Thursday, March 8, 2018

Heather Reviews: Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick (Spoilers)

Title:  Every Exquisite Thing
Author:  Matthew Quick
Released:  2016
Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
From the bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook comes a heartfelt and unexpected novel in the vein of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Nanette O’Hare is an unassuming teen who has played the role of dutiful daughter, hard-working student, and star athlete for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bubblegum Reaper—the mysterious, out-of-print cult-classic—the rebel within Nanette awakens.
As she befriends the reclusive author, falls in love with a young but troubled poet, and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that sometimes rebellion comes at a high price.
A celebration of the self and the formidable power of story, Every Exquisite Thing is Matthew Quick at his finest..

I'm torn on my feelings about this book; on the one hand, when the book is about Nannette and her friends talking about what The Bubblegum Reaper means to them and trying to solve the mysteries of it, I feel like it's genuinely a good book. On the other hand, when the book is about how Nannette is a real-er person than her classmates because she read TBR and how everyone else is ridiculous because they drink and have sex with people they may or may not care about, it's a flaming hot mess and extremely forgettable.

I do mean it when I say I enjoyed the book when it was about trying to "figure out" TBR (even though I believe in the death of the artist; art is how you interpret it; you can never really know everything about the universe of a work because that's for the author to know and I think that sometimes; yeah, authors tell a story to get it out of themselves and into the world and then are done with it, etc) because then the book was about something. The characters thought things and did things and tried to do things.

When the novel hits the midway point and Nannette goes into therapy, I hate to say it, it gets boring. Possibly because there's such a huge disconnect at that point as well: Nannette's therapist, June, who Nannette is a jerk to for no real reason, encourages her to speak in the third person because... "first person Nannette is too accommodating." Or something. So Nannette "floats through" (her own words) the second half of this novel sounding bored and disconnected, not caring about anything but claiming she cares so much about all the things her classmates don't care about, thus making me not care about anything.

But the thing is her classmates, or at least what we do see of them, do care. We only really see much of Nannette's old friend from soccer, Shannon, who began blowing high school guys in middle school and drinks a ton and has more sex than Nannette. I have a lot of problems with casting Shannon as a sort of villain for how she lives her life because I had so many friends from so many walks of life in high school and some of them came from groups that were into drugs and had sex. It's not a big deal! I won't name names because they were lovely people and don't deserve that, but I cared about them and they really cared about me, even if we didn't have similar lifestyles, so God help you if you try to tell me that they were terrible people because they drank and had sex.

(And breathe...)

Nannette, attempting to assimilate into high school life, rejoins soccer and decides to attend a party with Shannon and other friends she used to play soccer with (and she takes a swipe at them by calling them fickle because they hated her and they're acting ~drunker than they really were). She puts on a bunch of makeup she doesn't want to wear, she wears some outfit she wouldn't actually wear, and goes with them, deciding not to drink. She meets a guy there named Ned and then, mentally, decides to begin an "experiment," wherein she loses her virginity to him, she goes on the Senior Trip with their group and he declares he loves her, and she agrees to go to prom with him.

Prom night, Nannette sees herself in the limo window and is uncomfortable with the way she looks in the prom night finery (she's been uncomfortable the whole time, but now she's just noticed a new quote in TBR and so she's got to apply it to her life somehow), and she flips out and screams to be let out. I think, given the circumstances, the kids in the limo were extremely accommodating: They tried talking to her calmly, they tried asking her to tell them what was going on and why she was panicking, and after she got out of the limo Shannon tried to get her to get back in as Nannette had taken her shoes off and her feet were getting cut up. They were all very good to her, IMO.

But Nannette wouldn't hear it and she runs all the way from that limo, dumping her experimental boyfriend on prom night, to Booker's house, where she basically cries and begs him to tell her what happens to Wrigley after TBR ends. Booker gives Nannette his life story up to that point, says, "satisfied?" and invites her in to play Scrabble. Nannette ignores him and goes home, and when he tries to contact her later, she throws her phone in a lake and then requits soccer.

Later, Shannon rightfully calls Nannette out after she loses it on prom night and ditches her date. She even tells Nannette, "hey, I also have massive debilitating doubts about my future, but I'm trying to have fun while I'm still young!" And... look, I can see everyone's sides; I think if everyone sat down in this novel and realized that Nannette was having difficulty figuring out what she wanted to do and MIGHT have been having a breakdown in the novel and if Nannette could pull herself out of her ass long enough to realize that her lifestyle wasn't the only correct one, everyone could've gotten along quite well. As it is, both girls are right, but Nannette goes about it wrong by hating people.

No, of course, Nannette, shouldn't have to force herself into a role and do things she's not comfortable with. But I also think it was a bad idea to perform some Sprouse-sibling social experiment senior year while her mental health is still quite fragile and a person she loved has very recently died.

