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5 Books That Were A Total Letdown

‘Sup readers? Have you ever had the experience of being Spongebob-level excited to dive into a book (and I’m talking like passing up plans to stay home and read or anxiously checking the tracking number until the coveted book arrives at your doorstep), only to morph into Squidward by the end? Yeah. It happens. The worst is when it happens to you over a book you were sure you’d be extolling the virtues of to friends, family, and the world at large via the internet. But it happens. Everyone’s reading tastes are vast and varied (which makes the world go round. That and money for books), and the following books, while a total letdown for me, might be some of your favourites. I think it takes incredible courage to write a book and I’m in no way saying that these are bad authors. These novels just didn’t do it for me. But just to make it official: I am in no way, shape, or form bashing you or the author if you happen to love any of the mentioned works. I’m glad you love them, you do you.  No hard feelings, right? Let’s just get into this list (SPOILERS will be employed for this article):

5) Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Expectations:

I was hell-bent on enjoying this book: the exuberant yellow cover drew me in like a moth to a flame, the plot sounded cool as heck, and the general consensus on Goodreads is positive. Basically, a college student named Sarie, who has heretofore exclusively travelled the straight-and-narrow, is left holding the bag (literally. A bag of drugs) for a drug dealer named Drew, who ditches Sarie when the cops show up. For some bizarre reason, Sarie refuses to give him up, even when Detective Wildey (who comes across as a slow-witted bully) pressures her into becoming a CI. She can return to her normal life at any time if she turns Drew in, but Sarie won’t do that (because that would be too merciful). She finds herself, a small, straight-laced minnow, tossed into a shark tank full of criminals. In theory, this one sounded good, but ultimately, Occam’s razor was this book’s fatal weakness. Sarie doesn’t really know Drew, this boy she’s so fiercely devoted to protecting (going so far as to embezzle university funds for him). She literally meets him, he asks her for a ride, and then he ditches her with drugs once the popo rolls up. Sarie’s defining trait is supposed to be her keen intelligence (which, in Canary’s world of hypotheticals, includes level-headedness), a characteristic we were told of but never shown. I can’t (though I performed mental gymnastics to try to) pin Sarie’s choices on grief over her mother’s death. I can’t even blame Sarie’s poor decision-making on insta-love: she didn’t seem to be crushing on Drew, and he definitely wasn’t in love with her. The problem with the plot could have been solved with a call to a lawyer (something that, unfortunately, would have probably made for a better read). The bombastic twists, Wildey’s horrible behaviour (if he was protecting my city, I’d move) and Sarie being dumb as a post all culminated in whopping disappointment. The ending left a weird taste in my mouth. I tossed this book into the giveaway pile as soon as I’d closed the back cover. That said, Swierczynski does have other work to his name, and I think (hope. I’ve not read them yet. Once bitten, twice shy, you know?) comics especially might benefit from his style of storytelling.

Reality:

Credit: Nickelodeon

4) Scare Crow (Crow’s Row #2) by Julie Hockley

Expectations:

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I think, worse than when a standalone novel lets you down, is when something in an otherwise sublime series totally drops the ball. This was the case for me with the second installment of Julie Hockley’s new adult series, Crow’s Row. Crow’s Row is amazing in that trashy-but-dark NA contemporary way— and so it follows that its sequel should deliver on all the same fronts.  Except that didn’t happen. Not even once. Scare Crow picks up shortly after the ending of Crow’s Row— and promptly serves to strip every redeemable aspect of protagonist Emily away, until I was fervently wishing she’d be hit by a bus and die, so I wouldn’t feel bad about not liking the sequel to a book that was (at the time) one of my favourites. Emily (formerly a smart, resourceful, relatable character) finds out she’s pregnant and wants the baby but refuses to take care of herself and continuously finds herself smack-bang in the middle of situations that pregnant women should not be in. If she had decided she didn’t want to keep the baby, cool, go ahead and risk your life like a total idiot. I guess I’m down for the ride (I’m actually lying so hard right now. If she wasn’t pregnant I just would have stopped reading, but morbid curiosity kept me wondering just how far she could sabotage herself until someone intervened). But when Emily makes the decision to go ahead with the pregnancy, she refuses to pull up her bootstraps and take care of herself, and then gets upset when a doctor warns her that if she continues to barely-function, she could lose the baby. Throughout the course of Scare Crow, she became selfish and irrational, intentionally baiting the affection of another man (Griff. Yay, he came back for a forced love-triangle plot. Sarcasm) without feeling anything for him in return. In the second book, Emily behaves far worse than the family she loathes so much, and the ending in no way justifies the rest of the novel. I might actually read Crow’s Row again soon, just to see if it still holds up, or if I was blinded by the shiny, fairly-new (at the time) new adult genre.  But Scare Crow can stay far, far away from me. If Hockley ever writes the trilogy’s conclusion (fair warning if you want to give this a try: I don’t even think you can find the first two books in print anymore, Hockley’s social media looks abandoned, and for the most part, NA audiences have moved on to greener pastures) I might pick it up, just to soothe my inner masochist.

