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After the Moment (thoughts)

November 5, 2009

AftertheMomentA couple months ago, in a fit of apparent insanity, I decided to accept a few review copies again. And for some reason, I accepted this book without reading the first few pages online, even though I usually research and screen review copies offered me rather meticulously. But I’d heard good things about Garret Freymann-Weyr’s earlier novel My Heartbeat (which was a Printz Honor book)…and, all of this is my way of saying that I didn’t like After the Moment at all. In fact, after sixty pages, I realised it was too much effort to read the rest of the book. So I skimmed it, getting the salient details, and e-mailed the author to explain that I couldn’t write a positive review. In the past, when I’ve done that, the author has agreed that I should just not review the book at all. But Freymann-Weyr said that she still wanted me to review it. So, um, this is going to be quite a negative review, which I find awkward in the extreme. So know that I’m only writing this because the author wanted me to, and I would normally never analyse every single shortcoming of a book into exhuastion. But I can’t in good conscience recommend it. And let me tell you why.

The first problem for me was the clunky writing style.

Millie’s letter to Lillian arrived the next day. When Leigh got home-late, as he’d spent the afternoon at a swim meet, watching Astra destroy her competition-Lillian handed it to him, saying, “This is really for you.” It was two pages long. Millie thanked Lillian for coming to Seth’s service. She said she wanted to ask Leigh a huge favor, but first wanted Lillian’s permission. Or, rather, she wanted it to be very clear that this was all her idea. Neither her mother nor Clayton knew anything about it.

Have you noticed that almost all of the sentences are exactly the same length? And that there’s something stilted about them? Yeah-it’s like that throughout the whole book. I couldn’t connected with any of the characters, in part because the writing wouldn’t allow me to fall into the story. I wanted to pull out a red pen and start correcting, even rewriting, whole passages. (Oh, and Lillian is Leigh’s mom-he refers to his parents by their first name, which I found really odd.)

Of course, the other reason why I couldn’t connect with the characters is that they didn’t feel real. The story is told through limited third-person, from Leigh’s point of view (he’s a boy, btw). There’s a prologue when he’s 21, and then most of the book is told as flashback to when he was 17 (which I found absurd anyway, because doing a flashback to four years ago isn’t nearly enough time to make the idea of a more evolved, aware narrator work). But this is the most preternaturally aware high school junior I’ve ever heard of. He’s constantly telling you exactly what he’s feeling, as well as the feelings of everyone around him. I hate it when authors don’t trust me to figure out what’s going on, when they have to spell out every single little thing…it makes the story feel instantly fake, and if it’s one character’s voice doing the observing, that character becomes unconvincing. Here’s a tiny example (I’m trying not to spoiler anything yet, which is why I’m not picking more central bits) :

Astra’s father had invited her up to his house in Vermont for half of July and all of August, and Astra was beside herself with excitement. Her father lived in London and came back only in the summer, during which he might see Astra for a week or two. This summer, he said, he wanted her to meet his new girlfriend and to spend time with them. Leigh was glad for her, and happy she was happy.

There’s also this weird thing about the US war in Iraq running through the book (at least, the bit I read)…Leigh seems to actually be afraid he’s going to be drafted, and his parents discuss his options in moving to Canada. WTF?!?! I was in high school when the US invaded Iraq, and no one I knew was afraid that a draft was going to be reinstated. And the political observations of Leigh are painfully simple, which since I was a high schooler then, I feel comfortable saying sell the intelligence of 17-year-olds way short. Like this:

No matter how you got your news, it was pretty clear that most people did not feel the way Lillian and Astra’s parents did about the war. Most people were for it. Not in the world-the British Web pages told you that the world thought Americans were deranged cowboys-but at home. Leigh hated the idea of disagreeing with most of the people who lived in his own country, and so he read and listened. And kept his mouth shut.

