Monday, October 24, 2016

YA Review: Don't Ever Change

Don't Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom

Published: July 7th, 2015 by HarperTeen
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: ARC
Page Count: 359 in the ARC, but goodreads says 368 in the finished copy. I assume they are correct.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: I was sent it for review consideration, and yes I've had this one for a year now. At least it's not 2011.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Eva has always wanted to write a modern classic—one that actually appeals to her generation. The only problem is that she’s starting to realize she can’t “write what she knows” because she hasn’t really lived. So the summer before heading off to college, Eva is determined to live a life worth writing about.

But soon Eva’s story starts to go in unexpected directions, like growing apart from her best friends, working at a job she is completely unqualified for, and even falling for the last person she would have ever imagined. Like anyone, though, it will be up to Eva to figure out how she wants this particular chapter in her story to end.

Review: This is an odd one. I think I liked it, but I'm not entirely sure yet on all my thoughts yet. It's probably going to take me the rest of this review to figure them out. I can definitely say this is not a book for everyone. It's kinda weird, honestly. Mostly I enjoyed that weird, but it probably wouldn't be for everyone. It's going to depend on whether this is your flavour of weird. Eva is a writer, as it says in the summary, and a great deal of the book is her arc in learning to experience things and not just observe them, so a lot of the book has a very removed feeling. There's some fourth wall teasing in the talk about characters and readers.

I'm personally a fan of the summer after high school graduation YA, and I've also enjoyed gap year YA. I would actually like to see more of them, and ones that are absolutely, definitively aimed at teenagers. I mean, it's a confusing time for a lot of teens. So much of high school is built up as "the best time of your life", so what happens after? How do you decide what happens next? What if your plans change? How do you deal? I think when YA can get that balance and talk about that weird transition time, it can be really interesting, and really important, and I think teens will really connect to it.

Does Don't Ever Change do that? Mostly. I didn't personally always love it, but I think for the most part it's interesting, and I do think there are teens out there who really would love this.

Plot Talk: Simple plot. The summer before college, Eva is given some writing advice from her teacher and decides to try and follow it. She works at a summer camp with nine-year-old girls, dates a few people, and learns about herself. The plot works fine, and it doesn't drag or anything. No complaints about it.

Characters: Eva was originally described to me as unlikeable (something I really enjoy), and the funny thing to me is, the people around her come off as more unlikeable than her to me! It's kind of interesting, actually. She does have some snarky moments, but honestly a lot of the time I think they were justified. It's kind of interesting - Eva doesn't really come off as rude, or mean, or anything like that, but she's reserved, quiet, sometimes a little snarky, and keeps to herself a lot. You can see how other characters could think she's stuck up or uninterested in them. It's really an interesting thing, and very relateable.

Like I said, I did think some of the other characters can come off as a little jerky. They are teenagers, though, so I can't really say it's completely a bad thing. Like there are characters who judge Eva as uptight or stuck up for not liking parties, and one even says something about how she didn't even try and have fun. Like, not everyone likes parties or finds them fun? But then at one point, that characters apologies and says that they know parties aren't everyone's thing. It's a good balance, and I enjoyed it.

I also really loved the relationship Eva has with her sister. It's very sweet. And the campers she works with are really cool. I'm pretty fond of camps in books for someone who never went and hates the outdoors, but I tend to like the kid stuff way more than the kissing stuff, and I liked that there was a lot more focus on her campers than on her romantic life.

Now, something I'm actually a little conflicted about. I don't exactly think this is a fat-friendly book, but it did some things I want to talk about. One of Eva's campers is chubby, but besides one comment about her not being truly fat "yet", the book always calls her fat. Eva is not always nice in her comments about this kid. The line "happy as a fat little clam" comes up, and that's kind of - wow. I don't think the word fat is an insult, mind you, but Eva isn't commenting about anyone else's body but the fat kid's.

But... another character kind of calls her out on it. It's a little subtle, but there's a character who doesn't seem to approve, and Eva seems embarrassed in the moment. Later, at the end of the book, it's revealed that the girl's parents basically expect the camp to make their daughter lose weight because "health" and Eva defends her.

I'm going to talk about that a little more later, but I thought I'd mention that here.

PG-13 stuff: There's a fair amount of smooching in this book. Some mentions of drinking, but it's pretty mild. A little strong language I think, some talk of sex. The back of my ARC says 14 and up and that's probably about right.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: Like everyone is straight and the book is very white. There's some ableist language that is seriously unnecessary, and a weird line about some of the other counselors (who are like 17 or 18) from Eva's camp finding one of the CITs hot (who is 13). That was uncomfortable.

And there was a fat joke from Eva that I was really not fond of at all. Eva making a joke about her friends calling her fat when she's obviously thin, and since there's only one fat character in the book, and that character is not treated exactly positively, it rubbed me the wrong way. Now to wrap up what I was talking about in the character section - I don't think this is necessary a fat positive book. If you're a former fat kid, you might not want to read this one. I wish the author had been more hard-core in pointing out that everyone, including Eva, was treating Alexis horribly because she was fat.

I mean, it also would be nice if a book pointed out that dieting doesn't work, we don't know how to make fat kids thin (but we do help give them eating disorders), we don't even know how to make fat adults thin, or that what the camp and Alexis' parents were doing would be completely against anything that's actually healthy for her and goes against current AAP guidelines... but yanno. That'd probably be asking too much.

I'm not taking points off for this, because I think in the end it's okay enough, since the narrative does seem to say that Alexis' parents were completely in the wrong, but I do wish Bloom had done a little more.

Cover comments: This is a nifty cover, but I can imagine the hardcover getting a ton of fingerprints. It also looks awful on a white background, lol. In person, it stands out well. It also fits the tone of the book being kind of quirky and different.

Conclusion: Well, we've reached the end, and I think for the most part, I've decided I liked it. There are some things I didn't love, and somethings I would have wanted more from (seriously though not one queer person?), but I enjoyed reading it. I don't think it's going to be for everyone, but it's an interesting, weird book. I definitely think there are teens out there who are going to connect to it. I look forward to the author's future books, too. I think she has great potentional, and I want to see what she does next. I'm going to give this one three and a half roses.

That's all, folks!

Peace and cookies,

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