You know, I think after talking to a couple of people about it, reading a couple of reviews, I can see better why someone would like these books. I am not a girl who cares for The Wings of the Dove, so I cannot understand this particular preference, but I can observe that people have it. I guess that there is something about vague wordiness that is attractive to some readers, and, you know, I can see how that is a thing. Maybe it is like black licorice. Like, it is objectively disgusting, but some people like it. ;-) I kid! I kid! . . . mostly. Anyway, I would not say that I have a particular problem
with Ms. DeStefano’s vague wordiness, actually, but it is my impression that, for some, this characteristic redeems the absence of character development, plot, and understandable world building in her books. So, there’s that. I will tell you what I do have a problem with, though, but I feel like I need to move to a new paragraph at this point, so you are going to have to be content with no snappy thesis sentence in this review. It’s the DeStefano way!
Ahh, yes. Much more comfortable. Soo, anywhoo. In one of my Intro to Lit classes in college, I had this lovely professor who advised us that whenever we read anything, we should ask ourselves who wrote it and what his or her agenda is. This is how I read books, and because I value direct communication, I probably base a lot of my opinion about a book on how clearly I can understand who wrote it and what the agenda is. (I am not using agenda as an insult. I think we all have agendas. Maybe “message” is a better word, but in books, I think they would mean the same thing.) How does the book present the world? What does it normalize? What does it question? Sometimes this is a more complex issue than others – for example, in the Uglies series, while Scott Westerfeld seems to try to say superficiality and self-mutilation are bad, I think he really does more to normalize them. Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series is another difficult one on that front.
First, I guess I’ll talk about figuring out who the author is, and then I’ll get to talking about the book and its messages in a minute. Ms. DeStefano is a twenty-seven-year-old woman whom many have mistaken for a teenager
. Maybe, in some ways, that is not a bad thing from a marketing perspective because it makes her more relatable to her audience. Otherwise, infantilization bothers me, and it bothers me when women play into it because I think it is usually manipulative, but I guess I don’t feel too strongly about it compared to the other things that make my head explode about this series. What I actually want to talk about are Ms. DeStefano’s choices in dealing with her position as an author in the midst of reviewers, so you’ll have to forgive me for the digression or report me to the authorities if you wish. I guess I’ll put that digression at the end, so you can choose to read it or not. It’s kind of loooong, and probably nobody cares at this point anyway. My main thought is that when authors, and Ms. DeStefano is certainly not alone in this, publicly react to reviews from an instinctive emotional place and make reviews about their feelings (or even when they privately contact reviewers in this way), it really comes off as a show of strength to reviewers, even if the author intends to be benevolent.*
So, anyway, about this book. It makes The Lord of the Rings look like a fast-paced, action-packed, breathtaking ride at blinding speed through a roller coaster of plot. Meaning, nothing happens in this book the entire time. Gabriel is still a cardboard cutout of UR boifriend with blu Is. Rhine swoons I don’t even know how many times. The damn candies are
the key to the disease, just as you expected, and there is a drop-in mute, disabled, possibly autistic child who serves no purpose other than to . . . no, she serves no purpose. She scampers A LOT. On. All. Fours. And there’s one part where she hangs upside down from the back of a bus seat, and I’m not totally sure what the logistics on that are, considering the size of bus seats I’ve encountered, even compared to the size of babies.
But, aside from the offensive drop-in disabled puppy monkey child to make everyone look cute (or eeeevil, depending on who you are), we also remember that smart kids still can’t have voluntary sex with someone they like, but since kids must have sex, they have to stumble into a sex trap. So, Rhine and Gabriel fall into the grips of an eeeeevil brothel owner who for some reason talks like a Russian villain in a cartoon. She pumps them with aphrodisiacs and they do the deed in a cage in front of an audience (I think – this is never totally worked out a la Wings of the Dove
, and I was left with the feeling that they were just making out, even though that doesn’t really make sense). So . . . that happens. It is voyeuristic and disempowering. Not, like, they would have wanted to have sex, but you know. The aphrodisiacs made them do it. This continues the image presented over and over in these books that women cannot want sex just for its own sake, but either must want it for some unhealthy ulterior motive or be forced into sex. It also continues the image that women cannot say “no” to sex and actually have people listen to them.
Then, after the aphrodisiac cage and some other hijinks, Rhine winds up back at the mansion because no one realized that tracking devices are a thing, and the statutory rapist from the first book is like, "UR rong, I never hit U! UR tearing me apart Lisa!"
And then she finally, after NOT FINDING HER FREAKING BROTHER THE WHOLE TIME (because, let’s be reasonable, it is difficult to find people when you have to swoon all the time) sees her brother on TV, and he’s sparin’ for change on the street in front of a news camera, like you do when they’re going around shooting everyone in a dystopia. AND SCENE. Probably the main issue I have with these books is that I feel like they are saying nothing in a direct way, but doing a lot to normalize a sense of female victimization. Ms. DeStefano takes on the voice of trafficked child prostitutes, and then she does nothing to give them actual humanity or strength. This is a topic I have studied a little bit and really care about, so painting trafficked girls as boring, shallow waifs is offensive to me. I guess I don’t have much else to say about that.
I think I’ve said this before, but another thing that strikes me as odd in this book is that the statutory rape is treated as, well, you know, kids will be kids, but medical testing is painted in a weirdly ambivalent way. Rhine’s parents did it, so she is in favor of it, but it is also painted as the most evil thing in the book. I am confused about the book’s position on this, and that ends up adding to my overall boredom because ultimately I don't really care one way or another what the position on this is, I'd just like to know what it is.
