Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Not-a-Genre-ally Speaking: Left Drowning, by Jessica Park

Title: Left Drowning
Author: Jessica Park
Publisher: Amazon Skyscape
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Read: July 2013
Genre: "New Adult"
Where It Came From: ARC from the BEA
Rating: 2 out of 5 Bedrooms

The Quick and Dirty:

College senior Blythe McGuire meets Chris Shepherd and his fun-loving siblings as she begins to heal from the trauma of surviving the house fire that killed her parents. Blythe discovers that she loves running, sex and the Shepherd siblings (not necessarily in that order), but that love is complicated between emotionally damaged people. It's melodramatic erotica with a side plot of marathon running. The author tries to make more of a character-growing plot, but I am too distracted for this to resonate. I learn that this genre makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable and confused about human interaction.

The Wordy Version:

After this paragraph, this is a super-spoiling post. Sorry about that. I entirely agree with the New York Times critic A.O. Scott about genre stories and knowing the ending in advance. If a contemporary erotic late young adult novel is your type of book, you’ll like it no matter how much you hear from me ahead of reading it. As for me, the more frustrated I get while reading a book, the more I feel like telling you what crazy things happen in the story. Today I'm also in a life lesson mood.

Senior year of college is beginning, and Blythe realizes that she has been in a depressive and alcohol-fueled fog for the last four years, ever since her parents died in a house fire. Waking up one day, she decides to spend 24 hours without any booze, and within that time she independently meets Sabin, a junior who steals her coffee and decides in that second that they will be besties, and Chris, a senior who is built and can skip rocks. To make matters better, Sabin and Chris happen to be brothers, and their twin younger siblings go to the college too, and LOVE Blythe right away.

Romance book life lesson: when you think you are out of shape, wretched-looking and unused to social interaction, people will FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU. Also, when you make friends, make sure they come from the same family. Diversifying your friend group is needlessly complicated.

In Blythe’s relief about being sober, meeting friendly people, and having a sweet crying session that doesn’t weird anyone out, she starts to go running to deal with her flabby yet bony legs. (Life lesson: do not be content with being thin because EWWW celluloid.) Blythe has had no focus for however many years, but now she is ready to do a 45-minute run her first time out. As anyone who has ever exercised before may predict, she gets tired and does the normal thing of rushing to her brand new friend, Chris, to complain about her physical unfitness and her family problems. Chris can’t solve the aunt issue (although he is a great listener and affirmer of Blythe’s feelings), but he can make Blythe a new playlist. Blythe thanks him by pulling him close for a sweaty kiss. Chris eventually pries her off and Blythe is MORTIFIED.

Life lesson: Complain to new acquaintances about things. It’s a huge turn on.

Blythe avoids Chris for a little, even while she uses his playlist to get her through her full work-out. Things between the two get even more complicated when he shows up at her room one day to help her masturbate (Blythe’s second favorite thing to do after running). Meanwhile she continues to grow closer to Chris’s whole family. She even invites his little sister to move into her dorm room.

Life lesson: When you find the right guy, his whole family will adopt you as one of their own within weeks.

As Blythe and the Shepherd siblings celebrate Thanksgiving together, Blythe begins to see that the Shepherd family is kind of dysfunctional after Sabin drunkenly tries to ride a cafeteria tray off a third floor roof. In Sabin’s belligerency he makes fun of his sister’s religious beliefs and his brother’s unwillingness to hook up with Blythe within a month of meeting her, and then Sabin thrusts his tongue down Blythe’s throat. Blythe forgives him because he’s so drunk he’s just not himself. The boy Shepherd twin and his boyfriend dampen Chris’s mattress while they’re waiting to see if Sabin falls off the roof.

Life lesson: Belligerent drunks shouldn’t be held to high standards. And don’t trust people not to mess up your mattress in a life-or-death situation when you’d expect them to be too worried to be hooking up.

By Christmas, Blythe is doing great and starting to reconcile with her little brother (who has never followed the above life lesson, and has been pretty upset with Blythe for drunk dialing him at all hours). She and Chris manage to spend forty pages a week in bed together with no expectation of commitment. Blythe and Chris both realize they’re in love with each other, but that is too serious for Chris, who not only bails but gets engaged to the next girl he sees.

Life lesson: Guys don’t buy the cow if they can get the milk for free? Don’t date severely emotionally damaged guys.

There is more than another third of the book after this point, and I will stop plot summarizing so as to avoid any more major spoilers.

You may have guessed already that I was not swept away by this read. I had no wish to hang out with the Shepherd siblings (who sound horrible, taunting her for loving their brother, assaulting her drunk, and involving her in awkward sibling fights), and I stopped caring about Chris and Blythe in bed after her first orgasm (which doesn't even physically involve him). Credit to the author for making Blythe find herself before she settles down in a romance, and credit to her for mentioning a condom every few pages and sending characters with issues to therapy. Even with those credits, though, this left me dissatisfied and filling out a pretty harsh romance rubric:

Romance Rubric: Left Drowning


Alyssa L. said...

It's sad that the story tucked inside such a pretty cover ended up being really awkward sounding. It kind of irks me that this so-called genre seems to equate "new adult"hood with pretty much only sex. Yes, there's that, but there's also a lot more than just that going on in most twenty-somethings' lives...entering the workforce, real world responsibilities, friend stuff, aging family members, moving...so why not make that part of the plot, too? Granted, I haven't read one of these books, but mostly they just sound like erotica lite directed at a specific audience. Which is fine--but if you're going to write about new adults, include more of the overall actual experience of new adulthood.

Alyssa L. said...

To be clear, these are my complaints about the genre of new adult (if it really constitutes a genre yet), not this book or author (since I've not read it and couldn't say one way or the other!), and they're based on what I've seen of it, jacket copy I've read, and what I've heard intelligent people whose opinions I trust have had to say after testing the waters.

Susan said...

I love that we think alike so often. When I first heard the name of the genre I assumed it was like contemporary YA but with the insecurities of life after college being the general theme (rather than the task of getting into college).

I am optimistic that this "New Adult" labeling fad will be over quickly.

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