Reality:

Credit: Nickelodeon

3) GirlFIEND by The Pander Brothers

Expectations:

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Honestly this graphic novel reminds me of MySpace when MySpace was the haven for kids who wanted to be “edgy” and broadcast their pain all over their homepage because they were so “different” that no one could understand their tortured uniqueness. The art style is reminiscent of the 90s, but not in a way that engenders nostalgia. This is the sort of story a 12-year-old going through an “emo” phase would write and then find utterly profound and provocative. I don’t know why I thought this would be a good book, but I did. I was so excited that I read it as soon as I got home from the bookstore.  Basically, GirlFIEND follows an already-depressed guy who hooks up with a vampire and the two of them, in the spirit of keeping their love alive, take on the criminal underworld so that they’ll be free to love one another without any complications. If it sounds like I’m only giving out the scantest of plot details, it’s because I can’t even remember the characters’ names. This is what I do remember, however: the flippant (and almost glorified) showcasing of self-harm, the tissue-paper-thin characters and the subsequent lack of development, the painfully-obvious plot twists (oh my God. That last “big” twist. I saw it coming from a mile away and cringed the entire time), and how completely flat the romantic relationship between the two protagonists fell. The relationship is toxic, this book is toxic, and I really wish I could scrub GirlFIEND and everything to do with it from my memory banks because thinking about it now still makes me wince.

Reality:

Credit: Nickelodeon

2) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Expectations:

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…And this is where, for the sake of my own personal safety, I ditched this article and moved to an undisclosed location so that the hordes of angry Rainbow Rowell fans don’t throw fetid fruit at me. Hear me out: I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing style. In terms of Fangirl, I love the plot (an anxious girl who uses fandom and fan fiction as a form of escapism goes to college. Cool, so basically millions of would-be college freshmen will relate to this book). I loved the love interest (Levi is a gem), but I hated the main character. I thought for sure that Fangirl was going to be a pinnacle of literary excellence in my eyes, as it is in pretty much everyone else’s, and at first I can definitely see where Rowell’s main character Cath is coming from. She has her own following, being a prolific fanfic author in the “Simon Snow” (Rowell’s take on Harry Potter) fandom. But in real life she’s an almost dangerously-anxious introvert who has trouble with change. I can relate to anxiety and freshman nerves and hating change and most people. It was just hard for me to root for Cath because she so often got in her own way. But my tenuous appreciation of Cath came to an abrupt and screeching halt when she tried to justify plagiarism after turning her fan fiction in as an assignment in a university-level writing course. That’s when my middle finger went all the way up, and refused to relax until this book was firmly finished and then hastily donated. Cath’s rabid sense of entitlement regarding intellectual property she does not own is fuelled by a weird, narcissistic outlook about how the Simon Snow characters are “hers,” because she’s written fan fiction about them and thereby she can and does claim as much ownership of them as the author. Her general expectation that the world bend to her whims is a huge turn-off. She also doesn’t make any significant changes as a character throughout the novel, and spends most of it whining, being immature and selfish, and being her own worst enemy. She does not “grow up,” at all. She merely gets a boyfriend who is tolerant of her bad behaviour, which is never addressed, merely coddled and labelled as “quirky.”

Additionally, Cath’s Simon Snow-based fan fiction was the most blatant Harry Potter rip-off I have ever seen, and forcing readers to slog through it as she’s reading it to Levi felt like a cruel and unusual punishment. I couldn’t get into the story because it was basically a Drarry fan fiction with different names and Draco being a vampire. If you’re not JK Rowling, you have no business publishing a dollar-store-quality Harry Potter knockoff, even as a story within another story. It’s cool that Rowell wanted to pay tribute to Harry Potter, but she essentially lifted it and stuffed it in her own work, then went on to publish Cath’s fan fiction as a standalone story called Carry On. I was tempted to pick up Carry On because I wanted to give Rowell another chance, but in Fangirl, the (fan) fictional relationship that Cath imagines between main characters Simon and Baz reeks of casual and demeaning fetishization of gay men by a heteronormative young woman who isn’t actually interested in LGBTQ+ issues, but only her made-up love story between two particular characters. I don’t know if Rowell fixed those issues with the publication of Carry On, but I dislike the whole Harry Potter knockoff thing enough to not even try it. I’ve heard from reviewers I trust that Rowell has a habit of writing emotionally-immature characters that echo Cath to some degree (and I’ve heard some of her other work read aloud, which is more than enough for me). As I said, Rowell has a wonderful writing style, but everything else just doesn’t ring with me. Fangirl was a crushing disappointment, especially because I expected it to be one of my all-time favourites.

Reality:

Credit: Nickelodeon

1) Ashes to Ashes (Burn For Burn #3) by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Expectations:

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I devoured the first two books in Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian’s Burn For Burn trilogy, and both were equally-astounding: tightly-packed with schemes of vengeance, karmic justice, and a light touch of the paranormal, I couldn’t put either book down. Then Ashes to Ashes happened, and… honestly, because of the events of the last installment, the other two books lost their wheels and crashed and burned into one of the biggest reading disappointments I have ever known. The characters were unrecognizably warped into fun house versions of themselves. Protagonist Kat, who kicked off the entire series, was sidelined. Mary turned into one of the most hateful characters I’ve ever had the displeasure of reading, and Lillia, who originally provided balance between the two, was elevated to untouchable “Mary Sue” status. Here’s the thing: I can’t say much because it’s the last book in a series, but also, to be honest, I still recommend the trilogy because the other two were so dang addictive, and I wonder if, upon re-reading, the last book won’t feel like a sucker-punch to the jaw. I doubt it, but I’m hopeful.

Reality:

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What are some of the reads that let you down? Share in the comments!

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