first time sexual encounters, on either Chris or Carmen’s part. It didn’t feel realistic to me.
Then we come to the measure of reproduction and rape, and I’m going to let one particularly telling quote stand by its lonesome illustrate one of the points where I felt the most fury.
“Well, Perpendiculars did one thing real well that Parallels did not. Can you guess what it was?”
“No,” I say desperately.
“Reproduce.” She nods as if she’s just said something profound. “Perpendiculars can just reproduce at will. And they can rape, and there can be offspring from that rape. They can accidentally make a baby in the heat of passion. These are all things that a can make society… a little bit unmanageable.” (Chapter 9)
I’m going to be blunt about what this particular passage insinuates.
1. It’s saying by nature – straight couples (Perpendiculars) can rape and somehow that’s “the heat of passion” if a baby is “accidentally” made.
2. It insinuates that same-sex (Parallel) couples cannot be raped.
If Preble meant something entirely different with respect to this passage, she did NOT say it in the context of the book. She didn’t even knock the idea down. How the HELL that right? It’s not only a crass portrayal of the horrible experience of rape in any dimension (ironically I’m reading a non-fiction book about rape around the time of reading this), but it demonizes both groups with its particular assertion. I simply cannot believe that this is in a YA book meant to promote understanding of love and consensual relationships among different sexual orientations. I really cannot believe the level of ignorance in this inclusion, among others in this book.
The novel then goes on to have Chris and Carmen stage a coup of sorts against the Parallel society and the power of the Church, but ultimately go through some difficult measures (including stints in a concentration-like camp where their heads are shaved and their identities are attempted to be wiped) and torments to do so. I won’t spoil those experiences nor the ending, but so much of it felt incredibly generic for a dystopian work, and I had a hard time feeling sympathy for any of the lackluster-drawn characters. If there’s one loose tie I can put about the ending that might be an insinuation of how ridiculous this book is: when the nightmarish society becomes too much to bear – move to Canada.
Seriously, it went there.
For the love of anything, if you don’t have to read this book, please don’t bother. If you’re morbidly curious, proceed with caution at your own risk. It’s an abomination to its respective themes and attempt to promote understanding of gender equality and sexual orientation, not to mention it presents a scenario that’s so farfetched that it’s difficult to identify with anything within it. I would never recommend this to a YA audience or anyone on the measure of perusing GLBT literature, because it seems to confirm many prejudices rather than knocking them down, and also offend on multiple scales with its respective language and assertions on other matters.