Hey everyone. Remember when I wrote for this blog? The one that I started on my own? What a time, eh?
Well, I’ve missed you! But in addition to just being a terrible blogger, I’ve also just been busy writing for *other* places. I know—shocking! But, back in August, I submitted a piece to the website The Prompt for a contest they were doing and won first place. Ever since, I’ve been contributing fairly regularly, and that’s been keeping me busy. (Feel free to check out my stuff.) In addition, I also wrote some essays for a collection I want to put together. So, even though I haven’t been writing here for y’all, I’ve been writing!
But also, we went to Texas in September, and then work has been . . . a thing. And sometimes, depression and anxiety just make you too tired to do things.
Anyway! At least Super Hubs has been keeping this ship afloat, with his regular IT posts from October and his recent “Justice League” review. But even with his spot-saving qualities, this blog has felt decidedly non-bookish lately, hasn’t it?? So, I’m making a concentrated effort to be better at this! I even took a break from contributing to The Prompt for this current topic so that I could start focusing on the blog!
So, with that in mind, I’m picking up on the last thread I left dangling: the dive into a bunch of ARCs I had lying around. Because it’s now been months since I’d taken on that challenge, I’m not going to devote a whole post to each book. Instead, I’m going to batch the remaining titles. Here are the first three.
True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan
I had really hoped there would be more letters in this. I love epistolary novels, and the fact that letters are evoked in the title made me think this would be told in a series of letters to people—kinda like Perks of Being a Wallflower, but with different recipients.
Instead, it’s a regular novel with some occasional letters thrown in, but mostly just references to letters written that we never get to see. That felt like a really odd choice to me.
Beyond that, this is a story about a high school boy, James, who is trying to get comfortable with the idea that he’s more than likely gay. He’s had a girlfriend of sorts for a while, but it’s not like he’s into it. In fact, he’s had a crush on his best friend for a while. When he accompanies his “girlfriend” to another school’s dance, he meets an out boy, Topher, and they’re instantly drawn to each other. They begin a relationship that James strives to keep a secret, even though his best friend and his sorta girlfriend’s best friend know that he’s into guys.
Meanwhile, someone steals a bunch of letters James has written that would out him to the rest of his friends/gang—and they start sending them. He needs to track down who it is before his secrets come out before he’s ready to. Eventually, he confronts the thief (someone he’s close to) and finds the courage to reveal his true self to his family.
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I thought that Topher would’ve had more of an issue with James wanting to sneak around as they began pursuing a relationship. Not in a “You need to hurry up and come out” way, but in a “I want to be able to go out with you and not need to disguise it in a group hang or pretend like we’re just friends” way. There’s a difference, I promise! The former would start a fight; the latter would just a conversation about their feelings of frustration and the ramifications of coming out. But to my memory, Topher just kind of rolls with everything because he likes hanging out with James. And that’s nice and sweet. But I feel like it’s not great that the only kind of incentive James has to come out is because he’s being low-key tortured by the letter thief.
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Overall, the book wasn’t bad. I feel like my opinion was instantly colored, though, by expecting the book to written in epistolary format when it wasn’t. That really threw me. Also, I felt like the ending was a little too open-ended, as it basically ends on a scene of James coming out to his little brother, who then has a freak-out because he’s heard a lot of bad things about gay people and is worried that those things will now apply to James. I think it’s a valid concern and an interesting scene to have, but it seemed odd to just leave off on a family not entirely sure of where they’re going from here.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
This is a book about a boy, Leonard, who is planning to kill his former best friend and then kill himself.
It’s Leonard’s birthday, which no one has remembered, and it’s the day he plans to end it all. But first, he wants to give gifts to the people who’ve meant the most to him and made life at least a little bearable: his elderly neighbor, his history teacher who always wears long-sleeve shirts, a classmate who’s a genius violin player, and a very religious girl he met in the city.
As he makes his way through the day and reaches out to each person, he sheds some light on how, exactly, they’ve come to be so important to him, and why, exactly, he wants to kill his former best friend. But, the gift-giving doesn’t really go quite as planned. Everyone finds these grand gestures from Leonard a little suspect, which leaves Leonard feeling pretty dejected.
I’m going to have to go into major spoiler territory here, so skip to the next diamond divider!
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So, the reason Leonard has come up with this plan is because his former best friend, Asher, would regularly rape him—the implication being that Asher himself had been sexually abused by an uncle he would visit. After Leonard says that he doesn’t want Asher to do that to him anymore, their friendship fizzles, and Asher finds his way into the popular crowd. They regularly torment non-populars like Leonard, until he tells Asher that he’ll tell everyone about their shared secret if he doesn’t leave them alone.
But Leonard never gets rid of the hatred that boils in his blood after this violation, nor the feelings of disgust he even feels for himself. So he feels the only logical conclusion is to take his grandfather’s old WWII gun and put an end to it all.
