My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Pre-read comments: I often ask myself what am I getting myself into, and often the answer is I don’t know, but I’m doing it anyway.
I’ll admit I have exceedingly low expectations for this book.
Post-read comments: I think I still had some hope that this would be different than the usual cliched New Adult book, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Same script, different cast, full of stupid. The thing that surprises me is that I’ve heard Erin McCarthy’s a well known author in her respective genre. I’ve never read a novel of hers and this is my first one. It doesn’t give me hope of reading another from her in the future, especially in the NA genre. I need some time to mull over doing the full review for this, but I sincerely did not like it and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It has a different set of offenses than other books I’ve read, and I have to wonder what that says about the future of what people are going to continue marketing in this genre.
I want to begin this review with a constructive discussion on New Adult fiction, because somehow it begs the question of why many authors are jumping onto its bandwagon in order to ride its appeal. There’s also a measure in considering the reasons it appeals to its respective audience. For the first time yesterday, I saw the ABCNEWS Nightline report on New Adult fiction and what it’s “supposed” to target – young adult readers who want more of the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon, but the sex is marketed to a younger audience.
That disturbs me greatly on a number of levels. In idolizing “Fifty Shades” respective successes, it seems that every book following in its footsteps, including those in the blossoming genre of NA, wants to follow similar tropes, cliches, and glorify problematic elements and relationships that don’t have an ounce of healthy or true development in them. Some of you might say that’s a bit harsh because we read fiction for different reasons. Some of us read to watch the trainwreck, and can’t believe what’s unfolding in the words we read on the page. Some of us read to visualize the characters, or identify with experiences, or find commonalities on subjects the narrative may offer.
I’m getting increasingly irritated with NA as a collective genre because I see the same rehashed characters, plotlines and stereotypes in a glaring way without an ounce of deviation, without true depictions of the college environment, or without real people with real problems in real relationships. It’s all manufactured drama for the sake of it, and there are times when I just want to be done with the genre entirely. But I hold out the hope that someone, somewhere will write a story that actually depicts a young man or woman who aspires to go to college, finds themselves immersed in the environment, and finds a relationship worth rooting for even when facing impossible odds and challenges – that actually have some meaning. Because the more I read in this genre, as it is now – I don’t see my experiences. I don’t see my life. I don’t see anyone to identify with, at all. I don’t enjoy reading these manufactured, completely implausible stories. So when I say that the NA genre doesn’t speak for me, I’m not mincing words about it. I don’t think it speaks for a lot of people in the frame of its experience. Let me give you some reasons why.
Every NA book I’ve picked up has some of the same elements to it without a bit of deviation. Passive heroine who has never known love, often times a virgin. Never mind that many times the way the “virgin” is depicted as this symbol of either purity/innocence, inexperience, or a damaged mentality. (Because apparently people can’t be virgins by choice. *rolls eyes* Or they have to be otherwise known as sluts because there’s no medium between.) Said heroine meets a tattooed, sexually experienced “bad boy” with a penchant for violence. Throw in an attempted rape (or an actual rape) for drama, never mind that it doesn’t depict the actual horror of what rape entails and treats the issue for what it is (and it’s always the woman’s fault because of what she wears, where she hangs out, or some other horrible blaming mentality). Throw in a group of friends who take opportunities to bitch-slam, slut-shame, ostracize each other’s weight, clothing or otherwise make women into sexual objects or less than human beings, and make it seem so casual that it’s common place AND accepted. (On many college campuses, IRL, many people would be outraged at this sort of thing, because at least at the university I went to, people didn’t tolerate this kind of rampant sexism. I would argue that sexism exists quite a bit in our society, but in fiction, why is it necessary for some to glorify it?)
Never mind the lack of existence of ANY minority characters (and if there are any references to minority groups, whether they’re GLBT or POC characters, they’re usually backhandedly insulted or framed into stereotypical measures). Never mind that it doesn’t depict mental or physical disabilities accurately in the context of the story, and may even throw in an occasional ableist term or two.
Oh, and as for the storyline – said “virgin” girl (because supposedly that’s the only thing said girl is known for – never mind there’s more to her than her sexuality) and said “bad boy” go through whirlwind romance that might involve one of a handful of scenarios – either the girl is “healed” by the guy with the power of “tru luv”, or the guy is “healed” from his wicked ways or problematic lifestyle because of the “tru luv” with the heroine without true coming to terms, OR the two have a very damaging relationship where it’s okay that one of them suffers abuse at the hands of the other that manufactures itself as love.
It’s apparently made okay because it’s all “fiction.”
This is absolute rubbish and I cannot for the life of me see why people are picking up this genre in droves with the horrible, formulaic depictions that are often littered in this genre, or even why authors are bothered with writing it, considering the diversity of storylines that are out there. Granted I know there are common themes and tropes that are littered within every genre of fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, contemporary and historical adult romance are not excluded from that. Heck, there are even considerations to note in the various genres of YA, but that’s a whole other issue). There may be problematic measures to consider in those, but for an age group orientation to follow these problematic ideals to the teeth so blatantly really doesn’t make sense to me. Why do people do it so much?
I don’t think NA is dying market, but I do think its present and popular definitions are problematic and that it needs to start changing in order for it to flourish more fully. At some point, I hold out the hope that someone will say screw the overarching trends and write an NA book that actually depicts a college-aged person’s coming of age – maybe even coming to love – in this environment, because it’s a darned interesting environment and topic to write in. I should know – I went to college. I had some of the best years, experiences, though sometimes met with rough challenges of my life there. I should think that while it has its share of challenges, people who struggle with issues internally and externally within it could be depicted as palpable in realistic conflict and still resonate with audiences and tug at those of us who either think with our minds primarily, feel with our hearts extensively, or fall somewhere in the far medium between.