But my biggest problem with the book is that it’s an ‘issues’ novel. You see, Leigh falls in love with a troubled girl, Maia. (I know at this point, this sounds rather like a John Green novel, but I LOVE both of Green’s books that I’ve read, because he’s a wonderful writer who creates living, breathing teens who are intelligent and funny and confused all at once. So don’t go there. lol) It’s not spoiler-y to say that Maia’s a recovering anorexic, because we know that right off the bat. It’s not handled the way it is in, say, Wintergirls, though…it just feels tossed in there to make Maia more interesting (although, like every other character in the book, she felt like a cardboard cutout). Oh, and have I mentioned that Leigh comes from a ‘modern’ family, whose parents are divorced and whose father is remarried, but his mom tries not to blame his dad for having an affair, because he’s ’emotionally autistic’ and his new wife was a nurse who helped him connect with his emotions?!?! But we’ll leave that alone. Because after I realised I couldn’t read every page of the book, and began skimming, I discovered that the plot is like a Lifetime afternoon movie special. This will involve spoilers, though. So I’m starting a new paragraph.

So Maia and Leigh start dating, but then one night Leigh’s out of town visiting his ex-girlfriend and decides to stay there and comfort her (the ex). This upsets Maia, so she goes out drinking with a bunch of guys. Things get a little blurry, and she’s date-raped. And they film it. So Maia tells Leigh, but she decides she doesn’t want to prosecute because she wants to pretend it never happened so she can stay in her school. But then Leigh gets angry and beats the guy who raped her into a coma one day in the cafeteria. And Maia never speaks to Leigh again, because she trusted him with her secret and he ‘outed’ her so publicly.

This makes me SO MAD. I can’t even begin to tell you how upset I was to see such a horrible topic used for no apparent reason. There are wonderful novels out there, that handle rape victims with dignity and grace, where the rape is essential to the story and the authors are obviously exploring the issue in an attempt to help (Tender Morsels and Speak come to mind). This is not one of those stories. This felt exploitative and wrong. Maia’s nothing but an object.

There we go; that’s my thoughts on After the Moment and why I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. There are marvelous YA books out there, that deal with important, difficult topics. That create real characters and make the reader live in their mind, inhabit their world. This isn’t one of those. You’ve got better things to do with your time. And I’m sorry again for writing such a negative review; usually, I try to keep my less-than-positive reviews much shorter, and I always point out the good things in a book as well. But honestly? I didn’t see any good things in this one (I take that back; the cover is a really pretty light jade). Take that for what it’s worth. If you’ve read this book, and disagree, feel free to explain what you liked about it in the comments. But if you say anything mean about me, I’ll delete it without a second thought. ;)

How do you handle reviewing books you didn’t like? Are you like me, relegating them to ‘blurb’ reviews? Or do you prefer to do a longer review, so you can look at why a book didn’t work for you?

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39 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 6:23 am

    I have a specific format for books I can’t finish. I don’t even skim them, like you did here. I provide a synopsis (my own if I think I read enough of the book or the back of the book) and then I say in a paragraph exactly what the problems were. Then I look for other reviews to try to provide the other side. That’s it. HEre’s a link to my Unfinished books. BTW: Secrets to Happiness was a tour book, but I didn’t treat it any differently.

  2. November 5, 2009 6:33 am

    You are brave! I have a DNF that I keep chickening out on reviewing. I’ve been dwelling on all the negatives and I know I’m going to sound really cranky about it so I’m avoiding it. I know I have to get it together and write it though.

    Even if you did research the book well, there are always those that sneak through.

  3. November 5, 2009 6:52 am

    I think it’s great that the author still wanted you to review the book. When I have books that are DNF, I try first to determine if the problem is me or the book. Because sometimes I am just not in the mood for a certain book and in that case a lot of times it is more my fault than anything else.

  4. November 5, 2009 6:55 am

    I too am impressed both that you notified the author and that the author still wanted you to go forward with the review. You did a nice job setting forth your objections, and I hope your effort to be fair and thorough will benefit the author as well as readers of your blog!

  5. November 5, 2009 6:57 am

    I had to write a negative review of a book I got sent for review last month, Vera and the Ambassador. I really didn’t like doing it because I felt like I was being snarky and snobby the whole time. But I wrote what I thought, used some passages for example, said some things I did honestly appreciate about the book (even if the structure and writing style were bad), then linked to some other reviews for perspective. I think that’s the best anyone can do.

