Well, this year has been characterized by unpopular opinions and one-star ratings and really bad YA contemporaries. So why not close out the year with the best possible indication of what that year was like?
So here we are. Two contemporaries with decent Goodreads ratings; two somewhat promising but not completely synopses; two one and a half star reviews.
I am emotionally and physically exhausted.
Let’s get into it.
The Female of the Species
A contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives.
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.
Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.
As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
Okay. Before we get into this, I just want to say that the lens through which I’ll be judging this book feels unfair even to me (and that’s saying something because I rain hell on young adult contemporaries like they’re calling themselves the 21st century Ulysses), but the book brought it on itself!
I went through the entirety of this thing thinking it was just ya average contemporary. I finished it being like, Um, okay, that was, uh…kinda weird, but I wasn’t ANGRY or anything. (Pretty rare for a just-finished-a-contemporary version of me!)
Then I read the synopsis. Particularly this little first-line number:
A contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives.
If this is supposed to be an examination of rape culture, LITERALLY WHAT. It could not be more sloppy. If you told me, “This was an edgy, kind of gritty contemporary, and then the publisher told the author to make rape culture a theme 45 minutes before it was due to the bookbinder, or whatever we do to physically print books in 2017,” I’d be like, yeah, okay.
In other words, this is exclusively an impressive look at rape culture in that incredibly specific hypothetical I just made up in which the time frame is roughly as long as the amount of time it takes to make brownies.
NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I SEEN SUCH A SLOPPY TAKE ON AN IMPORTANT ISSUE. NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I SEEN A MORE TERRIBLY WRAPPED UP ATTEMPT AT DEPTH AND PROFOUNDNESS.
(The caps lock is to symbolize the fact that I actually literally screamed out those words as I typed them. In real, actual life.)
There are a bunch of reasons why this is an unsatisfactory, incomplete,
terrible examination of rape culture. Let’s talk about some of them.
Bringing in negative elements of rape culture without fully condemning or resolving them
There’s a sh*t ton of girl hate in this book. There is a hell of a lot of slut-shaming. The most consistent villain (in spite of the presence of murderers, rapists, and absentee parents) is a cheerleader.
All of this could be useful if it were condemned. Or if character development hit those who were participating in it. Or even if somebody went to Hallmark, bought an I’m Sorry card and f*cking signed it.
BUT NONE OF THAT HAPPENS. Because the ending occurs like 6 pages after the climax. SO NOTHING IS RESOLVED. More on that later.
Rape culture is just this thing that exists, intrinsically part of society, for reasons no one is aware of
Who the ever-living hell cares about an “““examination of rape culture””” if it offers no goddamn explanation for its existence? This book just, like, kind of sort of shows what rape culture is (if rape culture were to exist in a world populated with the most unrealistic, improbable humans of all time – but we’ll talk more about that later) without offering any reasoning as to why it’s a part of our society. NO FORM OF BIGOTRY IS AN ISLAND AS THEY SAY.
I’m halfway into a beginner level gender class and I can offer bare minimum four gender study terms off the top of my head! Which is, guess what, four more than this book even hints at! (This is not a brag; I am not an intellectual of gender studies. I literally do not even do the readings in that class.)
Rape culture is just here forever, intrinsically part of society, and there are no solutions ever at all sorry!!
Speaking of things that are an intrinsic part of societal examinations that are full-on not included in this book: We are offered no solutions. THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THIS BOOK MURDERS PEOPLE. That’s the closest we get to a “hey guys, here’s how we can stop this.” Actual, full-on, first-degree murder!!!!!!
We don’t even get a moral! I fought tooth and nail through 352 pages and we don’t even get a sense of what we can do, or how we can end this, or even how we can treat each other better. (Because, again: Unresolved girl hate. Yippee.)
That f*cking ending!!!!
Almost all of my problems with this book stem from its sh*tty excuse for a conclusion. It’s like allllllll of the sudden, this book drops the self-importance and decides, “Hey wait, can we go back to that gritty contemporary idea??? That sounds better??? Less hard to definitively end????”
