Initial reaction: I feel guilty for saying that I looked forward to this novel because even for the respective thematic of a cheating relationship possibly occurring and other issues the narrative had to offer, I still think this had the potential to be something beyond a cliched, shallow presentation of insufferable teens who had very few things to like about them. I’ll admit there were moments in the narrative that – when isolated in and of themselves – were cute. But where was the foundation to this novel? I couldn’t feel any of the purported emotions associated with this. It’s incredibly shallow and I felt like I was missing a lot of emotional resonance with it.
Don’t get me started on the very easy resolution this novel had for the novel’s purported biggest conflict. It didn’t work. I was not convinced at all of the reality, development, or identity of this. Threadbare, if not nonexistent.
Short version: this book was a mess. An underdeveloped, selfish, undermining mess. How a book could screw up such a great idea is something I honestly don’t understand. If there were something I’d tell the author directly, I would say “Great ideas, but the narrative does absolutely nothing to develop them at all – choosing instead to focus on petty measures and lend more to cliches rather than developing the heart of the characters and issues chosen to address. And it’s not the subjects themselves that are derivative, it’s the chosen presentation. And with what was chosen to present, it didn’t go far enough.”
But maybe that’s something I can say about my experiences reading Amanda Grace so far. I’ve read a total of three of her narratives, one of which (“The Truth About You and Me”) I thought was okay, but saw the narrative style didn’t work for what it was trying to accomplish. I *hated* “In Too Deep”, because for the gravity of the subject matter and the level of complexity the narrative had to offer for its thematic, the execution was terrible and actually undermined its respective illuminations.
“No One Needs to Know” really dropped the ball for the promise of the narrative, falling in line with the weaknesses of the aforementioned works. It takes a number of very interesting scenarios (examining the growing distance in the relationship between twin siblings, has a young woman who’s caught in a love triangle between said twins and contemplates cheating, developing a GLBT relationship and establishing the value/acceptance in that sexuality, etc.) But to say this was a mediocre work is actually an understatement, to be blunt about it.
Granted, I know that these are teenagers who are notably flawed in personality who go through some rough patches in their respective relationships, but seriously? These characters were selfish brats and I had absolutely very little to no reason to care about them. None. I had a feeling since there was very little tying me to the plight of these teens from the beginning (based on the presentation of their personalities) that the experience would be rough, but I stuck with it patiently, waiting to see where it would go.
The narrative toggles between two first-person perspectives: Olivia and Zoey.
Olivia and Liam, her twin brother, are very well off financially and purportedly have had a close relationship. I identified with this because I am – myself – a fraternal twin. But the struggle with Olivia and Liam is that their respective relationship is growing apart. Liam is steadily doing more things with his circle of friends and trying to “grow up” from his sister (this is later revealed in the narrative as it goes along). He even forgets to meet with her and leaves her hanging one night they were supposed to go to the movies. Olivia also struggles with her own ideals of perfectionism and determining what she wants in life. She’s a gymnast with so much “potential” as she’s told in the narrative, but there are times when she’s shown to screw up and berate herself for such measures (which, admittedly is realistic). She’s high anxiety and takes Xanax from time to time to manage her anxiety.
You might be thinking at this point “Uh, Rose, there’s nothing wrong with that set up at all – that’s a great establishment for a character in a teen novel.” I would be inclined to agree with that if Grace’s presentation of the character didn’t make Olivia seem like the most unlikable, self-indulgent, prejudiced brat walking in the scheme of the story. More on that later.
Olivia meets Zoey at one of the oddest possible times (notably a contentious restroom confrontation). Zoey is a young woman with her own problems – she’s poor, her younger sister’s being bullied while others turn a blind eye, her mother can’t afford to move to a different neighborhood. Zoey is also known as the “boyfriend stealing slut” considering a social fallout that happened at school. But the way Zoey acts makes her seem self-entitled and heavily judgmental. It’s a quality that both Olivia and Zoey seem to share despite their respective backgrounds, and the two seem very prejudiced against each other for that despite the fact that they have to work together for a school project.
