A whip-smart, heart-wrenching debut YA novel about first love, first loss, and filmmaking that will delight fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer Niven
In the movie version of Amelia’s life, the roles have always been clear. Her older brother, Toby: definitely the Star. As popular with the stoners as he is with the cheerleaders, Toby is someone you’d pay ten bucks to watch sweep Battle of the Bands and build a “beach party” in the bathroom. As for Amelia? She’s Toby Anderson’s Younger Sister. She’s perfectly happy to watch Toby’s hijinks from the sidelines, when she’s not engrossed in one of her elaborately themed Netflix movie marathons.
But recently Toby’s been acting in a very non-movie-version way. He’s stopped hanging out with his horde of friends and started obsessively journaling and disappearing for days at a time. Amelia doesn’t know what’s happened to her awesome older brother, or who this strange actor is that’s taken his place. And there’s someone else pulling at her attention: a smart, cute new boyfriend who wants to know the real Amelia — not Toby’s Sidekick. Amelia feels adrift without her star, but to best help Toby — and herself — it might be time to cast a new role: Amelia Anderson, leading lady.
I read this book as a buddy read with Cátia @The Girl Who Read Too Much and Kat@Life and Other Disasters. You can check out Kat’s review of this book here, and go to Cátia’s blog on the next few days to read her thoughts on it.
So…. let me honest here for a moment: I requested this book mainly because of that cute cover. It’s super cute, right? Also, that blurb? Interesting, right? Oh well… Not really. The blurb is probably the most deceiving one I’ve ever read. I thought this was your run of the mill contemporary, where a girl learned to live outside of the shadow of her older and cooler brother, what I got was a kind of insulting representation of a mental illness.
If you don’t want to read any SPOILERS about this book, leave now, because I will talk freely about the plot and theme, it’s the only way really to explain how much this book didn’t work for me.
Back to the issue, Toby is diagnosed with schizophrenia during the first half of the book, and the book actually deals with how much Amelia can’t come to terms with his disease.
I just couldn’t, for the life of me, connect to Amelia, like her, or feel any sympathy for her at all. This is a girl who has pretty cool siblings, she doesn’t work, doesn’t drive, somehow everyone does everything for her. She gets average grades – though I got the feeling she didn’t actually try to hard there, she has friends, she’s normal. The only thing different is that she looks up a lot to her older brother, and lives in a kind of movie world, where she rather see movies than actually get out and live. I see nothing much wrong with this, except that if movies were her passion, shouldn’t she know about movie club at school? I found it odd that she was so removed from everything.
Back to Toby, Amelia and Toby have a pretty great relationship in the beginning, but after being away for 7 weeks, Amelia starts noticing that Toby is acting a bit weird. Then a LOT weird. Does she try to talk to him? Find out what is going on? Maybe talk to their parents? NO! She does not! She’s too worried about her own problems, and that her “cool brother” doesn’t want to hang out with her, and what will people think of this new Toby.
Once Toby gets diagnosed – after Amelia ignored a lot of things – she gets ashamed of his diagnosis, she refuses to talk to her friends, family or boyfriend, even when they try to reach her and help. She also refuses to learn anything about the disease. And then she goes and ignores her brother for months. Yep! Her AMAZING brother! The one she looked up to and loved more than anything. One of her best friends. The person that was always there for her. What does she do? SHE DOESN’T VISIT HIM OR EVEN PICKS UP THE PHONE OR SENDS A SHITTY TEXT! No, she does none of those things, because she can’t deal with the fact that her brother is not cool anymore.
I can’t even…
I get that this is a hard thing to come to terms with, but Amelia is 16/17, yet she acts like a spoiled little brat, pushing people away and failing to be there for the one person that needed support most of all.
There’s this stupid thing that I can’t get over with… her dad gives her 2 books when her brother is diagnosed, so she can learn about the disease. She shoves them under the bed and doesn’t pick them up again. EVER. I mean… really? Then she accuses her friends and boyfriend of not understanding what she’s going through, when at least they are worried about the right person and getting informed and involved? Please…
Let’s talk about the evolution of Toby’s schizophrenia for a moment, shall we? It was so badly done. I just… it was a huge NO for me while reading it. I’ll be honest, I have ZERO experience with it, and I don’t know anyone with it (I think), but I think I’ve informed myself relatively well throughout the years to understand the basics and I felt that the representation here was so wrong. It was like the “original” Toby was completely replaced from a second to the next, it didn’t make sense, at least not for me. I read a book last year about this mental illness, also told through the perspective of someone who loved the person, and it was a million times better (Your Voice Is All I Hear by Leah Scheier).
Onto another topic that I really can’t come to terms with: Amelia’s relationship with Epstein, her boyfriend. We don’t get to actually see how they met, only through flashbacks, so when the book starts they’re already in a long distance relationship. They hardly know each other, ok? They text and talk on the phone, and then visit each other, but even though it’s pretty obvious that they are in a relationship, Amelia has a hard trouble with whether or not she and Epstein are girlfriend and boyfriend. The chemistry is non-existence! And the intimate scenes come out of nowhere and are a bit cringe-worthy. Hey, this is me guys! I have no problem with sex in books, as you know, but I had a major issues with every sexual scene in this book. I felt that Amelia was not mature enough and their relationship was nowhere near the point where they should be having sex in closets (?!).
The way that particular relationship was left off, grated on my nerves. I didn’t think they had chemistry or anything like it, but Amelia had a few very shitty attitudes towards the guy she supposedly loved, and I was not ok with that.
In the end, Amelia grows a little, and she reaches the point where she can talk about her brother’s mental illness, but she’s still not over being a little ashamed of it, and wishing that the “old/cool Toby” would return, and I didn’t like that. Amelia should realize that “cool Toby” was still there!
I guess the writing was ok, but I had so many issues with everything else that I just can’t really tell you. I didn’t like the writing of some scenes, mainly the sexual ones, they were truly cringe-worthy and the vocabulary used was just UGRRR… NO.
I honestly can’t really recommend this one to anyone, I think it’s a poor representation of a mental illness and actually offensive. I was cringing the whole time it took me to read this book, and Amelia’s immaturity and actions made me sad.