  6. November 5, 2009 7:04 am

    I’m afraid this is a book that I rather enjoyed, and I thought Freymann-Weyr handled the topics very well. I liked seeing things from the male point of view, because so often rape is looked at solely from the girl’s point of view and you never see what it’s like for all those around them. I loved Leigh. He was one of the most genuine characters I’d read in a long time.

    Freymann-Weyr herself was very kind when I met her this summer. Out of all the authors I met at ALA, she was the nicest. I can completely imagine her saying to go ahead with the review anyway. :)

    Sorry you didn’t like this. I personally this it’s a great book for people to read, and that the issues was handled well and not for no reason.

  7. November 5, 2009 7:07 am

    Sorry to hear that you disliked this book so much. =( Thanks for reviewing it anyway, though, even if just because the author asked you to. I’ve been seeing a lot of positive around for it and it’s nice to see the other side.

    I don’t read many bad books, so I don’t write many bad reviews. The last I read for review that I really didn’t like much was A Separate Country by Robert Hicks – I think the fault was mine as a lot of others liked it, but it was just not a book for me. I tend to review them anyway. I’ve never written a DNF review, though. I have had only one recently that I definitely decided not to read, and I didn’t get far enough to have much to say!

  8. November 5, 2009 7:28 am

    Thanks for an honest review, Eva. I have no issue reading negative reviews as long as they are thoughtful; it is good to see the other side and it would be boring if we all liked the same books. I have no issue writing them either but try to balance them where I can e.g. in my review of The Children’s Book by AS Byatt. I respect the author for asking you to write it; the author of a book I wrote a less-than-glowing review of recently commented on it and although seemingly gracious wasn’t thrilled that I dared to express a negative opinion.

  9. November 5, 2009 7:32 am

    Thanks for the negative review. It is good to hear the other side of the equation. I’m not a huge fan of YA to begin with, but I saw the review of this one on Amanda’s blog so I thought it sounded interesting…learning all the details you share, though, makes it sound like not one for me!!

    I agree that writing sounds pretty clunky!

  10. November 5, 2009 7:59 am

    First, I’d like to applaud the author for telling you to go ahead and publish your review. While there are reasons that I probably will never read this book, I have to say that she’s definitely gained a measure of respect from me for that.

    On just a silly aside, my nephews call their parents by their first names. The older one started this when he about 4-years-old and the younger has since he could talk. While I find nothing inherently wrong with it, it definitely took some getting used to.

  11. November 5, 2009 8:23 am

    Thanks for posting the short paragraphs from the book. I agree with you about the clunky writing style.

    I liked how you explained why you didn’t like the book in detail. I was wondering Eva, what if you requested for a book which you thought sounded like something you’d love but ended up hating it and could not finish the book. Would you still write a review?

  12. November 5, 2009 8:47 am

    Thank you for your honest review. I appreciate it when someone doesn’t like a book and tells me why (in some detail, with examples). At least this way I can decide if I should read it or not. Based on your examples, I don’t think I would bother! It was nice of you to let the author know of your intentions. I guess she figured bad publicity is better than no publicity?

  13. November 5, 2009 9:08 am

    I’ve a hard time writing negative reviews, especially for ARC’s from authors who are not all that well known. It’s no problems for me if the author is long dead or very rich. I figure I’m such a small operation that Dave Eggars is not going to lose many sales if I hate his book. (I probably don’t have that much affect on anyone’s sales, really.)

    But the few times I’ve had to write about a book I didn’t enjoy, almost all of these have been ARC’s BTW, it’s been tough. Basically, I try to be as nice about it as I can. There is one author whose books I’ve loved. She agreed to an interview request and did a great job. A few month later she sent me her new book. I didn’t really like it. I still feel bad about it the review I wrote. But I will keep reading and reviewing her books.

    I think the fact that this author encouraged you to write the review and publish it anyway speaks volumes. I imagine the next time you see one of her books you’ll at least pick it up and give it a look. I’m not convinced you’ll read it…….