This ending features (view spoiler), nobody healing from the events, no idea of the future, no concrete solutions, no moral on rape culture, no ANYTHING ON RAPE CULTURE. Alex becomes famous for being a f*cking vigilante or whatever, which is so stupid I nearly went blind from dumbness overload, and then it just. Ends.
And I hate it. SO much.
What the hell with these characters, man
An evil, obsessive cheerleader. A numb girl-murderer. Some jock with a heart of gold, maybe, but really just a d*ck that REFUSES to quit. A girl whose literal nickname is PK, for Preacher’s Kid, because that would definitely not only be widespread enough to warrant everyone recognizing it but FOR THE GIRL HERSELF TO ADOPT IT AS HER ACTUAL NAME.
They’re all so bananas. There is no way anyone like any of these people exists in real life. And so what, I beg of you, is the point of examining rape culture as it exists in our world when you’re using characters who absolutely don’t?
In true Emma fashion I don’t want to talk about this anymore, so I’m going to stop now.
Bottom line: As contemporaries go, this would have been a two and a half, three star read. But apparently this isn’t just your average contemporary, pals. It’s a fresh hell I could never have imagined.
When Dimple Met Rishi
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.
Oh my GOD, you guys. I know people have said this book is bad. I know pretty much every source I trust full-on hated this book. But, like, wow.
Do you ever read a book and you’re almost impressed by how bad it is? This one is, like, genuinely written in the hopes of creating more diversity in the young adult genre and look at that. Girl hate!
Wow-ee. Almost enough to make me laugh if I weren’t already crying from hopelessness, depressed with the irrefutable knowledge that young adult literature will be teeming with ingrained sexism from now until the end of time and no amount of angry quoting in ranty one-star reviews will change that.
Let’s get into it. Categories!
NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS
Here’s a fun fact: even if you don’t use the exact phrase “not like other girls,” creating that situation under a different wording is still bad!! It’s still benefiting off the same trope of putting down girls at large in order to make your dumbass character seem greater than and unique!!!!
“Even when she was in elementary and middle school, she always chose computers as her choice of centers while all the other more popular girls seemed to cluster together in art or reading.”
This wholllllleeeeeee book we cannot escape how Unique and Different Dimple is. She is just So Cool. She likes Computers. (Okay, that is actually really cool. More girls in STEM! But not at the expense of making it seem like reading and art aren’t important? Because, uh. They are. Also this book describes programming and web design exactly never, despite TAKING PLACE AT A PROGRAMMING CAMP.)
In my experience, the Venn diagram of “books where the popular kids are evil” and “books with girl hate” is a circle. And even if it wasn’t, god, don’t both suck?
But we don’t have to talk about that right now, because this book is just still more proof that the two coexist beautifully. And by “beautifully,” I mean “go hand-in-hand because life is hell and books are suffering and everything is bad and why not just villainize popular kids because it’s easy and boring while we also hate girls because it’s easy?”
“Her booty shorts also barely covered her booty.” Oh, noooooo! Heaven forbid! Shorts covering an ass, but not well enough to some rando’s standards? How will we live? How shall we survive? What will happen to humanity?
“Really, it was sort of refreshing to have a boy prefer her company to a girl like Isabelle’s.” Just because you’re sooo insecure you don’t think anyone could ever want to hang out with you doesn’t mean you need to bring other girls down in an attempt to feel superiority in place of confidence and self love. Asshole.
“Of course Isabelle was up for it. She’d probably even eat carbs for that amount of attention.” Whoa, cool! An assumption of a girl’s dietary habits based on her physical experience used to slut-shame her (in this instance) and call her an attention whore! How revolutionary! Even the sexism in this book is tired and overdone.
“She refused to be one of those girls who gave up on everything they’d been planning simply because a boy entered the picture.” Everyone, please don’t forget the fact that girls come in types. I cannot stress this enough. Girl personalities are downloaded pre-formed from a web interface, and we only have amazing heroes like Dimple to protect us from all the attention-starved, non-carb-eating banshees in too-short shorts.
Just kill me. Take me out of my goddamn misery.