I still cannot give this book one star because, even though it was probably objectively worse than the first one, and even though Skye O’Malley had panthers on leashes, which is AWESOME no matter how you look at it, Skye
had a child being raped by a dog, and this book did not. So, Fever
gets a freebie star for that. If you are not working on a bestiality-to-no-bestialiaty scale, though, this book is mostly pretty boring. I mean, this book is boooorrinzzzzzzzzz.
And, here’s the thing, you can get offended at the fact that I thought your book was boring, and that I think it normalizes rape, if you want to, Lauren (if you don’t mind me using your fist name). But, I’ve been told my writing is boring and wrong and what have you on the internet, and it is just a person’s opinion. And in this case, the person who called you boring has way less power than you do (see below for more on this). And I also do mean that to be constructive criticism, even if it doesn’t come off that way.
Ultimately, it is probably a pretty simple fix to make the next book less boring. You do a lot of telling and not showing. You tell us, for example that Rhine is an Aquarius, so she is unpredictable, but I have not yet seen her be unpredictable. I have seen many, many Aquariuses be unpredictable in many, many unpredictable ways, but I have not seen that from Rhine. I have seen her romanticize her surroundings, as a Libra like yourself might do, but I have not seen her be unpredictable or witty like an Aquarius might be. Also, you indicate that Gabriel wants to protect Rhine and Linton is in love with Rhine, but I have not yet seen them express anything other than not wanting other people to touch her. My understanding is that they do this because she has two different colored eyes, which makes her special to them. That is perplexing to me. If you could say less and show more about why they would like her, it would help me out.
Speaking of her being an Aquarius, I feel really bad that I am releasing a negative review right before Rhine’s birthday. But, since I am pretty convinced someone lied about her birthday, and she’s actually a Libra, I’m going to go ahead and wish her a happy fake birthday and release the review. Happy fake birthday, Rhine! I hope rehab is very successful for you and that you grow a pair!
* I was actually thinking pretty seriously about author/reviewer interaction on goodreads.com for a few days before Ms. DeStefano let us know what she thinks our dark, 4chan corner of the internet.
Her posts, and her subsequent behind-the-scenes attempts
to regain favor with readers
obviously did make me think more about the circumstances of author/reviewer respect, though, so I am going to talk a little about it here. Author/reviewer interaction is, perhaps, the most over-discussed topic in my entire world right now, other than, maybe, the topic of charging real costs for public records requests, but that is an entirely different boring story. So, I am definitely apologizing for wasting your time by adding my voice to this ridiculousness, but I feel compelled.
I guess, you know, I’m in law school, and that’s definitely part of who I am as a reviewer. I spend most of the day arguing, in a mostly non-personal way, with people who have different opinions than my own about almost anything you can think of from furniture to rape to the prison system to licorice. And I think, for the most part, goodreads tends to interact in a similar way. We present our opinions and tell our story, and then someone tells us that we are a fat, lesbian, Rachel Maddow-lookalike, tiring elitist
, and someone else thanks us for our opinion and story and says it changed their life, and then we all go back to our realities. I’ll not say that I haven’t had my feelings hurt on goodreads
, but who among us has not been hurt by those we love? So, I might be wrong, but I think I can see what Ms. DeStefano is saying when she says it is difficult to read a negative review on goodreads. This is another thing, though, that I observe to be true, but do not necessarily understand. I guess, I like it when people disagree with me, so we can work out our ideas, and everyone can grow and become better through talking and thinking. I even think it’s funny when I get an angry troll who corrects me and says my writing is garbage. My feelings get hurt, on the other hand, when an authority figure steps in to reprimand me for expressing my thoughts.
So, that is where I am going with this. It is my impression that some authors do not realize that by the very nature of getting paid for their writing, they carry a certain amount of power within the writing community as far as everyone else is concerned. They are the trustees of the school, the investors in the project, and when they show up, the kids had better be on their best behavior. I have seen loads of wonderful author/reviewer interactions, but still, when the authors show up, there is a hush. Maybe this is sad sometimes for authors, and I can definitely see why Caris chooses not to embody his author profile, but ultimately I do not feel bad for these poor little rich kids. As reviewers, we come on this website because it is what we do – our fingers love to type, we tell stories, we love and hate books, and we love to write. And we get reminded constantly that we are not as good as published authors. I am not trying to claim some kind of nobility for it; I am just saying that we are all writers, but for those of us who are not paid to write, those who are paid for writing have a certain amount of power.
So, I guess my point is that whether an author intends it to be this way or not, stepping into a reviewer conflict can feel like a show of strength to reviewers. It can feel more threatening than a normal trolling. Even if you mean to say, “Oh hai! Conflict is a bummer!” it can feel to a reviewer like, “I am talking to other published authors about you and how you hurt my feelings and how they should not support your writing.” I am writing this in the second person because Ms. DeStefano is one of the authors who has made it clear she is monitoring reviews, but she is among many, and I think it is a potential learning moment for many authors and reviewers who have suddenly run into each other on these internets. I give major kudos to authors who can show up on a review and just validate what people are saying without trying to make it about that author's emotions. I also give major kudos to authors who can step away from the computer when they need to. It bothers me when I see authors do the opposite, whether they do it behind the scenes or in public.
As reviewers, we give good reviews and your book sells; we give bad reviews, and your book sells. But, you complain about us, and sometimes our writing disappears, and that is how we know where the power lies. As reviewers, most of us have had our writing, bodies, sexual orientation, political views, and grammar choices questioned and criticized, too. But, that is part of the fun and part of the nature of writing. I know that you, and other authors, have said that you do not
want to stifle reviewer reaction to your writing, but when you make it clear that every sentence we say is life or death to you, it comes off as a show of strength because you have power over our writing and we do not have power over yours.
And, as Jim Halpert says about the black licorice issue
, this is just my opinion, but it's true.
I received an ARC of this book from a book blogger friend. Thank you!!!