  14. November 5, 2009 9:10 am

    You know, I have written negative reviews on my site, and generally I will write just as much about them as I would in my positive reviews, just obviously not from a happy, “go read this!” perspective. BUT, I know that I would feel really differently if I were writing such a review and knew the author was going to be reading my review (or really, anyone in the industry who had given me the book). I recently reviewed something through the TLC Book Tours program, and my review wasn’t really very negative, but more like lukewarm, and still I felt terrible that I wasn’t able to like the book more.

    That said, I think that if you are honest, and if you try your very best to qualify everything you say AND to highlight any positives, well, then no one can really get after you. In the end, I think we all realize that these reviews we write can be very subjective, and so maybe the things you dislike someone else is chomping at the bit to read. If you write your review from an honest place and lay all your cards on the table, what else can you do?

  15. November 5, 2009 10:21 am

    You did a fair and honest job, Eva. I also feel respect for the author for letting you go ahead and write a negative review anyway.

    I have a big problem with writing negative reviews. But I noticed that the only ones since blogging that I really didn’t like were ARCs. My own picks that I’ve been reading I usually like (knowing my own preferences), which are mostly classics and prize-winners anyway. I don’t really mind much about anything else in a book if the writing is good. Sometimes, when I pick a dud, I only read about the first one to three pages, so I don’t review them.

    The thing with ARCs was that I had to finish a few that I didn’t want to finish. What’s funny about me is that when I write a negative review, I try so hard to point out the positives, that it ends up looking like I really liked the book when in fact I didn’t (e.g. my reviews of Joana Scott’s Follow Me and Margaret Mascarenhas’s The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos).

    Btw, I don’t accept review copies anymore at all. Unless it was really something that I wanted to read (e.g Oscar Casares’s Amigoland, which was, thankfully, indeed excellent.).

  16. November 5, 2009 10:30 am

    I think it says great things that the author still wanted you to review the book even though you didn’t like it that much.

    I am always so far behind on reviews that I can easily put off reviewing books I didn’t like. lol I must say, though, I am a really good judge of what I will and won’t like, so it is actually that I plan to read a book and really don’t like it. That only usually happens when I step way out of my comfort zone. Or, when I read books that have a lot of hype and they are really actually quite terrible!

    Take this year, out of the 300 some odd books I have read, I would probably say I didn’t like about 10 of them.

  17. November 5, 2009 10:58 am

    Thank you for such an honest review. I like it when people review books that they didn’t like. I find that they are often more descriptive of issues in the books. If I am going to try out a new to me genre or author I often read the one or two star reviews on Amazon because I feel they give me a better view of the books.

    Personally I have only written one negative-ish review and that was for Don Quixote which I simply could not finish.

  18. November 5, 2009 10:59 am

    I don’t have any concrete policy, but usually I finish every book I start, whether or not I like it (I know, gotta get over that someday). I will review them if I finish them, but not usually if I don’t. Or I’ll review it on goodreads instead of my blog. I think it’s easier for me on goodreads to say “I hated this for personal reasons” than on the blog.

    Some things to definitely think about! And good for the author for encouraging a review, even a bad one.

  19. November 5, 2009 11:51 am

    Thanks for writing the review anyway, Eva! I know negative reviews are hard to write, but I think they’re an important part of writing reviews.

  20. November 5, 2009 12:10 pm

    I admire you for a negative review that is still extremely thoughtful and explanatory of what you didn’t like. That’s the key to negative reviews. Like so many others, I also admire the author for giving you the go-ahead to post the negative review. I always admire an author for understanding that there are two sides (or more!) to everything. Not all reviews can be shiny and positive. Great job!

  21. historyofshe permalink
    November 5, 2009 1:35 pm

    How nice of you to contact the author! I feel as though I would have just put it away and not reviewed it for fear of hurting the author’s feelings. Thanks for inspiring me :)

  22. November 5, 2009 1:45 pm

    I think that both you and the author were very brave and I respect you for contacting the author and then writing your honest thoughts. I have written several reviews that would fall to the negative side, but in all cases I was able to include something positive. I’m not sure what I would do if I really couldn’t find anything to like. I think it is important for both positive and negative reviews to be out there as long as the reviewer is being honest and respectful. I think you handled this very well and appreciate your thoughts!

