Monday, May 26, 2008

Nothing by Robin Friedman

The most popular guy at his high school, 17-year-old Parker Rabinowitz is wealthy, smart, and drop-dead handsome. He's a sure thing for YHP (Yale, Harvard, or Princeton) according to his college consultant, whom Parker has worked with since he was 14. Parker's got just one problem: he's bulimic.

Nothing is presented in two distinct first-person voices — those of Parker and his 14-year-old sister, Danielle. Parker tells his side of the story in present-tense narrative, which becomes progressively more stripped down as he's consumed by the disorder. Danielle tells her side of the story in free verse. Danielle, who is barely even acknowledged by their achievement-obsessed parents, is known in school as "Parker's sister." Despite all this, Danielle loves her brother. And she's the only one who seems to notice what's happening behind Parker's perfect-seeming exterior, as he disappears into a world of deception and desperation.

Complex and realistic, this novel's ultimate message is one of hope. (No, actually, it's not.)

ARC. Book gets released on August 1st, 2008.

Grade: That's an F, simple as.

Note: Because precious time was lost reading this, and because this book's message is so undeniably wrong wrong wrong, and because this book pissed me off immeasurably, it just inspired a new snarky category here on the blog: Reviewer X Goes All X.

The only reason I even bothered finishing this is because I have to review it for Book Divas. Had that not been the case, well, I can pretty much guarantee you I'd have stopped reading this after the first ten pages. If I even made it to that.

Let's start with the main character, Parker, who was so groundbreakingly annoying and one dimensional, I couldn't figure out how anyone in their right mind could bear write about him, much less work consistently with him until the book was accepted for publication, and much less have someone else agree to publish a story about him. Here's this supposedly hot, rah-rah high school god who has a self-esteem the size of an ant. I can understand how this might come to be, what with his disgustingly obsessive father, but Parker is so whiny and pathetic throughout the entire book, I couldn't bring myself to care about his nonexistent self-worth. My only question is, how is this weenie so popular? He asks himself the same thing, so I think that's a valid point to raise. Incidentally, he suffers from bulimia, which I guess is supposed to make the reader feel sympathetic toward him and his needy introspections. However, his bulimia is completely unfounded, based on an passing comment his father made about appearances that Parker somehow spun to a personal level. Personally, I thought his entire transformation from repressed-and-stressed high school senior to OMG-obsessed/possessed troubled child was forced and contrived and entirely gratuitous. A plot device, if you will.

Despite his low, low self-esteem and identity crisis, Parker is actively hooking up with girls at parties, most notably with a girl named Julianne, who is, oh sweet god, yet another weenie added to the cast. The story behind them is that in the previous year, when Parker was a junior, he told his friend Spaz that he thought a girl named Amber was really hot. Like the good friend Spaz is, Spaz went ahead and hooked up with Amber, leaving Parker fuming. So Parker goes and starts hooking up with Julianne because she's got the hots for him and because she's also "incredibly hot". They hook up and they hook up and they hook up some more until Julianne starts getting the hint that she's being used and demands more commitment from him. He dodges her requests because he's "afraid" of something; what the object of his fear is, is never explained, which just adds to the overall exhausting enigma that is Parker's character. Really, he just still had the hots for Amber. Finally, she throws him an ultimatum and, put on the spot, Parker drops the L-bomb on her. That's right, he tells her he loves her. By this time, I was rolling my eyes quite ostentatiously. You won't see me using many acronyms in my reviews, but WTF?

This would be the time to add in here that Julianne's confrontation is the only time in the entire novel she shows any hint of a backbone. In fact, the entire female population inside this novel, with the exception of Danielle, Parker's sister, is thoroughly objectified through Parker's perspective. Need proof? Amber, the forbidden-fruit foxtress, is second-ranked in their class (Parker's first, naturally) and when it's looking like she'll kick him out of first place, Parker honest-to-goodness says, and I quote, "Amber should focus less on being smart and more on being a babe". I won't even comment on this one, so disturbing is it to me.

Moving on: Now we've got relationship Julianne-and-Parker, which means that the once somewhat self-respecting Julianne is reduced to a whiny girl who lingers on to Parker's every word and action. Parker snaps at her? She's "misting her eyes". Parker is being loving and caring and a huggable pooh-bear? She wraps her legs around him and makes out with him in the middle of the halls. Soon she becomes his "only reason for living". Never mind that he's still lusting after Amber and that the only real development in their relationship were a couple of hot 'n' heavy make out sessions. This is clearly a case of true love.

