I promised in this blog post to search for a good self-published YA book and here’s the first of my recent reads…if I didn’t include a title then there’s a really good reason for that. I’m not out to ruin anyone’s career and I sure as heck don’t think my opinion is a reflection of all readers but as someone who’s learned a good deal about writing and creating a novel, I’m just here to give my sort of expert insight.
Self-published Book #1
Official Description: Girl A and her older brother, have an abusive father. One night her brother’s best friend, Lover Boy, sees her crying and climbs through her bedroom window to comfort her. That one action sparks a love/hate relationship that spans over the next eight years.
Lover Boy is now a confident, flirty player who has never had a girlfriend before. Girl A is still emotionally scarred from the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. Together they make an unlikely pair.
Their relationship has always been a rocky one, but what happens when Girl A starts to view her brother’s best friend a little differently? And how will her brother, who has always been a little overprotective, react when he finds out that the pair are growing closer?
My Thoughts: First off, I love an edgy YA contemporary where a character is overcoming a dark past, so don’t mistake my negativity for not liking this type of story. So here are my biggest issues with this story:
1) Believability—As a rule in fiction, I try to adopt the “Never say Never” philosophy along with the “Never say Always” philosophy. Right off the bat the author lost me by claiming that Lover Boy snuck in Girl A’s room EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. For eight years. Way later in the book there is some mention of Lover Boy occasionally going on vacation and being absent from Girl A’s bed. There’s just no way a boy who’s an only child with a mother who makes dinner every night and bakes pies and an attentive father would never find out that their only child never actually slept in his own bed. Or his own home for that matter. Add a supernatural element where he waves a magic wand, putting Mom and Dad in a trance and I’m totally on board. Whatever. I’m not picky about this kind of stuff, just don’t box yourself in to a teeny tiny window. Easy fix to this problem is to have him sometimes crawl in her window and stay with her over the course of eight years. Just say, “I was eight the first time Lover Boy crawled in my window to comfort me after saving me from almost getting raped by my father…and it wasn’t the last time Lover Boy would do this either.” Or something like that. And yeah, Girl A has some serious baggage with what her dad almost did to her.
2) Girl A is THE Most Important Person In The World—And I don’t mean this in a “Harry Potter is Undesirable #1” kinda way. That would be conflict. Fantastic conflict. Instead, Lover boy is ALWAYS there for Girl A. In fact his entire existence has just been for the sole purpose of keeping her nightmares away. He snuggles in bed with her every night to keep the nightmares away. He can’t live without her yet he never tells her this exactly. He plays it cool. And her brother exists to serve Girl A and many of the friends she has also exist to tell Girl A how awesome she is. And she gets to cuddle with the hot neighbor anytime she wants and as soon as she decides she wants more with Lover Boy, she gets it. Honestly, when I first started writing, I made a similar mistake in making my characters super awesome and the best people in the whole world. They got to kiss the girl/guy of their dreams the moment they wanted to without delay. They got to be the hottest, smartest and best athletes in the high school AND they got to be nice and above caring about said hotness.
If you are writing for yourself, for the purpose of having a creative outlet and doing what you want with a story then I think you should totally give your characters everything. BUT, from my experience, I didn’t leave people eager for more and I didn’t get any agent or publisher’s attention until I started humiliating my characters, giving them flaws, cutting off their legs (metaphorically), and making life a living hell for them. Is it as fun to write those struggles? Not always. But it makes you write something that makes people feel something and that should always be goal #1 if you are going to sell/publish a book.
3) Too Much Touching in the Before Stage of the Love Story—by having Lover Boy snuggle close to Girl A (in fact, he rubbed his morning you-know-what against her every day since hitting puberty but we’ll get to that issue later). Again, this is NOT a content issue. I repeat, I don’t care about the rating or content or censorship. BUT by having all this touching and holding each other before the actual romance/relationship starts, you’ve killed all opportunities to build sexual tension. In my opinion, Lover Boy should occasionally fall into Girl A’s window, grab a pillow, and curl up on the floor. Because guess what? After years of lying on her floor, how powerful will that moment be when he finally does climb into her bed? See where I’m going with this…
4) Lover Boy and His Morning You-Know-What—as mentioned above, this is whole different issue than sexual tension. I think if you’re going to write a book about a character who has physical and sexual abuse in her past (to the point of a brutally violent almost-rape I should add) then as an author, you have to lay a foundation of character traits and behaviors that allude to this type of past. Girl A claims in narration to be afraid of being touched but she hugs her brother and her friends, sleeps in only a t-shirt and thong underwear, and let’s Lover Boy press his you-know-what against her every morning and they aren’t dating or even friends outside of her bedroom, or in a friends-with-benefits relationship,in fact, she hasn’t even had her first real kiss yet, but Liam’s lust stick contacting her doesn’t bother her one bit?
