Monthly Archives: April 2017

Book Reviews Reading

Review: Yes by Deborah Burnside

What is it?

Photo of the book Yes with fire graphics added on top

Yes by Deborah Burnside

First published 2011

A New Zealand, young adult contemporary novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

M&M, as he’s known to his friends, might have trouble reading people, organizing things or pleasing his father, but he knows that when his mate Luke — Legless — attempts to involve him in another crazy venture, it’s futile to resist.

This time it’s the Young Enterprise Scheme. Luke believes it will make them rich and popular — and along the way will capture the heart of his elusive love.

Marty wonders if it should be, flashcard: Madness.

Reluctantly, Marty says YES. And what comes next is a whole log bigger and weirder than he could ever have imagined.

What I thought

I was so excited to find this book on the library shelf, because the author is from the same small town where I grew up. It’s so rare to find books set in my home town. I know of one definite (Earthquake Town by Beverley Dunlop) and another one that didn’t state the setting explicitly but I was pretty sure it was, not that I can remember the title. Or author. And there may be more I’m not aware of. Oh, wasn’t Hucking Cody set in Hawke’s Bay somewhere? But this wasn’t just the town I grew up in, it was the exact suburb. I knew the places she was describing, and there were some references I was sure were in-jokes (like the primary school shared a name with my IRL primary headmaster), and it made my heart sing. Which made it doubly-disappointing when the book went south. But I’ll get to that soon.

The writing is good. It flows nicely. The main character, Marty, has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and often goes off on tangents as he narrates. It makes the book quite slow and introspective, which is normally my kind of thing. It does get a bit frustrating though. And I’m not going to comment on the Autism rep, because I don’t have any experience there. One goodreads review said it wasn’t great, and when I compare it to the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, I get what they’re talking about.

The novel was published in 2011, but set in 2001. At first, I couldn’t figure out why. Then there was a reference to 9/11. But really, it wasn’t that important and could have been any plane crash. So I’m still not sure why it had to be set in the past. It certainly didn’t add anything, and even detracted due to the evolution of the way people interact with technology.

And finally, before I dive into the problems inside the book, I want to talk about the outside. “Yes” is a terrible title. I know it’s related to the Young Enterprise Scheme the kids are involved in, but it was an entirely average choice. I reckon “Hooking Up” would’ve been better, because it’s catchier, it relates to the obsession Marty and his best friend Luke have with girls, and crocheting is a huge part of the plot and structure of the book. The field of maize on the cover also ties in to the plot, but it’s not exactly eye-catching either.

Now, things were going pretty well, I mostly liked the main character and the way he was telling the story, until about two thirds of the way through the book.

*** Beware, spoilers ahead. And content warning for sexual assault. ***

(Also, while I’m warning about things, there’s a nice piece of casual homophobia in the second-to-last chapter, where Marty describes his love for his friend Luke as “not like some weird gay shit” p.255. It was completely unnecessary. If he really felt the need to clarify, he could’ve easily described it as “not in a romantic/sexual way”, which makes the same point but without the judgement.)

His friend and love interest, Francesca (who’d previously told him they could never be more than friends, even if he was the last guy on earth), gets wasted and starts throwing herself at every guy in sight, including Marty. Good guy that he is, Marty realises she’s trashed and takes her back to his sister’s (empty) house. But instead of looking after her, tucking her up in a blanket on the couch, or calling for help, he slowly and deliberately pulls her top down and gropes her.

Let that sink in. She’s passed out, and he gropes her, because he’s always wanted to and she can’t say no.

This scene squicked me out. Marty is very deliberate in what he does. And maybe that’s how the narrative is presented because of his ASD, but it was cold and calculated, and I was very worried about how this would play out.

I was right to be worried.

Marty comments a few times that he is ashamed of what he did. Ashamed but not sorry. Now, the difference is not explained in the text, but I take it to mean he knows what he did was wrong, but he enjoyed it regardless because boobies!

Now fast-forward to the final chapter (yup, that’s a whole third of the book where there have been no consequences for what Marty did, apart from him feeling ashamed/not sorry, and sort of avoiding Francesca for a while) and he finally confesses to her. And instead of using his words to say “Sorry I groped you while you were passed out” (which we’ve been told is hard for him, which is not an excuse), he SHOWS her. Yes. He gropes her again. The only difference is this time she’s conscious.

And what does she do? Slap him? Tell him to get lost? Point out how messed up it was?

No.

She just says she knows he likes her.

And that’s it. It’s FINE. They’re going to be a couple now. 👿

What the hell kind of message is that? That it’s okay to grope someone you’re friends with because they won’t mind and might end up as your girlfriend?

No fucking way, buddy!

And I can’t believe that none of the pro reviews I found mentioned it. It made me wonder if I was over-reacting, but I talked to my husband, and we agreed it wouldn’t even be okay for him to grope me if I was passed out (or vice versa). It’s weird and creepy because the person is vulnerable and doesn’t have the ability to say no, or not right now, or I’m not in the mood (or, alternately, yeah baby let’s go).

And I think that’s what gets me. Francesca was vulnerable. Marty was her friend. He took advantage of her and never suffered any consequences.

And that is not okay.

And neither is this book.

Book Reviews Reading

Review: Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

What is it?

The cover of the book Bugs

Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

First published 2013

A New Zealand, young adult contemporary novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

Meet Bugs: smart, sarcastic, sixteen and stuck in a small town without a driver’s license.

Bugs has been best mates with Jez forever, they’ve always been Jez and Bugs, Bugs and Jez. That is until Stone Cold, the new girl, arrives in town.

Year 12 was already going to be a challenge without adding spoilt, bitchy Stone Cold to the mix. Why would anyone want to be mates with her? But things are never as they seem on the surface — not the picture perfect postcard views of Taupo, not the drama queen antics of Stone Cold, not the quiet brooding of Jez. Not even Bugs.

Now as the future closes in, each will struggle with expectation; either trying to live up to them, or trying to live them down.

What I thought

Bugs was recommended to me when I asked for NZ YA, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. I’ve finally found a NZ YA book that totally worked for me, so apologies in advance if this is less of a review and more of a ramble about everything I loved about it.

  1. The main character, Bugs, is fantastic. Her voice is great. She’s cocky but also unsure of herself. She’s got dreams but she’s bogged down by reality. She’s a bit judgmental but not self-aware enough to realise it, which really makes me want to see some scenes from the other characters’ POVs, to see how they’d interpret things.
  2. It’s character-driven rather than plot-driven. It’s introspective but not whiny. It’s slow but not boring. Sometimes it jumps forward in time and throws us wholly into a scene, rather than holding our hand from one point to another. But it works. It all works.
  3. It tastes of Aotearoa New Zealand. The setting, the language, the essence is so New Zealand-ish, that it made me ache with the familiarity of it, even though my teen years couldn’t have been more different to Bugs’. I read the e-book and made 26 highlights (which is a lot more than the 0 I normally make) and most of them are NZ-specific things. I think my favourite was “we’d bring a packet of Raro and a couple of Tux for lunch”
  4. I loved (and hated) the bittersweetness of it. These kids (and kids like them in real life) deserved so much more from their teachers and the other adults in their lives. There was so much potential left unfulfilled. I wanted everything to work out at the end, and for the characters to be happy, and (no spoilers) it didn’t work like that. This isn’t some sweet half-hour sitcom in book form, it’s more of a slice-of-life documentary. Real life doesn’t tie everything up with a neat bow.

Okay, that’s four reasons. Plenty enough for me to encourage everyone to read this book. Hunt it out at your library, order a copy online, nag your local bookstore, and immerse yourself in Bugs’ world. You won’t regret it.