Hello all, and welcome back! This week, I have a relatively warm take on History is All You Left Me and an ice cold take on Snow Like Ashes. (My speed in getting through my TBR is average.)
Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
As cookie-cutter books go, this one is okay. That’s the tl;dr version of my review, but if you want the rest, here goes:
Snow Like Ashes is a YA fantasy with a chosen one, dead parents, an uneven love triangle, a world with nonsense geography, an embodiment-of-evil villain, and all the works. (Whole regions of people look almost identical because all the people from a region just have the same skin colour, eye colour, and hair colour for Reasons.) I wouldn’t say it has its own twists on these things because it is ridiculously predictable, but it wasn’t a chore to read, so it did okay with them. Mainly, the pacing of this book deserves praise; it keeps moving forward and every scene has stakes, which is a basic competence that lacks in a lot of books, even some that I think are otherwise good (but could really be improved by keeping this in mind).
This book really stumbles in some parts (it’s almost instalove between the protagonist and one of her suitors) and is surprisingly deep in others (mainly in encounters between the protagonist and those of her people who have been enslaved). The blurbs I’ve read tout this book as having something to do with politics, but honestly political intrigue is in extremely short supply. (There are interactions with one not-the-villain king, and they go about as you’d expect with no real back-and-forth tension.) What you can expect from this book are action scenes with narrow escapes, character interactions fraught with the protagonist’s need to be loved and feel useful, and descriptions of a really odd fantasy world that makes no sense if you give it more than a cursory glance. (MAGIC is the explanation, I guess.) I might read the next one to see if it steps up the thrones game, since the ending of this leaves it open, but I also might not, because this book wasn’t particularly special.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
I feel like YA is having a Moment with stories that are about the process of grief. (Or maybe that’s just me and Jandy Nelson.)
In any case, History is All You Left Me is a book about grief: Theo, our protagonist Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, is dead. Theo’s current boyfriend, Jackson, flies to New York to attend the funeral, and Griffin can’t help but dislike him, but he also feels that Jackson is the only one who might understand his grief.
History is All You Left Me is told alternately in the present through Griffin speaking to dead Theo in his head and in through first-person history that Griffin recounts. Griffin has OCD, and his perspective is shaped by his need to satisfy his compulsions. I can’t speak to the portrayal of OCD myself, but I’ve read through reviews that it’s a realistic portrayal, and I also want to trust the author on this one (see thread):
I promise the OCD in HISTORY is realistic because Griffin's compulsions are 100% my own. And I'm real unless a PLOT TWIST says otherwise.
— ADAM SILVERA🌈 (@AdamSilvera) December 27, 2016
So I’m going to keep it real with you: I think this book delivers a raw, realistic feeling of what it is to live through grief and heartbreak and make destructive decisions and try to heal and be hit over the head by the past. It does that very well, and is well worth the read for that and the fact that we get a very real portrayal of OCD and that we have gay characters in relationships with supportive friends and families.
But this book wasn’t as glowingly perfect to me as some people found it to be. While I expected Theo to be a bit of a question mark in terms of his motivations, because he’s dead and being recounted from the biased perspectives of Griffin and Jackson (and I like the idea that we’ll never quite understand his motivations, because of course you can’t understand what someone wanted when they’re gone and you can’t ask), I also feel like I don’t really know who Theo even is to them. We have base qualities: he’s smart, he does animation, he likes Star Wars. But when people from his campus rush to mourn him, I found myself thinking: Why? Did Theo have many friends? Was he a guy who easily made friends? What did they talk about? What made Theo so great to be around, other than that he made his boyfriends feel special by loving them?
I felt similarly about Wade, who’s a member of the Theo-Griffin-Wade squad and who is clearly entertaining his own grief off-screen, but who becomes more important later on. It made sense that Griffin was obscuring details about Wade in his recounting of history, given his focus on his grief for Theo. But Wade felt extremely underserved, especially considering how important he is by the end (and that he was Theo’s best friend). Who is Wade, other than being super supportive of his friends?
It’s possible I wouldn’t care too much about these questions in another book, but History is All You Left Me is extraordinarily character driven, and it relies on us investing in its leads while they self-destruct or learn to forgive or open up to love. That the guy who cracks Griffin and Jackson open sort of lacks specific personality dims the light; their love and grief would be more powerful and universal (and harder to trivialize) if we had some of those particulars. I’d also be more invested in the ending if I had more of a sense of Wade and what he had been through. I don’t think this would’ve needed to come at the expense of the other two; the book was fairly short, so it had some space for this development.
(Also, this book has kind of a weird moment where one of its few female characters throws an abortion in the face of a guy to make him feel bad for being self-absorbed, which felt like an unnecessary use of a Big Deal topic since we then never see her again.)
Overall, this book made me cry a lot and I am going to keep up with Adam Silvera because I think he’s going nowhere but up, but I wish History had made Theo less replaceable and Wade’s feelings less of a late-game twist I couldn’t totally invest in.
In any case, that’s Weekly Reads wrapped up, and I’d better go get reading because I’m supposed to be doing three books a week and I’ve been doing two, oops. (Set myself a Goodreads challenge goal of 150 books this year with the delusion that I’d find more time for reading. HA.) See you next week!