However, he can’t bring himself to kill Asher when he finds himself outside the latter’s bedroom that night. So, he decides to just go through the latter half of the plan, which he planned to take place under a bridge in the woods. Once there, he even manages to pull the trigger . . . But the old gun doesn’t go off. Horrified and broken, Leonard calls his teacher, who’d given Leonard his number and promised to share the secret behind his long sleeves if Leonard was ever about to do something dangerous.
His teacher comes to pick him up, and takes him back to his house, much to the chagrin of his teacher’s partner. Because underneath at least one of those sleeves is a pink triangle tattoo—he’s a gay man. He explains to Leonard that his experience was one of rape, and offers to get him some help as long as Leonard allows him to contact his mother, who’s been away in the city on business/with her latest boyfriend.
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It’s at the end of the story that the book loses me a little bit. After all that happened above, Leonard leaves his teacher’s apartment before the latter has woken up and goes back home. His mother comes back and instantly dismisses Leonard’s suicide attempt, saying that his teacher’s phone call was simply the man misunderstanding that Leonard was never serious and was simply doing something dramatic to get her attention and make her come back home.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
That was very infuriating. I get that shitty parents, but WOW. The kicker is that Leonard then asks her to make banana pancakes for him, and she agrees on the condition that he go get the supplies. But when he comes back, she’s busy on the phone talking business. So he makes the pancakes himself . . . and then leaves.
Oh, and at some point during that, his teacher leaves a message where he says he’s very upset with and disappointed in Leonard for just bailing, after he stuck his neck out for him. Which seems . . . like an odd choice, honestly. Why would you yell at a kid who you know just tried to kill himself after a physical and emotional trauma, just because he wanted to go home after spending a night in a strange home? It probably wasn’t even super legal for you to have him there in the first place! Dial down the rage, bro.
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All in all, I feel like this book addressed several really major issues, but it kept throwing in some overly dramatic moments—unrelated to the major issues—that I felt were super unnecessary. For instance, Leonard would frequently skip school to make trips into the city to watch adults and see if any one of them was actually happy. He’d pick one on the subway and follow them to their job. One day, he followed a woman who confronted him because she thought he was a robber or a pervert. In his attempts to explain himself, she invited him for a coffee. Then, after he talks about why it’s so important for him to believe that adults can be happy and how he frequently follows people, she stands up in the middle of the coffee shop and screams that he’s a pervert who follows women into alleys and that the customers in the shop should have at him.
LITERALLY WHAT?! That was a horribly shitty thing to do. Leonard had done nothing to hurt her in any way. I know that, as women, we need to be caution about strange people. But he’d explained himself, so it should’ve been clear that he was just a sad kid trying to understand the world. And instead, she puts him on blast.
Honestly, that’s probably what did it for me in terms of making the book something I wouldn’t consider reading again. That and the other super awkward moments that just felt like piling on to the crappy life this kid already had.
I can’t handle super awkward things. They make me itch.
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
So, this is the book I would’ve most likely bought if I’d come across it in a bookstore out of all the ARCs. It’s the story of two girls who are going to be roommates for their freshman year of college, and they begin exchanging emails during their final summer at home.
Elizabeth sends the first email. She lives on the East Coast with her mom, and part of her motivation for going to a school in California is so she can reconnect with her father, who left when she was a baby because he’s actually gay. Lauren, the recipient, lives in the same city as their intended college and was really hoping for a single room because she has six brothers and sisters that she takes care of.
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The book has fairly typical fodder. Both girls fall in love—Elizabeth with a boy whose house she’s landscaping as preparation for her major, and Lauren with a BOC she works with—they both come to realizations about their families, and they fight.
But there are some slightly interesting (though not surprising once the wheels start turning) events. Elizabeth’s mom begins dating a married man, who turns out to be the father of the boy Elizabeth is dating. Whoops! Meanwhile, Lauren visits the art gallery that Elizabeth’s dad owns and discovers that he’s not actually in Italy, the way he told his daughter via email when she asked if she could come to California early. Both girls debate about whether to share this information with the relevant parties, and when they do, drama ensues.
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As I said, I probably would’ve bought this book. I’ll likely even read it again! Even though the twists were pretty obvious to me, and the resulting fight between the girls felt blown way out of proportion, this book felt the most real out of the ones I’d read so far. There wasn’t any kind of crazy intense thing inserted into the plot to advance the story (like stolen letters) or unnecessary dramatic bits (like screaming coffee-shop encounters), or any of the things that turned me off about the other ARCs I read (like the really terrible parenting in Reality Boy, as I mentioned back in that very first review in August).
This was just a simple story about getting ready to embark on what is, for many, the first major shift in life: starting college. And I liked that.
So, there we are—the first batch of ARC adventuring! I hope you had fun, and didn’t mind that 1) my thoughts were a little sparse and 2) weren’t entirely positive.
I’m not sure when I plan to return for the next installment (which would be the last one), but it’ll be soon!
May your TBR piles tower but never topple,