  23. November 5, 2009 4:16 pm

    I think this is a perfectly acceptable way to review a book you had such a hard time with. you perfectly outlined the issues you had with it in a way that helped explain WHY you felt so strongly about it. I’ve written negative reviews but mostly because they were simply “eh”. I’m glad that the author told you to go ahead and review. Thoughtful reviews are thoughtful reviews, negative or positive.

  24. November 5, 2009 4:30 pm

    I think negative reviews are important because without them, it would be so hard to figure out which books aren’t quite what they’re advertised to be. I think you were perfectly fair here and gave enough information for readers to make up their own minds.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t even have contacted the author and asked because I really don’t like the idea of letting authors/publishers have a say in my content. However, on the rare occasion that I do accept a review copy from the author, I’m clear from the get-go that if I don’t like it, I’ll give a negative review. I review everything I read, good or bad–but I don’t read nearly as much as you do, so I don’t have so much to choose from. :-)

    And I do write about books I can’t finish (these are rare), but I always try to be clear about where I stopped reading and why. In the back of my mind, I figure that if the book turns around after that, one of my readers will alert me to that fact. Maybe I should make a point of asking that question on my next abandoned book post.

  25. November 5, 2009 4:42 pm

    I just recently reviewed a book that I didn’t care for (as much as the 1st book at least) and knew that the author would be reading my review. Which does make it a bit awkward :) She was very nice about it though and seemed to understand my writing a negative review.
    As long as your honest, well..that’s what is most important. And we all know that you’ll let us know when you don’t like a book :P

  26. November 5, 2009 8:16 pm

    I feel that negative reviews are important to the blogging community. By sheer statistics, we are not going to like all of the books we read. Therefore, we should show that fact. I feel that to be truly honest as reviewers, we shouldn’t be afraid to post the occasional negative review. Kudos for having the courage to do so! I admire the author for realizing that negative reviews are part of the business too.

  27. November 5, 2009 8:36 pm

    Like Amanda, I also liked this book. It wasn’t my favorite read of the year but I didn’t object to it in the same way you did at all. And like Amanda, I’ve since met the author and thought she was lovely. BUT that’s neither here nor there if you don’t like the book.

  28. November 5, 2009 11:24 pm

    I don’t like the writing style too, at least what you’ve shown, it’s all over the place.

    I’ve read mixed reviews about this book, so may be it’s a hit or miss thing.

  29. November 6, 2009 12:52 am

    Its good to see that u gave a honest opinion. It was also nice of the author to let u say what u thought about the book.

  30. November 6, 2009 5:03 am

    Its a tough one this, I dont tend to put up negative reviews just because I dont want to offend anyone or come across negatively (which you didnt in this case by the way) and so IK just don’t. But if the author wants you to go forward with it then all power to them and to you.

  31. November 6, 2009 5:29 am

    I have such a hard time writing negative reviews. I hate to sound overly harsh. Not sure I would want to have this reviewed as such if I was an author. Especially since you didn’t really even READ the rest of the book!! Doesn’t sound like one I will pick up any time!!

  32. November 6, 2009 6:07 am

    I find this review interesting and, at least for me, the review by itself is not going to scare me away from the book.

    In fact, as I have much harder time with finding things to say about books I like (in fact – with books I love I may get all protective and hesitant to recommend, as it would hurt me if the other person would not like my pet book!), I may go and try to learn more about a book reviewed negatively … and that may lead to buying the book.

    Even in case of this one I can get interested – as I have a 17 year old boy and now I would like to know would this boy find the fictional boy unbelievable and dumb?

    In any case – your review was an interesting read! Thank you.

  33. November 6, 2009 2:19 pm

    I haven’t quite figured out how to review books I don’t finish.
    With books I don’t like I try to come up with criticism of what I didn’t like about the book.

    It’s nice to hear the author was willing to hear out your review.

  34. stacybuckeye permalink
    November 6, 2009 4:23 pm

    I had to write a negative review once after writing to the author in advance. I was hoping to be let off the hook, but he thought any publicity was good publicity, so I had to write it. I applaud your review for being honest.

