And so, it begins. I haven’t even posted a single recap, and already I’ve got people coming out of the woodwork to tell me what a big, giant mean person I am. Last night, I made the mistake of checking my email while I was drunk (which is a state I’ve only been in precisely once in the past three years. I only had a glass and a half of champagne last night). Author Abbi Glines dropped by my Apolonia read-along post to stick up for Jamie and her book, which was a labor of love and should be protected from the harsh criticism I had yet to dole out.
Then she got on twitter and subtweeted about it, I got bitchy then blocked her, because I had dentist appointment this morning and I didn’t want go in with a bunch of cavities from saccharine-dripping “BE NICE” scoldings.
Since we’re starting off strong with a public spat, it might be a good time to make a FAQ for everybody that’s going to come here in defense of McGuire or the book.
Yes, I actually do have to criticize another author’s work to get people to read my blog. Well, some people, anyway. There are a lot of readers who come here for a lot of reasons. But a great, great many of them found this place when I took apart 50 Shades of Grey. So, yes. Recaps are a huge part of this blog’s popularity. So, it’s not an insult to say, “You have to do this to get people to read your blog.” It’s my job description. If WebMD stopped telling you that you have cholera of the butt crack, you’d stop going there.
But even though people found me through “tearing down” someone else’s work, many of them stay for mine.
How would I feel if someone did snarky recaps of my work? I’d be pissed off if they tried it and they weren’t at least as funny as I am.
Books are not babies, and nobody cares how hard you worked on them. I’ve written lots of books that I’ve worked super hard on, and they don’t sell well or get great reviews, for whatever reason. That doesn’t mean I get to tell everyone to stop talking about the bad parts of them. The only person who cares about how hard I worked on them is me. No one cares about the work that goes into something, they care about the quality. If you took your car to a mechanic and they were like, “Hey, here’s the car back, I worked really hard on it, that’ll be $1200 bucks,” and your drive shaft sheered off and pole-vaulted your car into a ditch a mile down the road, are you going to go tell people, “Yeah, you should totally go to Dan, he’s a great mechanic, he works really hard?”
Authors say all the time, “I worked really hard on this, so I’m excited to share this with you, hope you like it,”or “I worked really hard on this, but its failure disappointed me,” but it’s bullshit to say, “I worked really hard on this, so you can’t criticize it.”
Spite may have driven me to return to book recapping, but I’m still doing it honestly. My recaps are harsh, because I’m harsh when I’m reading a book. And it’s easier to be harsh when you just plain don’t like someone. It would have been easy to go, “Fuck it, everyone wants me to recap Beautiful Disaster? Fine.” And it would have been easy to tear that book to pieces, because so many people have told me, “Oh, it’s got so much abuse in it, it’s worst than 50 Shades of Grey,” etc. But I picked this book because I didn’t know anything about it and didn’t have any pre-formed opinions about the content.
The reason my recaps of 50 Shades of Grey were so harsh was that the books promoted misogyny, abuse, rape culture, and unsafe BDSM practices. It was plagiarized and poorly written. As long as this book doesn’t do any of that, then all this will be is a recounting of my honest thoughts when I’m reading the book–like talking back at the TV when you’re alone.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll really like this book. It seems a tad premature to be making judgements about mean I’m being to this book; as I write this, I haven’t even begun writing the first recap yet.
My recaps made at least a few more sales for E.L. James. Maybe not in any measurable sense that would be missed when compared to the amount of mountain of sales that were pouring in already, but they’re there. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me that they bought the entire 50 Shades of Grey series specifically because of my recaps. They’d never intended to read the books until my recaps.
So, slow your roll, Sunshine Sisterhood, put your “BE NICE” pitchforks aside, and shut your hablaholes.
So, let’s get started with chapter one of Apolonia, by Jamie McGuire.
I hope that wasn’t too harsh already.
Since a lot of you have said you learned writing tips from my 50SoG recaps, I thought that this time, when I address an issue or a bit that I think could be strengthened, I’ll just mark it out. I’ve noticed that McGuire and I make a lot of the same grammatical mistakes, so hopefully this will be a learning experience for me, too.