Speaking of Alex. I liked him initially but somebody really should've stopped him from fighting those bullies. I know schools don't do anything for the bullied, but this dude was apparently twice the size of those kids and beating them up. And since they weren't stopping, it was only a matter of time before he escalated it to their fathers. Alex's poetry, as Nannette's inner thoughts reflected before she (or the author) decided to stop caring about the story, reflected someone who strongly believed in vigilante justice. Alex himself even straight up admits to Nannette in his Jeep once that, yes, vigilante justice is the way to go.

So, possibly knowing this, I don't know myself because he never shares anything with Nannette, Booker, the author of TBR, corresponds with Alex and believes he's a ~gentle soul~ and cultivates a relationship with him. Booker however tells Nannette in the novel that part of the reason he pulled TBR from print is that some people who read it tended to act out violently, and at Alex and Nannette's first meeting, Alex tells Nannette he's been sending Booker his poetry.

I know that paragraph might be confusing but I hope I'm coming across: Booker has read Alex's poetry, all of it, even the vigilante justice stuff, and still decided he was a kind enough soul to form a relationship with. Booker apparently didn't do anything to quell this rage in Alex, he encouraged Alex to try and get published. And I know that writing about certain things are therapeutic and can help people get over them or get them out of their system, but sometimes they can also make people act on those things. It's a tricky thing knowing where that line lies though, I admit.

Booker's a bit of an asshole, honestly. He will form bonds with people who write to him about TBR, but only if he senses they are sincere (what qualifies as sincere? We're never told), and after befriending people who fall in love with his magnum opus, he tells them that they will never be allowed to speak to him about the novel after the first conversation about it. Usually the people he befriends are teenagers, and let's be honest, that's already a rough time in life, so if you can find a piece of media to guide you through it and, hey, your favorite author writes you back to say, "you seem to be a sincere and nonviolent person, let's us become friends!" WHY NOT JUST TALK TO THE TEENAGERS ABOUT THE NOVELS? Or, better yet, just write the kids back thanking them for reading the novel, answering some questions, and then LEAVE THE CORRESPONDENCE AT THAT? And if the kids were gonna try to solve the mystery without your help, they were still gonna do that.

Booker tells Nannette that sometimes his work causes kids to act out in violent ways, but never considers talking to Alex about his violent urges and how wrong they are, especially knowing that Alex's father isn't that present in his life. It's actually a little maddening considering that neither Nannette nor Alex actually bring up the book that much, but when they do Booker immediately shuts them down. And no, I don't believe that Booker should be on hand to answer any questions because, again, death of the author, but I have to stress Alex's situation and how much he looks up to Booker.

I can't emphasize enough how different the first and second half of the book are. I mean, Alex bringing in Oliver to his and Nannette's little group and giving Oliver a copy of TBR, buying a copy of Booker's high school yearbook to see if there are clues (creepy, I'll admit), visiting one of Booker's old classmates to see if she could help. And then, "Nannette doesn't know how that makes her feel, Nannette speaks in the third person, Nannette doesn't like this, Nannette doesn't care for that," Booker shutting Nannette out of his life because of Alex's actions (excellent decision there! She lost a guy she thought she was in love with and she was having a breakdown), nobody just sitting down and thinking about how anyone else in novel feels about anything, except possibly Shannon. I will admit the only things I like in the second part are Nannette's parents stepping up after realizing she's suffering (I went through a breakdown my senior year and my family basically told me "tell no one" and "you need to stop this nonsense"), people treating Nannette being in therapy like it's no big deal (therapy shouldn't be), and seeing more of Nannette's classmates.

But I'm so angry at the way most characters begin acting out of character in the second half. Booker just slashing people out of his life and then randomly reconnecting and sleeping with his old schoolmate. Nannette claiming to be so passionate about everything, but not feeling passionate about anything at all. Oliver who doesn't like people or make friends easily suddenly finding a girlfriend and ditching Nannette (although that second part's a bit realistic in my experience). Alex is the only one who is consistent (exacting his own brand of justice, doing whatever the hell he wants), but he dies about 70% in.

This was my first read by Quick and while I didn't enjoy it, I will be trying something else. I typically don't write off authors after one bad book experience unless they're awful people. The problem is I just don't know what to make of this book. Is it a deconstruction of works like The Fault in Our Stars? (Which I've never read so I can't really compare it to.) Is it actually mimicking yet mocking The Bubblegum Reaper? Is it ironic that Nannette keeps calling everyone selfish when she herself is the most selfish character in the entire novel? (I mean, Jesus Christ, she's so selfish.) I really don't know what to think. It's a two-star for some actually very nice quotes about how hard feelings are to figure out sometimes and how much I enjoyed the first half, but I really wouldn't want to suffer through it again or recommend it to anyone.

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