I like reading books about war dogs, shipwrecks, and lady aviators.
I read a glowing review of this, so when I saw it in the library and wanted a quick break from academic reading, I picked it up.
Uh. This one's not for me.
The book was narrated by a young man, which is somewhat unique in YA fiction. But the narrator has no real voice. After 600 pages, I don't know much about him. There is virtually no character development for anyone in the entire book. With it's yawning length, you'd think that would be a given. The characters are utterly flat, uninspiring, and forgettable.
The plot was slow and plodding, added to the lack of fully-realized characters, reading this was mind-numbing. All that really happens is a lot of slut shaming and girl-on-girl hate, which is always disappointing to see. The narrator often comments on his love interest's size, remarking on how small and tiny she is. Meanwhile, a minor character is repeatedly inserted into the narrative only so she can be mocked for her hefty weight. Physical appearance is the only thing Ethan ever really comments on or compliments leading us to think that Lena's beauty is her only quality. This is incredibly disappointing, especially when it comes from two highly educated female authors.
Race in this book is handled even more poorly than gender. This narrative is entirely white washed. All of Ethan, Lena, and their peers are white, described as pale or, if they are cheerleaders, "orange" from too much spray tan. The single character who might be a POC is Amma, Ethan's live-in nanny/maid/housekeeper. She spends most of the book in the kitchen, and embodies the mammy stereotype in uncomfortable ways. Though she spends virtually all of her time at Ethan's house, Amma has her own home which she is caught"sneaking" to in the middle of the night. This is a bizarre moment where she is characterized as a slave, as though Ethan's family owns her and she must sneak away in the night. Furthermore, Amma's home is a 'shack' which can be accessed only by wading through a swamp. She is also magical, but whereas Lena's family is celebrated, Amma is debased. Ethan repeatedly refers to Amma's "strange voodoo", makes fun of her charms and superstitions, and is creeped out by her use of chicken bones. Overall, this book gets a giant F in race.
Secrets are revealed far too late in the book and when they finally come, they're unoriginal and unexciting. The end of the book leaves us in essentially the same place we were at the beginning. There's no real hook pushing readers to the next installment.
The acknowledgements page of the book notes that it was written in just three months. That shows, and it's certainly nothing I would brag about.