They’d killed me, but I survived. While lying on the hotel floor, my long black hair saturated with blood, I’d thought my life was over, except it wasn’t.
Okay, so right off the bat we’re seeing a good start. The heroine isn’t dead at the beginning of the book. Score.
Writing Tip: Look at the paragraph. The first sentence and the end of the second sentence say the same thing. Without the first sentence, the paragraph would be stronger. The first sentence switches tense. The second sentence is run-on and could have been split at [I make a ton of run-ons in my work. These are hard.]
We get some background on how the main character had woken up in a hospital with her whole family and her best friend dead. So, it sounds like they were murdered. But then:
Their sacrifice had begun first, and so their murders had been more thorough.
Okay, were her parents in a cult? Or was it one of these situations?:
When it was time for mine, our killers had been too drunk and too high to be careful–at least, that was what police report had said.
Okay. It sounds like some murderers were sacrificing them. Got it.
So, five months after the murders, main character has gone to college, and is a freshman at Kempton Institute of Technology, where, courtesy of a DORM ROOM MIRROR…
Standing in front of my dorm room mirror, naked, I racked back my too-long black bangs. Most girls gained a freshman fifteen. I’d been steadily losing weight for two years.
Why, why, why do we keep having these heroines who find that the best diet is emotional upheaval? In 50 Shades of Grey, Ana gets too stressed out to eat. In New Moon, one of Bella’s depression symptoms is that she doesn’t eat and becomes romantically (in context) pale and wan. And I know I’ve read more than one book this year wherein the heroine was so damaged that she was painfully slender, and therefore accidentally hot. I think the reason we’re seeing so much of this is because of the “You don’t know you’re beautiful/that’s what makes you beautiful” cultural meme that is more popular now than ever. A heroine can’t look at her body and say, “I’m thin,” not without sounding too vain for boys to find her unintentionally beautiful. Because we tie a woman’s worth her appearance, and men are interested in finding women who don’t know their value, so that they can treat them as though they’re worth nothing. But heroines like this up the ante; they don’t know they’re beautiful, and their beauty is the result of horrible trauma.
It’s very gothic. But also, very troubling.
Main character begins cutting her hair:
The scissors cut away all but four or five inches on top. I ran my fingers over what was left. It felt so good. The sides and a bit of the back were shaved, and the hair left on top nearly grazed my jawline. It was appalling. It was liberating.
I loved it.
I think we’re all fully aware that serious trauma can cause drastic changes in behavior and appearance. I just hope that were I killed in some kind of human sacrifice scenario, that my daughter would find a way to express her sorrow that isn’t just stereotypical freshman year of college rebellion.
The reason she cut her hair, though, is because she’s haunted by the memory of having blood in it. So, fair enough. But she’s also got a nose ring, hoodie, gray skinny jeans and a Kurt Cobain t-shirt, so… some of that is teen rebellion. She even mentions:
[...]had she been alive, my mother would have died all over again at the sight.
We also learn on this page that people don’t notice her around campus.
Class one of week one of my junior year at KIT was Geobiology and Astrobiology with renowned astrobiologist, Dr. A. Byron Zorba.
Now, wait a second. Just a few pages ago she was worried about gaining the freshman fifteen, and she said:
Five months after losing Sydney and my parents, I’d left for the quaint college town of Helena, Indiana, four states away. I’d gone from murder victim to a freshman at Kempton Institute of Technology.
Can you see why I was confused here?
No matter which year of college she’s in, she’s a research assistant to Dr. Zoidberg, who was a long-time friend of her father’s. Main Character had also looked up to him during her childhood.
The daughter of two idealistic scientists, I not only didn’t fit in with other children, but I also had no interest in conformity.
This seems someone at odds with her comment about her mother dropping dead from shock at short hair.
When most children were pretending to be firemen or superheroes, I was working toward the Nobel Prize in my cardboard lab. Barbies and boys bored me, and I was sure I bored them.
