Hello everyone, and welcome back!
I feel like the trick of being a reviewer is being able to articulate exactly why you feel the way you feel about something, backing it up with an example from the thing. Which is even harder when you’re a spoiler-free reviewer, because you have to make more of a…vague gesture at an example from the thing.
So it’s always awkward when you just weren’t too into something, but you’re not sure that there’s a precise why (or many examples of why). That’s a little bit where I started at with today’s book. I wanted to love it because of the fun fandom/Internet contemporary romance genre and the asexual rep (which I think came out well, although I am not ace, so: grain of salt).
But I came out a bit “um, okay.” It was enjoyable, but I don’t think it’ll stick with me. It could be very worth it for teens who identify as ace, particularly since there aren’t many ace characters in YA thus far, and anything I rate three stars (sorry, review spoiler?) I would say is solid enough to read if the premise interests you, but…yeah.
Here’s part of why I love reviewing, though: sometimes, just writing it out helps. I thought this might be the it’s not you, it’s me of reading, but once I started to talk to you about it, I knew why the relationship wouldn’t work.
(To be fair, I think anything I’m not super into that isn’t actually offensive might fall into that it’s not you, it’s me category, because you know, different tastes. But still.)
Anyway, without further ado, let’s get on with it!
Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
The title of this one is pretty demonstrative: the protagonist is named Tash (rhymes with “frosh,” not “cash”), and she’s really into Tolstoy. She doesn’t actually spend that much time in this book fangirling about him, though. This is more to indicate that she and her best friend, Jack (short for Jacklyn), have created a modern adaptation web series of Anna Karenina called Unhappy Families, which goes viral. That’s basically the sales pitch blurb of the book.
But that’s not really the whole driving plot of this book, and here is, in vaguest example, why I think I couldn’t get too into it: there was too much going on, so we didn’t get to engage fully in any one plot or really get to know most of the characters.
Tash is romantic asexual, which is lovely to see in a book; she is getting to know another vlogger through text, but there might be a bit of a love triangle, too, and she is struggling with her sexuality and what it means for her future relationships. That plus the web series going viral would already be a lot. (Tash also feels guilty for letting go of some of her Buddhist practices as she’s gotten busy, but that’s a potential subplot that gets very dropped.)
But Tash’s family is also going through some changes, both with her sister going off to college and acting differently, and another large plot point. Simultaneously, her best friend Jack’s family (including Paul, Jack’s brother and her other best friend) is dealing with the aftermath of their father’s battle with cancer, along with other problems.
But then there’s also the cast of Unhappy Families, who come with several attendant dramas: one of the actors is Jack’s ex, one of the other actors is into Jack’s ex, some of the players are friends of Tash that she met at a camp Jack didn’t attend, someone is always pompous, someone is always late, etc. All of these things seem to be brought up repeatedly but summarily dismissed as possible subplots, which was kind of…I mean, we definitely didn’t have time for them, but also part of the allure of reading a book about a web series would be getting into the behind-the-scenes, yes? (Also, I felt like the crew day trip together and the wrap party seemed very skimmed over. I wanted feels! Tensions boiling over!)
So I guess my issue with this book was that no one element of it seemed particularly poorly written (although the love triangle was extremely predictable), but that there was just way too much to cover, so I never got to see Tash reading classic literature and fangirling over it, or what Jack actually felt about her ex, or why Klaudie even (I wanted more emotional beats with her, I guess), or…what most characters’ traits or motivations or stories were.
Maybe that was another issue: readers do get to hear through Tash’s head that her father is loud and her mother more reserved, and she is loud and her sister Klaudie more reserved, but there aren’t enough examples of them displaying these personalities—even in Tash’s case!—to feel like that’s shown and not told to us.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t like Tash’s perspective! She was flawed in realistic ways, which I’m always for, and her struggles were relatable: thinking about what college she’ll go to, trying to save up with a boring summer job, crushes, sibling rivalry, friend drama, etc.
And in terms of representation—I can’t speak to this directly, because I’m not ace myself, but from what I’ve heard over the years from ace friends, Tash has some common, relatable experiences. I wouldn’t have minded if there were a bit more focus on those experiences in the book, but I did also appreciate that Tash got an entire life beyond her sexuality; for some characters, it’s their only source of identification and conflict, and while that can shed light on necessary issues, it also doesn’t help in portraying people of various sexualities as people with a diversity of interests/concerns/personalities/and so on.
Also on the positive end: her flirting moments were cute and I really liked the friendship between Tash, Jack, and Paul, even if I wish I’d gotten to know them all better. The little rituals and moments we do get insight into were very quirky and cute. Jack, in particular, was a character I wish I’d gotten to know a lot better, but what we get from her is intriguing enough that I did really want to know, which is something.
Anyway so this strikes me as a stand-alone, but I think if it did have a sequel, I would probably read it, even though this wasn’t a love for me. So you know what that means.
Are there books that haven’t clicked with you, even though you wanted to love them? Do you know of other solid reads with ace representation? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you soon!