My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I’m mulling over a few ways to write this review to express my thoughts, but the overarching reaction? I wish I could’ve liked this more. Sadly, with all the formulaic notations, the lack of connection with the main character (who made me want to pull my hair more than a few times), and several mismatches of emotional resonance and melodrama rather detracted me from liking this novel. Hopefully whatever form I decide to write this review in, it’ll explain why I feel that way about the novel.
“Slammed” is the second book I’ve read from Colleen Hoover, following a recent ARC read of “Hopeless”. This is going to be a difficult review for me to write because while I had qualms about “Hopeless” in spurts, I still appreciated Hoover’s narrative voice for the most part.
I’m kind of glad I tried that book first versus this one, because if “Slammed” had been my introduction to Hoover, it probably wouldn’t have allowed me to see how she’s progressed since writing this one. This was a book I know many people on my friends list loved, but typing this now, I struggle to try to put into words why I didn’t enjoy it.
Originally, I wanted to try to pen a review for this in a slam poetry format, but that’s a tough translation to text versus spoken word (which I’ll explain more in a little bit). Poetry is something I’m quite passionate about and yeah, I’ve been to my fair share of slam sessions, particularly in my undergrad uni days. I know there were many people who picked up this book not knowing what it was and this book was an introduction into the realm of slamming. But for me – I already knew, and I think that was part of the intrigue of me picking it up because I haven’t come across an author who tackled the subject. It’s a cool thing for it to be a focus, especially in a genre that’s oriented towards the college aged crowd (which technically this book is given its listing under NA).
Here’s the thing: slam poetry is difficult to translate to text because a lot of it is about timing, emotional resonance, passion, and an ability to pick up and go with it in person in the format of the spoken word. If you’ve never been to a slam session, I suggest you take the opportunity to do so, it can be fun, immersible, enlightening, among other things. It’s an experience you have to be in it to really understand how much goes into it. I think picking up the audiobook of this actually enhanced my enjoyment (what little there was) of the book because the narrator did a good job with the delivery and timing of the poems contained in this book. I don’t think that would’ve been the same if I’d read this simply in the translation to text. That said, let’s get to the nitty gritty on what this book was about, because the slam sessions were really only the backdrop, not the primary focus of this particular novel.
This book started off on an interesting note, about a young woman named Layken who moves with her little brother and mother after the sudden death of their father. Layken meets Will, a guy not much older than her whose company she enjoys, and who has a little brother around the same age as her little brother. (The boys, I should tell you, are probably the characters in the book I most liked watching in their interactions.) I had trouble with the insta-love connection between Layken and Will, but I tried to ride it for a while to see where it would go. I definitely liked the exploration into their respective pasts because that was the only thing in this book that seemed at least remotely plausible – with the deaths of parental figures, taking care of their younger siblings, taking on additional responsibilities and coping with those respective losses. But the romance…ahh, I had trouble digesting that with the instalove machine.
Then the second part of the plot hit when Layken realizes she’s fallen in love with her high school poetry teacher. The two now have a forbidden romance – huzzah! Not. >.<
I’ve read my fair share of student-teacher relationships – it’s not new to me. I read manga, this is not an uncommon subplot in that particular measure, in fact it’s rather typical. (I do remember the first manga I ever read that had this kind of relationship was Onegai Teacher, Vol. 1, but at least that managed to be somewhat enjoyable despite being out of this world, literally.) I have to say that this was especially grating of an attempt because I don’t think the relationship between Will and Layken was all that plausible to begin with, and I didn’t enjoy watching it, at all. There were many reasons behind this.
You might be surprised for me saying that it wasn’t the insinuated teacher-romance that ruined this book for me – not by itself. I actually liked Will’s passion for slam poetry, and honestly at first I thought he was just an okay character – not mind blowing, but not a jerk either (note I say, at first). Layken on the other hand, I struggled to identify with. She was self-absorbed, assuming, overdramatic, insensitive and genuinely a brat in every sense of the word. And no, it wasn’t just a factor of her age, because her little brother actually acted in more mature ways than she did, given the difference between their ages. It was her personality and voice that grated on my nerves more often than not.
I think Hoover struggled with comedic timing and development of conflict in this novel because much of it was overblown and out of sync. There were times I felt numb to the overarching conflict because it was off-base. Where there should’ve been more emotional conflict, there wasn’t, and where there was conflict, it was overdone to the point of melodrama. I can give a few examples of this.