Dr. Zoidberg took Main Character under his wing in the aftermath of her family’s death, and made sure she used her inheritance to go to college. He also gave her the paid internship so that she could make some money, since her parents didn’t leave her much.
She also says that Dr. Zoidberg filled out her college application for her. I wish he would share it, because I’m dying to know Main Character’s name.
Dr. Zoidberg has recently been on an Antarctic expedition, and he’s brought home a rock. Main Character’s job is recording data about the rock.
I don’t know much about science, but that sounds kind of vague.
She goes to her seat in class and runs into Benji Reynolds, a guy who is apparently persistent in his quest for Main Character’s attention.
I had hoped the new do would scare him away. He was clearly a mama’s boy and far too attractive and happy to appeal to me.
Yeah, I only like ugly, pissed-off guys, too.
You know what would have been a good place to tell us Main Character’s name? When Benji walked up to her. He could have said, “Hi, Main Character,” instead of just “hey!” the way he did.
Good thing another student, Stephanie Becker, is sitting nearby. She addresses Benji by name, so surely she’ll do the same for Main Character:
“Hi, Benji,” Stephanie Becker lilted from her seat. She was short but had stunning curves, and she twirled a piece of her long blonde hair while staring at him with the most ridiculous look on her face. Her head was tilted and her eyes clouded over when Benji looked for the source of his spoken name.
Oh. Well, that wasn’t very helpful of you, Stephanie Becker.
Benji is friendly and quick to return his attention to Main Character.
Even if he did have a strong jawline and a sweet disposition, I still couldn’t see him as anything but…well, Benji.
“This girl is attractive. I am not attractive. This attractive boy likes me most.”
Maybe that’s me being harsh, but how else do you spin this? It, like heroines who don’t know they’re beautiful (that’s what makes them beautiful) is another YA/NA trope that we see too much of. A girl who doesn’t think much of herself, but who is thought highly of by an attractive boy.
Benji sat next to me, and I glared at him.
“It’s okay if I sit here, right?” he asked.
He laughed. His teeth were too straight, and his posture was too perfect. “You’re so funny. Your hair is…wow” he said, trying to find the best inoffensive adjective.
Hey, Benji? I have to tell you something.
I have to tell you something. Benji.
BENJI I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!
Writing Tip: It’s difficult to tell if Benji knows that Main Character is joking, or if he just thinks she’s joking. This is an important distinction to make.
This hot guy wears white oxford shirts, but buttons them at the wrist. He tells Main Character she could shave her whole head, and she would still be beautiful.
Any other girl at Kempton would have jumped at the chance to date him. It wasn’t that he was unattractive–quite the opposite.
Main Character just isn’t into this guy. Which is fine. But why do we have to hear about how hot he is, if she doesn’t like him in that way? If you answered, “Because an attractive guy liking her instead of other girls increases her value as a person,” then you get a cookie. But the cookie is poisoned with the tears of every woman who came before.
Dr. Zoidberg notices that she’s in the room:
“Rory! I almost didn’t recognize you! I sent you an email! Did you get it?”
RORY! Her name is Rory. Jesus, how hard was that. Thank you, Dr. Zoidberg.
There’s a physical description of Dr. Zorba, but I’m not going to tell you what it is because I insist you imagine Dr. Zoidberg for the rest of these recaps forever. It makes this a Futurama AU fic in which Zoidberg inhabits a world where someone loves him.
Rory opens the email, and it’s a ton of data he’s gotten about the rock. She agrees that she’ll talk to Dr. Zoidberg about it later.
The disappointment in his eyes was evident, but it was a rock. Granted, its material hadn’t been recorded on Earth, ever, so that meant it had come from somewhere in the universe. An alien rock. If we still thought the world was flat or if we weren’t aware of the surrounding universe, I could understand Dr. Z’s excitement, but as it was, it was… boring.
Your teacher went to Antarctica, brought back a 27 lb. chunk of mineral that has never been found on earth before, and it’s boring? What the fuck does science have to do to impress you?
Space rock? Girl who survived being used as a human sacrifice? As I may have said before,
You know, I think the last book I read in which the main character had less interest in the plot than I did was The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. So, this has potential.
