Happy Thursday, Reading Nook!
Today, we're reviewing Even When You Lie To Me, a provocative novel on forbidden relationships and self-doubt, from debut author Jessica Alcott.
I went into the book not really sure what to expect, but came out of it really appreciating Alcott's ability to understand just how the strength of some insecurities can encourage readers to pursue very misguided relationships.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published June 9th 2015 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he's the only one who gets her.
She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.
In this stunning debut, Jessica Alcott explores relationships-and their boundaries-in a way that is both searingly honest and sympathetic.
However, I'm telling all of you now: you definitely need to pick up this book. Because otherwise, you're going to be missing out on a great character study of self-worth, and eventual empowerment.
Things that worked:
From the very first page, Alcott makes it clear that Charlie is a girl who doesn't understand her place in the world. Her life consists of a list of unfulfilled expectations - ranging from being only a decent student, to a lack of popularity - and Alcott beautifully illustrates Charlie's struggles with wanting to fulfill those expectations, and her equal belief that she shouldn't force herself to be something that she doesn't want to be.
Though Charlie's struggles are a familiar stage of adolesence, Alcott imbues a certain rawness to Charlie's problems that will resonate deeply, page after page. Even when we see her pushing back against people like her mother, we also see the pain of Charlie just hating herself just a little, because she can't be what everyone expects from her.
While it's not easy to read Charlie's internal struggles, it's almost cathartic to do so. I too struggled with a very exacting parent when I was younger, and I spent a long time wondering just what was wrong with me because I couldn't fulfill those requirements, and I instinctively did whatever I could to find encouragement and appreciation elsewhere - something I think that readers, especially struggling ones, will understand.
Which brings me to...
While some authors have opted to have student/teacher relationships be portrayed as dangerous!sexy! things, or cute and fluffy - Alcott opts to portray Drummond and Charlie's relationship as a mutually damaged one.
We see how they seek each other out, and how it's the positive attention from either party that drives their relationship forward. Charlie is relieved that someone will just let her be who she wants to be; while Drummond, a man who is struggling with his own life issues, is obviously enthralled by the adoration.
Though it's never overtly stated, Alcott makes it clear that Charlie's attention reinforces Drummond's waning sense of self-worth, which is both evocative, as much as it is provocative. It's a reminder that damaged people can seek out things that are bad for them in order to temporarily feel better, and how it's very easy to slip down that path.
The deeper issues:
While I have seen some reviews criticize Alcott for not emphasizing Drummond preying on Charlie, or showing ramifications for him doing so, I actually think that Alcott has done a pretty even-handed job of showing how troubling this relationship is.
Though she never says it explicitly, she does emphasize the idea that both parties do understand the relationship is wrong, and how at the end of the day, there's something very sad and almost pathetic about Drummond even unintentionally encouraging it, and how he'll hopefully
I think this approach actually sends a stronger message about the ramifications of their relationship verses making him a villain, and I think that readers will agree.
Without giving spoilers away, I think that Alcott's book ends the only way that a story like this could have ended.
While the ending will likely seem obvious to some readers, I absolutely appreciate the idea that the ending really stresses the idea that Charlie has accepted herself and found what she's looking for, and is ready to embrace the next stage of her life.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
Through Charlie, Alcott manages to display the type of sheer raw emotion and absolute insecurity that I think that we've all felt during our burgeoning years of adolesence, and I think that Green's characters - charming as they are - come nowhere close to hitting that same stride. In many ways, it almost seems a disservice to Alcott to compare the two.
But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find a provocative and soulful study on what it means to let personal insecurities drive a person onto the path (and into the arms) of someone who is isn't good for you, and what it takes to realize that fact. Alcott hits both the highs and the lows of adolescence, with absolutely beautiful writing and careful, evocative character studies. Charlie's journey is one that many of us will recognize, whether we'll admit it or not.
This isn't the only book that's coming out over the next twelve months about a teacher and student relationship, but this is the only one you should read. I highly recommend this for fans of older YA contemporary fiction, full stop.