Monday, 11 February 2013

Nobody But Us: A Review and a Rant About Reviews


Let me preface this post by saying that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it would be nice if people were respectful about expressing those opinions. Lately, I’ve been seeing an awful lot of reviews that rip stories (and sometimes authors) to shreds, often in a very rabid manner.  That being said, this review of Nobody But Us sort of morphed into a defense of the book, though it certainly isn’t the only novel for which I’ve seen snarky and unfair reviews. (To be clear, I'm talking reviews that are disparaging and malicious or contain profanity and insults directed at authors, not reviews that offer balanced and polite criticism.) Unfortunately, I think that’s par for the course these days with any book, seeing as the internet provides all of us with a soapbox to stand on.

Anyway…

If you'd like to see the book synopsis, here's a link. I should also mention that Nobody But Us is on my list for the Debut Author Challenge. (And no, my ranting is not directed towards the reviews in the DAC, rather elsewhere online.)

Will and Zoe, the main characters, are na├»ve from the get go. Their “plan” to run away to Vegas hits some major snags, but if everything went off without a hitch, the story would have been a chapter long. I’ve read some reviews that criticized the decisions made by these characters, and I’m not arguing that Will and Zoe did some foolish and impulsive things, but that’s generally what happens when people are desperate and on the run. Not to mention teens have a tendency to be idealistic—it’s simultaneously one of the best and worst traits of this age group. Throw in some intense emotions and the fact that neither one of these kids has been raised to make good choices, and yeah, the characters are going to mess up big time. But Kristin Halbrook more than adequately illustrates the consequences of Will and Zoe’s decisions.

I felt so sorry for these kids. They both came from horrible situations.  Until recently, Will was a ward of the state who had been shunted around his entire life, while Zoe’s alcoholic father abuses her. They’re the kids who fall through the cracks, and no one cares enough to help them. Because of their backgrounds, neither of them have any concept of a healthy relationship. They say they love one another over and over (to an almost obsessive degree, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty accurate depiction of teens) but they have no idea how to appropriately act on those feelings, especially considering their desperate situation. So sure, their relationship has some huge issues, but I think the point is that they try to take care of one another, even if they don’t know how to do it properly.

I saw some reviews that seemed unfairly harsh in their criticism of the way Will and Zoe’s relationship was portrayed, going so far as to say its flaws were romanticized and that the whole thing would eventually end in abuse. I find this sad. So are people saying that kids who’ve been crapped on by society and broken by their home situations (or lack thereof) have no right to even try to love or be loved?  Yes, there’s the issue of Will being eighteen and Zoe is a minor, but never do you get the sense that he’s taking advantage of her, and I don’t think the author is condoning this. I think it’s just one more card in the lousy hand they’ve been dealt.

If I had to compare this to another book it would be Stay with Me by Paul Griffin. The voices of the two male characters and their situations were similar in many ways, though the storylines are different. I’d have to say that Will’s voice is probably one of the strongest aspects of the writing in Nobody but Us.

There is much about this book that feels true to life—pain, sadness, mistakes, emotional baggage and all--and though I told myself I wouldn’t, I cried at the end. (Yeah, I need to quit lying to myself on the whole crying issue.) Will and Zoe stuck with me after I finished the book and gave me a lot to think about. While most teens won’t ever take to the road in an effort to flee their cruddy home situations, Nobody But Us was a good reminder of the issues some kids are forced to face and the emotions that accompany those issues.  That’s a reminder I can use, both as someone who writes YA and someone who just wants to be a more compassionate person.

So that’s my two cents. I’m not saying my opinion is worth more than anyone else’s, and I’m certainly not saying people have to like the same things I do, but I think it would be lovely if readers (myself included) were a little less eager to bash books and a lot more eager to spread some book love.

8 comments:

  1. First, I'm totally with you on reviews ripping books to shreds. I mean, what's the point? If you hated a book so much, then why did you even finish it? This one is on my Debut Author Challenge list and has been on my TBR since I think it was Katy Upperman who gushed about it when she read an ARC last year. I'm glad you liked the book, because I'm really looking forward to it.

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    1. It frustrates me when I see books getting one star ratings even though the writing warrants more than that. I can totally understand when someone doesn't connect with a book, but I wish people would at least be polite about their reviews. And like you said, why bother finishing it if you didn't like it, and worse yet, why go around bad mouthing it? I saw Katy's review on Goodreads and like her I was rooting for Will and Zoe. Hope you enjoy it when you get the chance to read it. :)

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  2. I agree wholeheartedly with you about people showing respect when it comes to reviews. I think Maggie Stiefvater had it right when she said that reviews strive to be as unbiased as possible, while this kind of rabid book hate is anything but that. If I don't like a book, I generally don't bother giving it a star rating. There's nothing wrong with saying that a book is not for you, but why not do so in a respectful manner, you know? I'm not sure if this book would be for me, but I appreciate your review. :)

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    1. We all know the old adage: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. I think this should apply to reviews as well. Even if you didn't like a book, it is possible to offer criticism in a constructive manner. Some people just need to learn how. Like you, I don't leave star ratings or review books I didn't enjoy (although I don't rate everything on my goodreads account anyway). As you know, that's a matter of preference, and I have nothing against people who fairly discuss aspects of a book they didn't care for. I debated whether or not to mention all of this in my review, but I decided it was important enough to say something about it.

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  4. I thought this was such a strong debut, and I agree: Will's voice was fantastic. The ending... Ugh. Hurt my heart! (But still, I thought it was very courageous and fitting to the tone of the novel.)

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    1. The way I got so sniffly at the end speaks to how Kristin Halbrook made me care about her characters. And you're right, she definitely took a risk with how she wrapped up the story. I think it paid off because Will and Zoe are still stuck in my head.

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  5. EXCELLENT post! I've been dying to read this, so have ignored most of the reviews because they usually contain spoilers. I think you're right on that we need to spread love instead of bashing books. It's such a fine line between a negative review and bash sometimes, isn't it? I think it comes down to whether a reviewer is commenting on the book or the writer. But again, that line becomes fuzzy. Sigh.

    As for the book itself, it sounds exactly like the kind of story I like to read. You're so right - teens are idealistic, and that can make them both naive and brave.

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