Contemporary

A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

It’s really hard to write about this book, because I feel so divided about it. I know a lot of people aren’t too keen on the cover, but it’s actually what made me decide to pick it up and give it a chance. It made me think of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story. The premise seemed interesting, too – Emmy was adopted from China, and had never felt like she fit in with her white family, while Justin was still struggling with his parents’ divorce and his ever-absent father, who barely even spoke to him when he visited for the holidays. Through very different circumstances, both of them were sent to Heartland Academy, a reform school. At Heartland, they had to learn to confront their respective issues, and coexist with the other students from their Anger Management group – Diana, a small, perpetually angry girl; Jenny, a selective-mute since her step-father fed her her pet pig; Chip, who hacks iPods to store porn; and Mohammed, who claims to be a refugee from the Sierra Leone civil war.

Each of the characters had very different issues, the roots of which may not be discussed in depth – as the novel is told from Emmy & Justin’s POV – but were hinted at every now and then. Emmy was revealed to be suffering from anorexia, while Justin had depression. While I liked the attempt to bring to front the issues of mental health in teenagers, I didn’t really like the way it was executed. The book opened with her POV, and from the first moments of fat-shaming I wanted to put it down. I tried to remind myself of books like Blaze (Laurie Boyle Crompton) that angered me with its slut-shaming, before turning things around and coming up with the message that it’s wrong (kind of. I still dislike how the book handled it.) Anyway, I made myself continue reading, and I disliked Emmy right off the bat, despite the fact that I was excited to read a book with a WOC character. And then Justin’s narration starts, and he makes a rape joke.

(Rape jokes are never funny. Okay? Rape jokes are NEVER funny.)

So. What kept me divided is the fact that on the one hand, I liked the alternating narratives and it handles some issues pretty well, like racism and Justin’s depression. I also appreciated that while Emmy’s first sighting of Justin included the word “glitter” and screamed of insta-love, the romance aspect of this book actually builds up pretty nicely. Emmy crushed on Justin almost at once, but was repelled by his jerk-like tendencies, before actually falling for him as she got to know him better. And yet – I really hate the fat-shaming which didn’t improve throughout the book at all, the fact that the rest of the students in their group knew that Emmy’s anorexic and made fun of her body anyway, while enabling her by helping her eat her food, the way anorexia was treated and portrayed, and, oh yeah, the fact that rape jokes aren’t funny.

In the end, it was one of those book that I could tolerate – and maybe even enjoy – while reading, because of the bits I liked, but after finishing I’d think about what I’d read, and the more I thought about it, the less I liked it.

~ originally posted on Elsewhere
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