  35. November 15, 2009 3:21 am

    I really dislike writing a negative review but have done it a few times when I’ve committed to something ( a tour or a review book from an author ) but it isn’t easy. I commend the author for suggesting you go ahead with it even though you didn’t care for the book. That was really brave of her! It was nice of you to ask her, which is something I’ve never thought about doing. You did a good job with the review, too. I’ve seen some reviews (not of this book! others..) that have been downright cruel and nasty- yours is not.

  36. November 16, 2009 1:19 pm

    Beth, I like your format!

    Chris, I don’t usually review DNFs, but since the author asked…

    Lola, that’s true! Sometimes I can tell it’s my mood, but that wasn’t the case here. ;)

    Rhapsody, thank you. :)

    Kim, I feel like I’m snobby when I don’t like a book too!

    Amanda, I think we kind of have opposite reading taste. LOL ;)

    Meghan, I’ve done a couple DNF posts, but usually I forget and return them to the library.

    Claire, thank you! And I’m writing my gushing post about Children’s Book soon, hehe.

    Rebecca, I don’t think I’m a huge YA fan either-I’ve come to realise that this year. There are certain YA authors that I love, but I just don’t care that muchabout teenagers, lol.

    Debi, that would freak me out if my niece called my sister by her first name! lol

    Kate, I’d e-mail the author/publicist just like I did for this book, and do what they requested. :) This has happened 3-4 times before, and each time they said to just not worry about it.

    Kathleen, thanks!

    CB, I agree it’s easier to write a negative review of a classic, lol. It is tough-that’s why I think I’m going bcak to my no ARC rule!

    Steph, yeah-it’s always different knowing the author’s going to read your review!

    Claire, I agree-like I said to CB, I’m going back to almost no ARCs/review copies. ;)

    Kailana, lol-usually I just pop the books I didn’t enjoy into my Sunday Salon, so I just do a quick blurb!

    Zee, I haven’t tried Don Quixote-my mom loved it though. Perhaps it was your translation?

    Melissa, wow-if I knew I was going to finish every book I started, I don’t think I’d be as adventurous.

    Andi, thank you. :)

    History of She, lol!

    Terri, thank you.

    Pam, I’m glad it didn’t feel like I was picking on the book!

    Teresa, that’s true re: the importance of neg. reviews. The reason I contact author/publicist in these situations is that, if I had my way, I would simply not review the book. So I’m hoping that’s what they’ll say, lol.

    Samantha, I think I should only read classics! lol That way the authors aren’t in the equation. :)

    Michelle, that’s true…I’m usually good at picking out books I’ll like, but when I get more adventurous, I start having ones I don’t like.

    Amy, I imagine she is lovely-she sent me a nice hand-written card of introduction. I’m glad others enjoyed the book more. :)

    Violet, I think it’s definitely hit/miss.

    Docshona, thanks!

    SavidgeReads, that’s why I don’t usually do neg. reviews too!

    Stephanie, I know-if I were an author, I wouldn’t want a DNF review, lol.

    Nipernaadi, really!? That’s interesting! I love it when people read one of my fave books.

    Shannon, I think reviewing books is an ongoing learning process. :)

    Stacy, I e-mail authors for the same reason! Let me off the hook! lol

    Lisa, I’m glad you didn’t think I was cruel!

  37. November 17, 2009 7:26 am

    Oh gosh, we had almost the exact same reaction. I would have said much more — as in directing readers to Thirteen Reasons Why, Wintergirls, Willow, Nothing but Ghosts, and Testimony — all which dealt were emotionally engaging and difficult to read because of it. My review went up today.

  38. December 22, 2009 1:32 am

    Oh, interesting. I actually came here via a Twitter link from My Friend Amy after reacting strongly to an article the author published in NPR recently about “smart adult books” for “smart teens,” and I’m glad you were able to much more strongly express why you didn’t like this book than I did on my tour stop for ATM. I wish I had gotten the guts to skim it like you did, but I felt like I just HAD to read it all, since I had requested to be on the tour and all. Also, I may have to consider doing the whole “emailing the authors” thing if I’d rather not finish their book to write a negative review–I hate writing those. Thanks! :)

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