I’m not saying that every character has to follow the American Psychology Association’s list of pattered behaviors of victims of sexual abuse. I’m just saying that something like what Girl A has been through affects a person and I wanted to see her actually affected. Mentioning her resistance to being touched in narration was a half-assed effort to cover the fact that the author just didn’t want to take the time to draw out the MCs character and layer it. And again, think how powerful that scene will be where Girl A finally finds someone she trusts enough to let them touch her. Assuming they aren’t touching all the time BEFORE this realization happens. That’s the book that I want to read. Because as this one’s written, Girl A has already overcome this obstacle. In fact, it’s not really an obstacle at all so the only conflict is whether or not Girl A can eventually believe Lover Boy (who has lived the past 8 years just to serve her), when he says he loves her. Sure she can say, “I don’t believe you…prove it” but that can’t last very long because he has proven it. It’s just a matter of her either loving him or deciding she doesn’t. And just as a side note, I think I would have liked it better if she climbed into his window rather than the other way around.
5) Lover Boy is Always There For Her—Lover Boy has devoted years to serving Girl A both day and night. He has no personal need to be with her other than years of want and desire and love, I guess (I’m not gonna go there). She’s horrible to him all the time. Calls him a man-slut and never thanks him for giving her rides places and helping her through her nightmares. She needs him desperately in order to survive her nights but all she does is hate on him and he doesn’t actually need her for any reason—happy family, only child, freshly baked pies waiting for him after school, popularity, athletic talent, a bright future as a professional athlete, a loyal best friend. I need them to need each other if this story is going to work.
Love goes both ways. And not just the “we can’t live without each other” but the, “I’m capable of surviving on my own despite my past/flaws but I’m better with you.” In a way, Girl A kind of reminds me of the girl in the Matchbox 20 song, She’s So Mean. She stomps all over everyone, doing exactly what she wants for herself and somehow, a guy still falls in love with her. I can believe that that happens but not with someone like Lover Boy’s character. He needs to have a reason to believe this is the only shot he’ll get at finding someone. Lover Boy has every opportunity in the world. So, it’s not realistic for him to let himself get walked all over by a girl.
6) A Very Disturbing Bet—this is the part that probably bugged me the most and for like the 30thtime I’m going to state that I understand YA novels push the limits and have all kinds of mature content. I love mature content and I support this because I have found YA literature to present these subjects and issues beautifully and realistically and in a way that shows the reader an important side of life.
So, this bet that takes place in the book really hurts the YA genre, IMO. What happens is, when Lover Boy and Girl A finally officially get together, they can’t tell anyone because Girl A’s over-protective brother will flip. And Lover Boy can’t just stop being a man-whore or everyone will get suspicious so he makes up a mysterious girlfriend who he claims doesn’t believe in sex before marriage. All the girls in the school (and I do mean ALL of them) are so hot for Lover Boy that they just have to get him to cheat on his girlfriend and prove that he can’t go a day without getting some. They all put in $20 and the first one to “nail” Lover Boy wins the pot of cash. Seriously. We’re talking about actual intercourse.
The pot gets all the way up to $1860. You do the math. That’s a lot of high school girls willing to have a one-night stand. And this is just in one school. Not only is it statistically wrong, but it’s morally wrong to send that message. Girl A is with him and thus ends up being the one to nail him and wins the money. But not until after all these girls make some pretty vulgar attempts at doing the deed. Is there Love Potion 9 running through the water fountains? Do these girls have no extra curricular activities or boyfriends that might be important enough for them to not want Lover Boy for themselves? This is what I mean about the world revolving about the main characters. It’s not realistic to have secondary characters with no real-life qualities or characteristics that define them. I should note, that it would be totally fine by me if all these girls were betting on who could get Lover Boy to kiss them first. Big difference. Huge.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS FOR YOU
So basically, my concluding opinion is that this is a beginner’s book and there’s nothing wrong with that. And honestly speaking, based on my own experience in where I began and where I am as a writer, this author could easily improve. This is not a lost cause so believe when I say that I’m not setting out to ruin a career. But with that said, this is why I couldn’t self publish. Everybody that had their hands in Tempest in the development stages (and that’s a lot of people) have made it so much better. You have no idea. I’m not saying this is the case with everyone, but with this particular book and author, this isn’t ready to be sold to anyone.
And yet it has.
Tons of people have rated it on Goodreads. So, that proves that my opinion isn’t a factor in the success or failure of a self published book. It doesn’t need my help. Therefore, I feel okay speaking honestly about my issues with it. If you’ve read this book and you’ve truly enjoyed it, then please let me recommend some books that are similar yet actually ready for publication because trust me, you’re gonna be blown away by the awesomeness that you’ve probably not discovered yet.
Also, tell me honestly if you think this review was constructive or did it come off as unproductive venting? I don’t want my negative reviews to be about venting or bashing. I want them to mean something and be valuable to someone. And do you think I should just include titles and authors?
As a very final note, I really do want to find a decent self-published YA that isn’t written by Tammara Webber (love her, but I’m ready for someone else to impress me, perhaps she spoiled me).
What should I read next?