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Monday, February 17, 2014

YA Review: Notes From the Blender

LOOK ANOTHER REVIEW. Honestly, I'm as shocked as you are. This one is long, too!

Notes From the Blender by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Published: May 2011 (I'm pretty sure) from Egmont
Genre: YA Contemporary
Binding: ARC and yes I got this in 2011, and yes, it's 2014. Just... run with it, please.
Page Count: 228 in my ARC, 240 according to goodreads
Part of a series? Nope.
Amazon / Book Depository / IndieBound

Summary (from goodreads): Declan loves death metal--particularly from Finland. And video games--violent ones. And internet porn--any kind, really. He goes to school with Neilly Foster and spends most of his classroom time wondering what it might be like to know her, to talk to her, maybe even to graze against her sweater in the hallway.

Neilly is an accomplished gymnast, naturally beautiful, and a constant presence at all the best parties (to which Declan is never invited). She's the queen of cool, the princess of poker face, and her rule is uncontested - or it was until today, when she's dumped by her boyfriend, betrayed by her former BFF Lulu, and then informed she's getting a new brother--of the freaky fellow classmate variety. Declan's dad is marrying Neilly's mom. Soon. Which means they'll be moving in together.

Review: This is kind of a weird one. Declan talks a lot more frankly about sex and masturbation and bodily functions than most YA books I've read really do, the whole set-up is kind of hilarious, and it's just... different. I did quite like it, though. I even got a little sniffly at the end.

Plot Talk: Okay, so, the set-up of this book. Neilly and Declan don't really know each other... right up until they find out that his dad and her mom are not only getting married, but having a baby. Accidentally. Which makes them both crack up because their parents had given them the Safe Sex talk several times over. Declan has a crush on/boner for Neilly, Neilly doesn't know who Declan is, neither of them initially deal with the whole thing where their lives are uprooted very well, everybody grows up a little bit, and it all ends happily.

...I'm getting better at this part, aren't I?

Characters: The book is told in alternating POVs from Declan and Neilly. Here's a neat thing in the ARC that I actually wish I had a final copy to check - their chapters have different fonts. It's subtle, but there's a difference between her chapters and his.

Since Declan opens the book, we'll start with him. He's a hard character to like and he would be making a joke about "hard" if he heard that. He talks and thinks a LOT about sex and masturbation and, while that doesn't hugely bother me, he also spends a lot of time at first treating Neilly like she exists only to turn him on. At one point, he claims that seeing her eat a Popsicle in the cafeteria made it so he has to go home for the rest of the day. He makes a lot of cracks about her being spank bank material. He at one point says he recognizes the back of her head because he'd "spent enough hours picturing it bobbing up and down on my lap". He also ends up coming off as a Nice Guy and there are moments where he doesn't seem to realize that Neilly is human that are really unpleasant.

The authors do end up showing pretty darn well, though, that a lot of his behaviour, especially the sex stuff, was partly a coping method. That he was not dealing well with his mom's death, even seven year's later. And that, I think, while it doesn't excuse treating Neilly like that, is a really good thing to show. A teenaged boy coping badly with the death of their mother feel less common to me. I like that he apologizes at the end of the book and (erm SPOILER HEYO POSSIBLY SKIP THIS PART) realizes that not only was Neilly NOT going to be interested in him that way, that he more valued the idea of her being both his friend and his sister. It was nice and refreshing. The other thing I really liked was that not only did it show Declan having issues with both the changes and the death of his mother, but he was shown to have emotions including breakdowns and crying, but also that he tried therapy and, while it takes him time to find the right one, it helped him.

As for Neilly herself - first of all, the gymnast thing is not in the ARC??? Apparently that was edited in after they went out. So I can't really comment on that besides saying that it would fit her really well, because she was a very in control character. (I'd check the finished copy, but I don't have one on hand.) She's a very tough character. She does not forgive easily, which ends up being something she has to learn because she's too hasty to hold grudges. She does not deal well with the changes at first, either, and she has to do a lot growing through the book.

As for side characters, Neilly's mom and Declan's dad are somewhat irritating at first. They spring a ton of sudden changes on their teenaged kids - remarrying when neither of them told them that they were even dating, a new pregnancy, and moving - then get annoyed when they don't deal well with it and need time to adjust? That's just not fair and unrealistic. By the end of it, they do redeem themselves, though.

I also liked that Neilly had a good relationship with her dad despite her parents having a rocky breakup, and besides that, liked and respected and cared about her father's partner Roger. The fact that everything with her mom and dad ended up being pretty good natured and even her mom ended up going to their wedding while not being glossed over was refreshing. It wasn't shown as easy, exactly, but at the same time, everyone sort of had bigger fish to fry.

One of the neatest characters, though? Declan's aunt Sarah, who was a woman in a relationship with another woman, and also the minister of a church! That was great to see.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: The aforementioned issue of Declan really acting like a jerk about Neilly. It is kind of uncomfortable. Luckily he gets over it. There are also a couple moments of transphobia/cissexism - "But now it was clear that nobody with a penis could ever figure out how girls thought." pg. 55 of the ARC and I'd check it if I had a final copy but I don't, apologies. Girls can have penises. I realize a lot of people wouldn't even notice that, but it's something I notice because that kind of language can hurt people.

There is also a focus on faith. Declan and Neilly attend a youth group at Declan's Aunt Sarah's church. It didn't bother me, personally. I actually thought it was handled nicely, and it is a part of a lot of peoples' lives. It was nice to see it in an inclusive setting and I didn't think it was overdone, personally. There's actually a lot less talk about God so much as them learning about themselves. And I'm not religious in any way so I'm a little more sensitive to that kind of thing.

In a weird way, the part that ended up being "preachy" was the anti-drinking and anti-drugs message. While Declan's made sense due to the death of his mother, it does come off a little overdone with some of the other characters. I also worry about the all or nothing approach as they get older and the message might alienate some teens. And I am saying this as someone who does not drink despite being legal age to do so. It's not a bad message, obviously, but it was almost overdone at times and I really do think some actual teenagers might be rolling their eyes at it, which would defeat the purpose of it.

PG-13 stuff: PRETTY MUCH EVERY THING DECLAN SAYS OR DOES. Most teenagers probably won't be phased by anything in here, mind you, but there is a fair amount of language and innuendo and such. Your mileage may vary.

Cover comments: Okay, funny story. So I got this back in 2011 and then got all broken and didn't review for a long time. So because of that, I ended up basically forgetting what the title of this was or that I had it. And the ARC has a much different cover. It's orange, with a blender on it.

And then I took this out from the library. Whoops.

Obviously I liked it! It catches your eyes and the juxtaposition of the two shoes being so different really works.

Conclusion: This is a very funny book that balances the humour well with the more serious aspects. While I'm not always fond of Declan's behaviours and the way he objectifies Neilly, I liked most of the characters and they were written well. It was very engrossing and easy-reading, to the point where I put off peeing through three chapters because I didn't want to stop reading. I liked how there were a lot of characters who had different orientations and backgrounds, and oddly, I liked how Declan's Norwedgian death metal thing wasn't a way of acting out, it was just something he liked. The alternating POVs worked well and, all in all, I very much enjoyed it. Four out of five roses.

(Aren't they pretty?!)

Other notes:

- The only one I have says "Dude, don't DOWNLOAD your porn!" Because... yeah.

Thanks for reading!

Peace and cookies,

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