THE DIMPLE THING
Okay, so. I think this book is trying to do Something. And that something is flip gender roles, specifically as they typically exist within the genre of the young adult contemporary. In this book, the male character (Rishi) is romantic and looking to be in a relationship, while the female character (Dimple) is ambitious, career-motivated, and trying to stay away from love.
Dimple is also very cold. Even mean. And people are suuuper upset about that.
But how much of that Dimple hate is coming from the fact that she’s acting in a way we expect from male characters?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the “mean but it’s okay because they love you so much” trope. But I call it out whenever I see it. I don’t like it in the Will Herondales, either.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. We’re societally conditioned to balk when we see women act in traditionally “masculine” ways. But, like…be aware? Because that doesn’t mean it’s great.
I don’t really have that much to say here actually. I just didn’t want to break up all the fun bolded subheadings.
I just hate Rishi. He is a lil creepy weirdo, and so obsessive and emotional and boring. That’s really why I hate him. He is SO BORING. Stop fawning over your own love for one goddamn second, and, I don’t know. Punch somebody? Up the ante somehow. God.
THIS RELATIONSHIP IS HORRIBLE
Okay, so. Dimple hits Rishi all the time? And he constantly worries about whether he’s going to make her angry? And just takes sh*t from her constantly but if he’s even the slightest bit less-than-perfect she will genuinely, actually, physically hit him, or get mad at him, or yell at him.
Also, Dimple takes Rishi’s sketchbook out of his bag, reads it, and sends it to an author he likes even though he expressly requested none of that happen. No apologies occur. Rishi thanks her later. Because gross invasion of privacy is such a rad trope.
I mean. Super unhealthy, no? But also just like not even fun to read lol. Like this book is so bad. I cannot stress that enough.
This book is also just…so…dumb. On so many levels. It’s very nearly impressive. Here are some examples of its masterful handling of different types of its own idiocy.
BAD HANDLING OF ACTUAL ISSUES: Dimple rants about all the expectations placed on Indian-American girls, and…Rishi’s response…is just…well, this: “He laughed. ‘That does sound annoying.”Amazing.
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR OWN DESCRIPTIONS: At one point, Rishi is described as “stretching his long legs out in front of him.” Um. Boi is 5’8. If a boy who is lit-er-ally five feet and eight inches tall is now “long-legged” then when converted to girl-numbers my legs are flesh skyscrapers.
SO CRINGEY: “Dimple crossed her arms and cocked her head, in a come at me, bro pose.” I don’t even need to say anything about this one. But on an unrelated note, can someone come pick me up? I was hospitalized for cringing so hard after reading that line and I can’t leave until someone signs me out.
CONSISTENCY, PLEASE, IT’S ALL I ASK FOR: Literally, one moment in this book Rishi’s dorm room is so small that when he’s sitting at his desk, he says he is JUST AS CLOSE TO DIMPLE AS HE WOULD HAVE BEEN SITTING NEXT TO HER ON THE BED, and the next, it is so CAVERNOUS, so LUXURIOUSLY LARGE that Rishi and his little brother get into a screaming match within its massive dimensions without even seeing her. I pray for the sweet oblivion of death.
WHAT KIND OF INTIMACY: At one point, Dimple and Rishi (lol I typed “Dishi” I am so tired this book is physically exhausting) are making out. In a public space. And they touch each other’s backs. Which is incredibly PG. Not even PG-13. But apparently this moment is so unbelievably hot that they immediately have to have a conversation about whether they should f*ck or not. WHATEVER FOREVER.
Bottom line: I should have expected to hate this book. However, wow, I really did not expect to hate this book. Do not make my mistake: It is bad.
Well, there it is.
Oops, sorry: *Whoomp, there it is.
Did that fun cultural allusion mask the existential dread and exhaustion I am currently experiencing?
This is what a mere three (3) negative comments in three (3) days does to me.
EVERYTHING HURTS AND I’M DYING.
I’ll be back before the end of the year
I hope, so no saccharine well-wishing from me as of yet, but I’ll quickly say thanks for everything, guys, just in case!
Also here, have a video.