Just when this book couldn't get any more ridiculous, a family member finds out they have cancer. Breast cancer, to be exact. Of course, it couldn't possibly be the mom, as that would be too conventional for this novel's reliance on the inconceivable. No, it's the dad. All of this acts as a catalyst to the deteriorating family, which is what I can only assume a plot twist to add to the sob-fest that is these folks' lives. This obvious plot device was the last straw, the last flush this novel could possibly take before all-out tanking. It read like a cheap shot, a bad joke, and a lame gimmick.

And finally, the ending, which I gather was supposed to give the hope promised in the summary, fell through. It read like a brochure on the consequences of bulimia. No real feeling, no heart, just nothing. (Ironically, that's the name of the novel. Fitting.) Just no.

The only positive thing in this entire book is Danielle, Parker's sister. She's the shadowed-by-older-sibling girl, though I really don't understand why, as she is heaps more interesting than Parker could ever be. Still, the deliverance of Danielle's voice was botched: it was told in free verse for no apparent reason. Even if I had to plow through the eyesore that was presentation of her side of the story, I found her to be a highly respectable and relatable character, which is 10000% more than I could say for any other being present in this novel. I only hope that the remainder of the time she spends in that household before college doesn't taint her.

In conclusion: Stay far away from this book. I can't imagine the disappointment guys who have bulimia will feel after reading this. They don't need a whiny rich kid bemoaning his miserable predicament--they need a genuine narrator. They need a book whose heart is not a tragedy trifecta of minorities only placed therein to make a statement. Frankly, what they need is exactly the opposite than what this book delivered.

To think this book will get targeted at bulimic boys is the epitome of offense; it's offensive to the readership and it's offensive to me.


Heather said...

wow. amazing review. very harsh, but I'm sure the book deserved it. Thanks for warning me off from this book, because it sounds like I would hate it.

A.D. Roland said...

great review! very honest and blunt. If you ever get the yen to review adult romance novels, look me up... I need people who aren't scared to blast crappy novels passed off as 'quality literature'.

Ash Arceneaux

Anonymous said...

Great review- I liked the whole harsh feel to it all. I was looking forward to reading your review since you first told me about how much you hated it.

I also loved your plot summary, lol. Fantastic.

Amee said...
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Amee said...
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Amee said...

Great review. It's harsh, but you don't just say you hate it and that's it, you've given valid and clear reasons.

I know you should never judge a book by the cover, but I do it all the time--both for and against books. And let me just say, the cover is horrible. I wouldn't pick it up because of that. You can tell it will be a book about a whiny, sullen boy. So in that respect, I suppose it is the perfect cover.

Liviania said...

Let's hope this isn't a double post.

You described why you hated the novel concisely, which makes the review valuable. I'll avoid the book.

Anonymous said...

What's up with the two deleted comments?

Anyway, I like Flux too. I haven't dealt with them much, but they've been good to me when I have.

And I also don't like the cover, but mainly because it's extremely similar to the one for Twelve Long Months by Brian Malloy (even using the same male model who, in my opinion, is pretty cute but only on the Twelve Long Months cover and not this one, lol).

Khy said...

Awesome review. Harsh, but still a great review. I'm definitely going to avoid this book.

And I am going to agree with Ambeen and say that the cover is not that great.

Gabbi said...

Good review. I hate books like that-ones that have good premises but fall short. And a dad with breast cancer? Sounds like the author's trying to turn a serious issue into a frat boy's punchline.

Steph said...

Hey everyone,

It was meant to be harsh--this book, in all honesty, is all wrong, and the only thing I can think you'd get out of reading it is if you go to the Author's Note section where she relays the stats and stuff about bulimia in males.

Ash -- thanks for the invite. Right now, though, I'm almost drowning in books to review and stuff, so I'll have to take a rain check. But I will definitely keep you posted. Thanks again =]

And yes, I agree, cover = not that great. But I try not to judge books by their cover--I leave the judgment for the writing, pacing, characters and their development, premise, and all that other good stuff that makes books good/bad. This book, obviously, didn't make the cut.

P.S. Deleted comments, I think, were cos Ambeen deleted them by accident? I dunno.

Amee said...

