Saturday, August 7, 2010

Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Two years ago, Kristi correctly predicted her father was about to walk out on she and her mom. Just weeks later, he does, going to Africa to start over fresh and escape his humiliation in the face of yet another medical malpractice suit. Kristi blames her mother for constantly putting him down and pressuring him about his career ambitions, so the two of them, who were never exactly buddies to begin with, are even further apart. And to make things even better, Kristi’s best friend, Hildie, decides the popularity afforded to her by her supernaturally good-looks is worthy of trading Kristi in for at the exact moment Kristi needs her the most. But like Kristi says, can you really blame Hildie for never looking back at her ugly ex-best friend when she could have the glamour of being in the In Crowd?

(I certainly can! But we’ll save Unabashed Judgment of Characters for later.)

Oh, and remember that little prediction about her father’s impending abandonment? That’s how Kristi found out she’s psychic. Kind of. She begins reading people’s minds after that. Of course, given she isn’t exactly popular and her un-stellar temperament after all the Shit Went Down, what people are thinking proves to be hard to swallow. Fortunately, the tough skin she developed helps her get through the day.

But nothing will help her face the father who abandoned her way back and who’s suddenly back in town, and with some not-so-pleasant news. It turns out Kristi may have been premature in blaming her mother, unjustifiably mean in the past two years to anyone she’s had contact with, and a little too self-absorbed.

Well, if nothing else, Kristi is a fantastically funny and witty narrator. She’s got wonderful, unique traits, like the fact she makes her clothes out of the most absurd materials--such as umbrellas!--and is great at it. Or how she’s obsessed with opera to block out people’s thoughts. Reading her account of what happens is oftentimes hilarious and I stopped MANY times to mark down quotes I like. Just so you have an idea:

*Jacob’s parents are English, but that’s not the reason they’re weird. They’re so pale that when you first see them, you think they’re dead, and when you get to know them, you wish they were.

*“Oh?” Brian asks, raising one eyebrow in delight. I guess he isn’t delighted enough to raise both eyebrows.

*David leans over Hildie and looks at her work. I’m pretty sure he’s smelling her work.
He’s a teacher? Mallory asks. [in a note]
He seems to think so, I write back.

*“You have a nice house,” Gusty says.
I shrug. “It keeps the rain off my head.”

That’s really, really great voice.

And yet…this novel was rather weak. It felt half-done, uncooked, not left out to marinate enough--whichever sounds best.

Right off the top of my head, the thing that most bothered me was that everything had this stereotypical feel to it, and in a really unpleasant way, to boot. It honestly felt like the school and some of the main characters were pre-made for cutting corners on creativity so as not to dig too deeply and thus complicate an otherwise very neat story. Like Jacob, one of the only students who was friends with Kristi. He’s so categorically nerdy: annoyingly overeager, spits too much, uses too big words to be cool and is naïve-bordering-stupid. Or the principal of the New Age-y high school, who’s a total hippie caricature and only seems to pop up to get students to “express themselves” or do some other--again with this term--New Age-y exercise. Or Hildie, the ex-BFF, who is evil and slightly slutty and whose motives for being evil are…never explained. Or The Father, who apparently suffers from Peter Pan Syndrome. This wouldn’t be such a problem if they weren’t defined by only those listed traits.

Bottom line is, almost no character is given nearly significant screen time so as to come to life.

And then the other very, VERY tiring thing in this novel is the amount of times we hear about guys staring at Kristi’s huge-ass boobs. And when I say huge-ass, I mean what I gather to be C-cups. Like I said, everything is so stereotypical that there doesn’t seem to be not even ONE guy who doesn’t drool over them. Of course, there is also not a chapter that goes by in which we don’t hear about how huge they are.

She seems to get more success with her C-cups than I get with my D-cups. What I’m saying is, that’s not exactly how it goes down. Not every single guy on the face of the planet--especially not your good friends whom see you every day--will be thinking very explicit thoughts about you 24/7.

Aaaaaand… there’s a lot more I could list that bothered me. How all of Kristi’s thoughts seemed to be about how ugly so-and-so is and how beautiful (and therefore stupid) so-and-so is and how this guy who happens to really like her is so ugly she can’t stand looking at him and how it’s okay for her to think like this but the moment one of the popular girls brings up his skin it’s “shallow” and how her father’s big revelation isn’t treated carefully enough and he comes out looking like a total ditz and that really cannot be how he is and it’s just another example of the stereotypes/too-simple-characterizations here.

Or I could bitch about how Kristi’s remorse progresses unevenly and culminates in a very lame and not meaningful enough way to be a hallmark of this novel, or how the Bad Skin Dude develops a sort of bond with one of the popular girls that is never fully explained, or how disgustingly Kristi’s ignorance of the seriousness of anorexia is excused when she admits she didn’t know “it could kill you”.

And then there’s the issue with the hearing voices thing. The idea of WHY is only very briefly presented and it’s quite interesting, but the author just kinds of leaves you hanging at the end in a very un-cool and frankly too-lazy-to-tie-this-up way.

All in all¾ loved the voice, but the execution could have been done MUCH better. I did finish the book, and since I did say it felt half-cooked, I will give it 5 out of 10 stars, which is what, like, a C-? D+? Hmm. I'd read more by this author for the voice alone, though. Like I said: funny.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 250 pages | October 6th, 2008 | Author Website | GoodReads | IndieBound | Amazon


D Swizzle said...

I've been eyeing this one. Sucks to know it doesn't live up :(((

Why do they waste killer covers on meh books?

Steph said...

In all fairness, if you have a good venue for getting this book I suggest you do so. I'm very peculiar about certain things and this is one of those books the faults of which probably stand out a lot more to me than even to the nit-pickiest reader!


Simply_Megan said...

I never really wanted to read Vibes, but now I REALLY don't want to read it haha. The things that annoyed you will most definitely annoy me too.

reader rabbit said...

great review, never heard of this book before and now i guess it wasn't a loss ;)

Liviania said...

C for C-cups?

Steph said...

Hahahahah sure!!

Carolina said...

I felt the same way about this book. Good review! =)

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