That said, I guess that would be a good lead in to talk about the utter lazy effort that was Erin McCarthy’s “True”. This book wasn’t good in a way that I think had a different set of offenses than some NA reads I’ve come across.
Granted, this is the first McCarthy book I’ve ever read, but I’ve heard her name in many circles. I’ve wanted to read her works far before now. Even have had friends who liked her work, describing it as “fun” and dynamic among other things. Sweet and sexy were also terms noted, but I seriously wonder about all of those descriptions after reading this book. I don’t know if it’s because McCarthy catered specifically to this age group/genre and its formulaic measures, or if her writing style has always been in this measure.
The story of “True” revolves around 20-year old Sophomore Rory, who just so happens to be a virgin. (Go figure.) When we meet her, she’s at a party, gets too drunk, gets nearly raped by a guy, and guess who shows up to save her and ends up being the guy she crushes on?
Meet Tyler. Tyler, on first impressions, had me skeptical, but he started off being somewhat of a sly, funny guy. I thought I would like him, what with calling a library card “sexy”, talking about literature, and teasing Rory when they had study sessions together. But that didn’t last for very long. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Rory seems, on the surface, not just the typical passive NA heroine. She’s catty, she’s sarcastic and makes no apologies about being so. That supposedly makes her “strong.” I’ll admit that in the beginning of the novel, some turns of her catty voice appealed to me. I thought she could be funny, but her internal voice and underlying pretentiousness really turned me off. It’s not the fact that she’s a math/science geek (because I can vouch for that myself and identify), and it’s not even the fact that she’s not really into literature (I personally don’t identify with that). It’s the fact that she beats the reader over the head one too many times of this fact and doesn’t allow he natural knowledge and abilities to shine through, or let the assertion be one of confidence and leave it by one or two terms. That frustrated me, because I wanted to like Rory.
Rory’s circle of friends are just as problematic, and that comes to the forefront when they consider the state of Rory’s “virginity” – something that Rory also calls attention to constantly. I understand the societal pressures that young women go through with respect to their sexuality, but I found it hard to sympathize with Rory or her friends.
When your so called “friends” pay or insinuate to pay your love interest to sleep with you, there’s a problem.
What happens in consideration of that factor and Rory’s sometimes apt dismissal of it in turns had me raging. For many reasons. I couldn’t get by the fact that she was forgiving of her friend or of Tyler for that even when she didn’t fully realize the truth behind the matter. And I felt sick in one dialogue that Rory has with the character that attempted to rape her and suggests a means to get “revenge” on Tyler in light of that spoiler’s deception by suggesting that Rory “slept” with him to make Tyler jealous?
My reaction? “WHAT? He nearly raped you! Why are you even near that guy and considering what he says? If anything you need to stay the heck away from him, not converse with him!”
Oh my word.
And I was upset over another consideration personally, as a woman of color, at the insinuations made with the liberal and negative use of “ghetto” in this book. It wasn’t just in the first chapter, it was in multiple areas in a good portion of the first part of the book. I even recall a character saying that it wasn’t like Rory was nearly naked and strolling through the ghetto at one point. First offense in that – assuming what the character was wearing would be an invitation of violence against her. Second, assuming that where she walked in, and associating a negative racial/class/economic stereotype within it, would be an invitation for violence against her. I can’t even begin to express my upset and disappointment over that.
Things turn from bad to worse when Rory meets Tyler’s family.
Granted, I actually did feel something for Tyler’s family under the hands of their strung out mother, but I feel like that was an issue that also wasn’t handled with due resonance either (not even with respect to Tyler’s younger brother with Down’s Syndrome), because there were so many implausibilities that transpired with respect to the story on that front, including what happens with a jail sentence that leaves Rory in a tailspin, and at odds with her family. I’m not saying that something like that doesn’t happen, but to happen like that, and in the lack of depth or true coming to terms with it? It was just…drama for the sake of drama to me.
Didn’t make it any better knowing that Tyler, among other people in this book, has a penchant for punching people(which is a trope in this genre I’d like to see die a swift death). I think one could argue in some cases, Tyler had a right to act that way, but at the same time, the whole of the book seemed to use “punching” in multiple measures as a way to accent the drama. It was liberally used and became stale after a time.
By the end, I felt happy to be done with Erin McCarthy’s first effort into the foray of New Adult. And I certainly don’t intend to check into her next NA book, because from the looks of it – a woman (Jessica, who is actually a main character in this book) who comes from a strict religious family who has nowhere to go and asks the guy who she isn’t interested in, but he’s interested in her, to actually “sleep in his bed” with him until she can get a place of her own and doesn’t find it to be a conflict of interest and thinks he’s a jerk when he refuses? I have no interest whatsoever in seeing where that plotline goes.
Long story short, I think New Adult can be a flourishing genre in its own considerations, but certainly not with lazily written, offensive titles like this one, and I – for one – am surprised that someone as well known as McCarthy would simply follow in the footsteps of the problematic trends of the genre for the sake of doing so. There are better titles to consider in the measure of romance, and less stale, problematic, and formulaic than this title offered.
Overall score: 1/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Penguin Group/NAL Signet Romance.