Again, the set up isn’t so much the bad part as it was the way that the author chose to execute this. Even when Liam ends up taking an interest in Zoey upon their meeting one night, much of the way the novel presents this is very threadbare. I didn’t see what Liam saw in Zoey, nor the reverse. And Zoey and Olivia’s relationship is supposedly like-hate, but it was difficult to see much beyond their hatred and prejudices against their respective lifestyles, especially at first. A lot of unnecessary drama and petty conflicts are shown; its hard to connect to the characters in that sense or find things that humanize them. Between the girl-girl hate, rampant slut shaming (not just on the part of what Zoey experiences, but Olivia even slut shames her own brother for his relationships, which made me angry) and attention given to that, I almost wanted to throw up my hands and ask why – because it felt like it was glorifying those details rather than focusing on the conflict or making it have any kind of realistic approach beyond *drama*. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt to say that maybe these characters would have some kind of coming to terms later on for their differences, so I moved forward.
The narrative drags for well over half the novel before getting to the moment where Olivia and Zoey actually do begin a relationship that’s suggestive of something more between them – and oddly, it’s weird that the narrative took that long to get to that point considering its the main focus of the premise – it took too long. Too far too long to get to that point – probably around 60 to 70% of the novel it seemed like.. There are moments of tolerance that are shown for each girl’s lifestyles, but again – it wasn’t just that it was cliched and threadbare, it was also very understated and undeveloped. There’s a distinct lack of character motivation and thought behind some of these crucial moments, whether it’s each girl finally coming to terms with the differences between them for lifestyle, or it’s the rationale for their affections toward each other.
The latter is one thing that I don’t think came across well in this novel at all. The issue of identity and sexuality and thoughts/emotions behind that was almost completely skipped in this novel. Not even really addressed. It’s like a lightbulb turned on in each of the character’s heads and they suddenly decided they liked each other. On another hand – and I found this quite problematic – it’s like the acknowledgement of Zoey’s respective affections toward Olivia came across only after she acknowledged her history as a “slut” who stole other people’s boyfriends, and Olivia’s affections only came across after she realized her jealousy in Zoey’s competing interest for her brother’s attention as they grew apart. If this connection were made in conjunction with these teens more substantive discoveries of their respective sexuality and identities – maybe that would give more context and meaning, but again, the sexuality and identity issue wasn’t even really addressed in this novel. It was instalove city, suddenly the girls were like “I don’t hate you anymore, I love you,” and it just came out of nowhere almost. There was very little substantial build-up to that relationship.
What happened after that was a cascade of events that felt like lightbulb switches going off and on just upon a whim to make the relationship that much easier to see the resolution for. And it sucks because I think that should’ve been more of the focus of the narrative than all that time spent on the girls’ petty rivalry that was suddenly subverted so far along into the novel. There was plenty potential of conflict for not just the girls coming to terms with their own sexuality internally, but also for developing that over time outside of the drama. The girls aren’t all that likable in personality to begin with and seem to throw away opportunities carelessly at the drop of a hat (case in point, the way Olivia drops gymnastics. I appreciated that Grace wanted to show that Olivia realizing it wasn’t pertinent to her life, but the way it was done was so dismissive.)
Liam really didn’t have much of a role in this novel, and like the girls’ personalities, his was very threadbare – one dimensional to the girls’ two dimensions. Liam was more of a setpiece that was conveniently thrown in as a resolution for where it suited the situation, whether it was for getting Olivia to realize she was being too clingy and had to come into her own person, or for essentially handing off his relationship with Zoey to Olivia when he discovered they were having one under his nose. It wasn’t right, despite the numerous times this narrative tried to convince me “it felt right” for repetition alone.
There are so many stronger GLBT narratives out there that don’t perpetuate problematic stereotypes and develop meaningful relationships between the characters that feel whole and welcoming without pandering just for the sake of convenience. I felt really underwhelmed with this book, even offended that it chose to omit so many important issues in the dialogue the book’s blurb (and beautiful cover) suggested. As I mentioned in one of my status updates while reading this work, if two words about this narrative came to mind: “petty” and “shallow” would cover it. There was very little in the way of character intimacy, motivation, or development to be had in this novel, and I honestly think delving into that further, sans cliches and convenient plot points, could’ve made it more believable.
Not recommended. I’d honestly try some of K.E. Payne’s or Malinda Lo’s works, and even Nancy Garden’s “Annie on My Mind” as better examples of literature in this genre that don’t feel so gimmicky and undermining of the measures developed within as well as pertinent to the problems teens face not just in their daily lives, but relationships.
Overall score: 0.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Flux.