Rory hears Dr. Zoidberg tell someone named Cyrus to see him after class to discuss him becoming a research assistant. And Rory gets super jealous.
I looked in the same direction as Dr. Z to a pair of dark topaz eyes surrounded by olive skin. The male gender wasn’t something I was preoccupied with, so the twinge I felt in my stomach took me by surprise. It didn’t matter. I already hated him.
I don’t want to jump to any preposterous conclusions here, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the other leg of a love triangle has arrived.
He seemed forced–his movements, his expressions–as if he were trying too hard to blend in.
I’m calling this one, too. This guy is going to turn out to be an alien.
Rory thinks some hateful thoughts about Cyrus, then class starts and Dr. Zoidberg goes over the syllabus. Benji invites Rory to go running with him, even though she doesn’t run. She should just really start. Ugh, those people who insist that other people start running, just because they like it? They’re the fucking worst. I know this, because I do that.
We learn that Cyrus has a slight British accent, and that he’s Egyptian, after he asks a question and Dr. Zoidberg asks him where he’s from. And then Dr. Z is like, “‘We’ll have much to talk about,’” and it’s like… um. Just because he’s Egyptian? You realize he doesn’t know the aliens who built the pyramids, right?
Turns out, Cyrus is the guy in class who asks a million questions, but Rory is like, you know, at least these are good questions, and class gets out twenty minutes early. Cyrus goes to talk to Dr. Z, and Rory busts into the conversation and gets all combative when Dr. Z says that Cyrus just came back from Mali:
“Oh?” I said with cold eyes. “You have family there?”
“No,” Cyrus said flatly.
He didn’t offer further explanation, so I stared at him until he became uncomfortable and looked away. That was my very favorite thing to do to everyone.
Come on, Rory. Give me something to work with here. I want to like you. You’re not a sixteen year old, you’re in college. The anti-social thing is really played out by junior year of college.
Dr. Zoidberg introduces Cyrus to Rory as “third member of our team,” and Rory goes:
“Are you replacing me?” I asked, my heart pounding. My assistant job was connected to my scholarship. If Cyrus stole it from me, I could be in real danger of losing that money. It was too late to find a student position that wasn’t already taken.
Yeah, but you just told us all about how Dr. Z has taken you under his wing and how he’s an old family friend and everything. Do you really think he’s going to leave you out in the cold here? Plus, he said, “third member of our team.” I feel like if you’re going to be a scientist, you should probably have been able to do that math.
Rory tells Dr. Z that they don’t need another research assistant, because she’s there over holidays and on weekends, anyway, but that’s precisely why Dr. Z has brought Cyrus on. He wants her to have more free time, and not be in the lab every hour of every day.
But Rory still doesn’t feel right about all this. It’s not like Dr. Z to just randomly take on students he doesn’t know as his lab assistants. And something about Cyrus just still seems off to her. It’s because he’s an alien, of course. We know that, but she doesn’t. I think for the moment, she’s just afraid that he’s going to somehow manipulate her out of her job. But it’s not real clear.
Hey, does it mention him being an alien in the blurb? I didn’t read the blurb, and I’m not going to be cause I want to forge ahead not knowing anything. But tell me if it says anything about him being an alien.
Anyway, then Rory notices it’s raining outside:
I loved fall up until the night I died. Now, it just seemed ominous.
Writing Tip: The first sentence describes actions that have been completed in the past. She loved fall, then she died, she doesn’t like fall. So it should be in past perfect: I’d loved fall up until the night I’d died. I haven’t read anything else by McGuire. Does she write her other books in present tense? Because I normally write in past tense, and when I’m writing in first person present, I find myself accidentally switching to past tense.
In any case, Rory ends the chapter still concerned that she’s going to lose her assistant position:
Cyrus could take his thought-provoking, eloquently worded questions and shove them up his ass.
Well. Tell us how you really feel.
I hope that in chapter two, we see a lot more about the space rock and the murder cult, less about Rory’s misanthropic routine.