Hello my wonderful blogmates! Today, I’m bringing you a review of an ARC that NetGalley was kind enough to approve me for (my first ARC ever!!). Many thanks to NetGalley, the author A.E. Kaplan, and Knopf Books for giving me this opportunity. Without further adieu, here’s my review!
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 320 (Kindle edition)
Publication Date: 18 April 2017
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
“That’s what I wanted: the rawness. The perfect distillation of self, with no lies, no clutter. The beautiful clarity of knowing and being known.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Revenge of the Nerds in this tale of a teen misfit who seeks to take down the bro next door, but ends up falling for his enemy’s sister and uncovering difficult truths about his family in the process.
Tom Grendel lives a quiet life—writing in his notebooks, mowing lawns for his elderly neighbors, and pining for Willow, a girl next door who rejects the “manic-pixie-dream” label. But when Willow’s brother, Rex (the bro-iest bro ever to don a jockstrap), starts throwing wild parties, the idyllic senior citizens’ community where they live is transformed into a war zone. Tom is rightfully pissed—his dad is an Iraq vet, and the noise from the parties triggers his PTSD—so he comes up with a plan to end the parties for good. But of course, it’s not that simple.
One retaliation leads to another, and things quickly escalate out of control, driving Tom and Willow apart, even as the parties continue unabated. Add to that an angsty existential crisis born of selectively reading his sister’s Philosophy 101 coursework, a botched break-in at an artisanal pig farm, and ten years of unresolved baggage stemming from his mother’s death…and the question isn’t so much whether Tom Grendel will win the day and get the girl, but whether he’ll survive intact.
There were so many parts of this book that I enjoyed that I would’ve rated this higher had it not been for the parts that irked me. Tom Grendel is such an interesting character who is constantly seeking to know people on a deeper level, refusing to just skim the surface. He spends a great deal of his free time interviewing his elderly neighbours not as a school project, like many often assumed, but as a means of capturing the stories and memories of people who won’t be around much longer to share them. His devotion to this projection, coupled with his interactions with his eccentric sister Zipora (more affectionately known as Zip), his witty friend Ed and his introspective and PTSD-riddled father, made me really like this story.
I found myself chuckling during most of Tom and Ed’s conversations because together, those boys are quite the dynamic duo! Tom and Zipora have a typical brother-sister relationship that involves some bickering and giving each other a hard time, but you can certainly see how deeply they care for one another and will go the distance for each other. Tom and Zip’s father is away for a majority of the book, but the lengths that Tom goes through to make sure his father is happy is so endearing and you can see that though his father doesn’t talk much, he loves Tom very much.
While I have endless amounts of praise for Tom, Zip and Ed, I have a great deal of contempt for the other young characters in this story. Tom’s new (but also former) neighbours, sibling Rex and Willow Rothgar and their cousin Wolf, were the downfall of this story for me. While a great deal of the plot centres around “taking down” Wolf and Rex, I could’ve completely done without them. The part of the plot that focuses on ending those two made the story feel so much more superficial than it could’ve been. The first half of the book, which focuses on these annoying, non-stop parties at the Rothgar’s, took me so long to get through, whereas the latter half of the book, which delves deeper into the reasons behind Tom’s neighbour interviews and his memories of his deceased mom, took me less than a day. And don’t even get me started on Willow Rothgar and her lacklustre, forced-but-basically-non-existent romance with Tom. She makes it a point to tell Tom “I’m not your manic pixie dream girl” and yet acts exactly like that. Her character felt very reminiscent of Alaska from John Green’s Looking for Alaska, another character whose attempts at manufacturing depth of character led to her coming off as aloof and shallow. Willow does not treat Tom with the level of respect that he gave her.
When I began the book, it felt as though it was definitely on track for being a 5-star read for me. And there are so many parts of this book that I love! I hate that there’s also such a huge part of it that I don’t love. I think if I were to reread this, going into it with a slightly different mindset, I could possibly get over my strong dislike of Wolf, Rex, and Willow. I would know what I was getting into with those three. Overall, I will say that this book was good and that it started and ended strongly, though the middle could’ve been stronger.