I don't know, Steph, I think it's good to judge at least partly on the cover. I've bought several books based either entirely on the cover or mostly and they turned out to be great choices. :P

Alea said...

Book Chic-

I also noticed this about the same cover photo! I guess that's what happens when people buy their images off stock sites they risk seeing it some place else as well. I've started a collection over at my blog, I wonder how many i can find now that I'm actually paying attention. I've got 2 so far!

Unknown said...

I hate to say it, but I'm actually kind of interested to read this book now. It sure sounds like Friedman has lofty goals (something I NEVER encourage! Har har), and I'm sorry to hear the book didn't deliver on the promises of the premise...for REVIEWER X. But it also sounds like there's something compelling here. And in fact, I checked it out on Amazon and the guy who apparently inspired the book RAVED about it and Friedman. (Biased? Sure. Bulimic? That too.) You know I love you, Steph, and I imagine I'll agree with your assessment of books nine times out of ten. But I also think it's important that readers make up their own minds rather than playing follow-the-reviewer quite so blindly. LET ME REPEAT: I totally adore Steph and completely respect her opinions, but it kind of saddens me to see everyone jumping on the bandwagon here. (And not just because I may be flunked myself--if not here, somewhere! Incidentally...I do love the grading system.) One girl's trash may be another girl's treasure and all that, you know? Seriously, people. Think for yourselves, wouldja? XO

Unknown said...

Okay...sorry, I should have said "it kind of saddens me to see SOME OF YOU jumping on the bandwagon here." (You didn't all say you'd avoid the book, so I'll try to refrain from assuming the worst...even though that's generally my M.O.!) :-O

Steph said...

Even though *I* personally don't think anyone will get much out of reading this, I do think Alexa raises an important point about forming your own opinions. This just happens to be mine :) I wish this book were out for people to actually discuss what they thought about it in the comments section, but it's not =/

Anyway, that is all: I think Alexa raises an important point.


Heather said...

I don't think I would hate it because Steph hates it, and I'm not going to intentionally steer away from it either, but of all the other amazing books out there, I know not to buy this one first. Besides, just from the summary here and on other sites, I don't think I'd be interested even if I did pick it up and read the back cover or something. It's just not that appealing to me.

you do raise a good point, though Alexa. I'm not usually a conformist. I even want to read A Countess Below Stairs still (not right away as I have other books to read) even though Caroline gave it half a cup of black, disgusting coffee.

Once again, great review, Steph

Little Willow said...

I liked Nothing, as I felt it was true to what some bulimics do, keeping their habits and their thoughts secret. It is completely possible for someone to be popular or well-liked and for that person to seem "okay" when he or she is really anything but. I have known Parkers, both female or male, as teens or as adults, who have eating disorders or other habits that shocked those who thought they knew them well.

I enjoyed the dual narrative; I felt as though his first person narrative allowed the reader to see the parts of his life which he kept hidden from his friends and his family - especially from his father - while Danielle's first person in verse offered another insight into his character as well as his family.

Liviania said...

Alexa - I decided to follow Reviewer X's lead because of the reasons she explained for why she didn't enjoy the novel. They aligned with many of my main reasons to dislike a story, so I'm going to take her advice. If her reasons didn't sound like they would bother me, I might pick up the book anyway.

Melissa Walker said...

I was going to plug Alea's amazing ability for spotting covers that use the same photo shoots, like this one:

It fascinates me. And I do love an honest review, X. Thanks for that.

Alea said...

Melissa- That's so sweet! Book Chic also noticed the same thing! I think this is so fun, I hope we can find some more! Be on the lookout everyone!

Steph said...

Heather: thanks! <3 And while I do think you should find out for yourself if you like this books or not, I'd steer clear of it until you get a death wish. It'll pretty much do it for you.

Little Willow: That's nice, thanks for sharing.

Livinia: Your comment made my day :) Thank you!

Alea: I agree with Melissa, very nice feature. I love that the dude appears in so many book covers ... he still looks pretty whiny to me, though.

Melissa: thank you for dropping by!


Alea said...

Reviewer X- Yeah that guy is sort of EH. I think what makes the images great is the composition, can't say that for "Nothing" though!

Teen Troves said...

Wow, it's too bad because it had the potential to discuss a topic that doesn't seem to get much press, male eating distorter's. We see a lot of novels on the topic for teen girls, not so much for guys.

What a shame.


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Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph