I received an ARC of this book a couple of years ago. I was intrigued by the book, having just graduated from college myself and missing it endlessly, and was happy to sit it on my to-read pile. But, if you've looked at my bookshelves lately, you'll see that I have a lot of to-reads. So, it should come as no surprise that it's taken me three or so years before I got around to reading the book.
With moving, I only had my to-read books with me so I had a pretty strict selection. When I grabbed this book from the box I thought, "This will be a quick read" and I looked forward to finally reading the book about a girl in college, hitting a snag, and all of her experiences that lead her down that road to hitting bottom and how she struggled to get upright again. I thought it would be inspiring or maybe something I could relate to, if only a little.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
What a waste of a week. I am so sorry, this is so brutal but it's true. Seeing that it was the author's first book I had an added hope to enjoy the book because I like supporting the first book of authors. I mean, you write this book, this is your baby, your creation, then you set it out into the world to ultimately be judged. So it must be hard, no one wants to hear that something they put time and effort into is disliked, but I would be lying if I said I enjoyed this book.
So here is the deal: Natalie Bloom is an introverted straight-A's student from a middle class family who is extremely judgmental and filled with self loathing. The book doesn't have an extreme amount of vocalized dialogue, it mainly takes place in Natalie's head, so it's a near constant diatribe of panic over grades, disgust over her body and the concept of sex, and judgment of what other girls are wearing, saying, or doing. The description of the book says she's ambitious but I beg to differ. She wants straight A's but she doesn't have any direction in her life, no clue what she wants to do, where she wants to go, who she wants to be.
Her judgements made about other women really bothered me and when judging anyone, it typically was always women. When a character was introduced it was specifically about how pretty or ugly the girl was. Whether or not she was easy and how the girl perceived herself in Natalie's eyes. Often times women will ask, why do women hate women? Why are there so many cat fights? Why do girls judge other girls so much? This character is all of that. She seemed to look at someone and make a quick judgement and even by the end of the book when she had "changed" she was still doing it.
That's just the side-story of this book, how Natalie interacts with other women, but the main part of the book was Natalie's involvement with the first guy in her life. The girl meets this guy and she kind of stumbles along, not sure how to act with a guy who seems genuinely interested in her, which I can almost understand and sympathize with. She goes on her first date with the guy, smokes pot, and then it seems to trigger a dramatic switch in her personality. Just one date, just going out for dinner, and the character is suddenly a smoker and rebellious and flunking her classes. After one date? Really? I'm sorry, but there wasn't enough support in the plot for that to even seem believable. Every time this male character came into the text I groaned audibly and pushed myself through each page until Natalie inevitably freaked out and ran off.
If there was anything the author did extremely well with this book, it was writing a disgustingly skeevy character with this guy. The way he handled the girl, commanded her and really handling everything with the least amount of care for her, disgusted me. She's used by the character and feels horrible, destroyed, oh the woe and self pity, but the very next sentence was how much she loved him. Really? Now I understand that at times you'll have a character in a situation where they're stuck. It's abusive and they've been in it so long that they don't even know how to get out. But you build upon that, you give it substance and support so that it appears believable. Again, this was rushed. She is always disgusted with what she's done with men but immediately justifies it as being okay and she's thankful that she was forced to do what she did almost as if, in her mind, her 'no's mean 'yes's. What a horrible message to make. It all happened during the course of three months and while yes, someone could very possibly fall in love in three months or end up in an abusive relationship during that time, it needs to be shown and described and believable. This book was not any of that. Towards the end of the book Natalie talks about her first legit boyfriend and how wonderful and sweet he is, yet he forces himself on her just as the skeevy guy did. So, why is there a difference? If you say "no" to a guy you aren't dating he is forcing himself on you, raping you; but if you say "no" to your boyfriend and he forces himself on you it's totally okay? I'm pretty sure it isn't.
At some points I would lean back from the book and mutter, "Really?" when it would suddenly turn from just annoying, obnoxious and not believable to straight up unbelievable. As if I was stepping out of a published book that had surpassed other books by authors who hoped to be published and straight into a badly done fic written and posted somewhere online.
So after that one faithful dinner with some guy, Natalie Bloom suddenly becomes the "loser" she was always trying to avoid. She changes, becomes someone she doesn't know, but all in the course of three months before she gets over it (for the main part) and moves on to return to the type of person she used to be who wasn't all that great to begin with.
One day I sat down and forced myself to finish the book. I couldn't wait for it to be done. My poor friends probably couldn't wait for me to be finished with it either because all I did was complain about it, "I don't want to put it down because I already waisted days reading the first 100 pages. I'm going to write a review about this but I need to read it first." Read it I did and much rejoicing was had when I finished the book. I felt that there was really no strong, uplifting point. There weren't any fantastic characters (other than the dog and maybe Natalie's mother, both of which aren't around for very long). Even after I closed it and sat down to write this review, I couldn't do it, because I had so many emotions (all within the category of dislike) that I was struggling to put my dislike to words. I figured that this book would make me think of college: my good choices and my bad choices and I would come out of it feeling refreshed. But instead, I came out of it wondering about the opinions of the author and her view on women. This book will be tossed aside and I have no intention of reading it again.