Layken’s mother’s particular ordeal was a plausible source of grief – I’m not knocking that at all. I actually wish I could’ve felt more for that particular part of this story because it’s a tough subject to approach, especially considering the sudden death of Layken’s father. However, dear goodness it was a mess trying to reach the point of that revelation, and when it hit, I didn’t feel much for it not only because of Layken’s overblown reactions to it, but also because of the way it was presented. I somewhat predicted it before it hit, and when it actually did, it wasn’t a surprise to me, but I was surprised it was to Layken because of the mismatch. She assumed it was her mother cheating with another guy – there were no cues in the story to make me think her assumptions were spot on. I was removed from that element of the story because I knew Layken was wrong – I knew it and the text didn’t really support the assumption. When the revelation hit, I could understand that Layken may be sad, confused, angry, and at odds with it, but it was so overdone that honestly – for her to have that reaction and then later, when her little brother finds out the news and he’s more accepting of it than she is, it made the overblown nature of it that much more apparent.
And on the subject of Layken’s mother’s secret, I thought the emotional coming to terms with it was completely mismatched with it’s respective gravity. I understand that people have different ways of dealing with that subject matter and some can grieve, or choose to face it head on with confidence, humor, or somewhere in the far medium between, but the way it was dealt with in this book felt forced down my throat with its sweetness, and I actually thought it was pretty darned insensitive for people who do suffer from that particular measure. It wasn’t inspiring to me at all, it just felt…overblown, overdone, oversickingly asserted to the point where I got thrown out of the book by it. And then to have the kids punctuate that point? Really? Argh.
Another thing, let’s talk about the student-teacher forbidden romance angle. I’ve read enough manga (and overarching literature) to know when the stakes of this kind of relationship was done well. Will and Layken’s relationship was NOT done well. I don’t think their respective initial relationship time was enough to really justify the feelings that they had for each other, especially in magnitude. Their initial attraction was cute, before the romance ever became part of the equation – I could follow along with it. When the relationship actually began, however, it became stale, formulaic, and lacked a finesse or natural chemistry that I could’ve rooted for.
I will say that in terms of the misunderstanding of their initial ages and roles – that was feasible. Layken’s mother’s reaction to their relationship was DEFINITELY plausible. Even Will’s reluctance to be in that relationship and Layken’s frustrations with his “I can, I can’t” attitudes were plausible, at least in consideration of the terms on a base level.
The way they were written and played out though? Nooooooo. Will frustrated me not only with his “on again, off again” relationship stance, but at least I saw where his position was compromised – I just think on his part it was often overshadowed by the overfocus. Layken frustrated me in a different way on that, because it seemed like she had a complete disregard for the relationship and the stakes around it. This was further compounded when, later in the book, Layken and her friend are given detention by Will because of him wanting to “discuss” the stakes of people finding out about their relationship.
First of all, that made Will come across as a jerk to me because it was such a blatant abuse of his power as a teacher. Second, the attempted humor that was inserted in that scene on behalf of Layken and the friend that discovered their “secret” relationship was VERY out of place and not funny at all. I cringed at that scene in the wrong way, because I knew it was supposed to be awkward and a coming to terms, but it never felt like Layken ever came to terms with what Will was saying, not in a genuine way. It felt like a vehicle for conflict in an overarching story of several vehicles for conflict. They were there to create drama, not to punctuate and give meaning to them.
I think you can say for one of the most popular New Adult novels for the time being, this one follows in many of the same respective cliches as some of the books that actually followed it in success and thematic. Which, I’ll admit I tried to put that to the side as I was reading this, and I will say that Hoover probably isn’t as blatantly bad about it as other authors in this age group, but it still doesn’t excuse the cliches and lack of true development.
And here’s something else that got to me towards the end: what would a New Adult novel be without someone attempting to rape/sexually assault the main female character and then have the hero of the novel punch the guy’s lights out? But the kicker for this novel is – that Will wasn’t defending Layken because of the attempted assault, but because he was *jealous*.
I wanted to throw my Ipod clear across the room. But the screen’s already broken to it, and I didn’t want to give it more irreversible damage. >.<
Suffice to say though, I’ll admit I’m curious to see if this series improves. I have ARCs of the remaining books, so for me, I’m not giving up on it just yet. The backdrop of the Slam poetry sessions I did genuinely enjoy, and I did like the familial relationships the main characters had, and the little brothers were probably my favorite characters in the book. I also enjoyed the audiobook reading. The romance, on the other hand, was such a sour note for me in the overarching novel as well as the overdramatic portrayals of the respective conflicts, that I just couldn’t get behind this novel, and I wouldn’t read it again for enjoyment.
However, I’m going to take a chance with Hoover, because even what little I’ve seen of intrigue in the novels I’ve read from her so far, I want to try to see where she goes, and I think she has the potential to be better and overshoot the respective cliches that are in her work. I saw sparks of that in places in “Hopeless”, but “Slammed” felt more raw and unbalanced and while I understand that some might’ve been able to overlook certain measures in this novel and enjoy it for what it was, I could not, unfortunately. Not at the point where I’ve read it, not with knowing some of the familiar territories it treads upon in other, better works.
Overall score: 1/5