Look at me reading indie books and reviewing them too! I fell off my reading and reviewing game for a while, but when it comes to supporting people who are doing the same thing as me, I’m all for it!
Disclaimer: I don’t tend to enjoy reading YA contemporaries. I don’t tend to enjoy debut novels (more on that on down). I don’t tend to enjoy books written in first person, present tense. All of these things contribute to my rating and opinion of this book. I want to support the author while also remaining honest. I think that by listing my preferences, it will help readers see that this book simply wasn’t for me, but there are many qualities that others might find enjoyable. Any reviews help whether they be positive, negative or between. I tend to read all kinds of reviews when deciding on a book. What I dislike might be what another reader will like. With that said, this review will contain much criticism. I will also say that many of the things I found lacking in this book are also lacking in my own debut novel. I fully intend on supporting McBride in all he writes. I am writing this review not only as a reader but also as an indie author myself. I would never want to write a review that would cause an author to be doubtful (I’ve been there, reading those reviews). I hope that my criticism leads some to read a book that they love for the reasons that I did not.
I want to first say that this book screams “this is the first book this author has written.” It reads like a debut. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I have found that nearly every debut I’ve read in the last year hasn’t been a favorite. I rated Children of Blood and Bone 3 stars. The Poppy War 2 stars. Shadow and Bone 3 stars. City of Brass 3 stars, etc. All of these are books were received by the intended audience with admiration and high ratings, but that I found lacking. I’ve determined that YA debuts (especially contemporaries) just aren’t my thing.
With that being said, I think I’ve pinpointed exactly what about the writing style rubbed me the wrong way.
McBride uses strong emphasis and dramatic flair to reveal big emotional moments throughout the book. Although these moments have great intentions behind them, I found that they were not executed to their full potential due to fast and jarring pacing, redundant sentence and scene structure, and flowery prose throughout the entire book. Sudden, jarring moments can bring emphasis and effect that the reader can love. Redundant sentence structure can do the same and bring out patterns important to the overall arc. Flowery prose can make the writing beautiful and impactful. But when all of these elements are in place constantly, it reads kind of numbingly. It puts a drinking coffee scene on the same level as the mc being beaten by his dad scene. Nothing seems to be important because it is all written as if every single scene is as valuable as everything else.
There were, however, some beautiful lines throughout the book when I found them placed appropriately. An inner-monologue about healing in the middle of a dialogue can be jarring and distracting to me as a reader, but closing out a scene and a chapter in a poignant way was something McBride also did. I was breathless with this paragraph at the end of chapter 10.
“I’m falling. But then, I’ve always been falling, descending into a cavern deeper than my eyes can see. But I’ve grabbed hold of something, a ledge that wasn’t there before, and I’m holding on. I’m holding onto those three little words. And they’re not the ones you might expect. They’re simple, completely uncomplicated, but they’re a promise.”
And also at the end of chapter 55: “So if God is who He says He is, then I’m all in too. Because Liz is right. I need impossible. And I’m ready for that adventure.”
I find that the setting is rarely well informed and written as if it in itself is a character in contemporary stories. I am fine with this but do expect the lack of setting and its effect on the story to be made up for with strong-character driven storylines. I found the characters lacking and will talk more about that below. I think part of this is due to the fact that I read (and write) A LOT of fantasy, so I usually find that the setting is just as much a character as the actual characters. I can read a thousand chosen one stories, but if the setting is vastly different and changes the course of the story, it can be done well. A contemporary cannot achieve this as well since the world-building is based on what we already know. A college dorm, a westward road trip, etc.
I will say that I liked how the setting made sense to Adam and his storyline. I wish that the pacing would have been slower so that we could really enjoy it more. I did like McBride’s frequent use of the ocean and the stars to further Adam’s character arc. The setting was there for Adam, and I appreciated that.
I think I would have really enjoyed this book if it was slowed down and each scene was explored to its full capacity. Everything moved far to fast for me. For instance, there was one chapter with 8 pages in which the two main characters travel to the Grand Canyon together, spend the night near it, explore it the next day, go to the motel that night and have a meaningful conversation. All of that in one chapter with only 8 pages. It was way too rushed. This pacing might be preferable to other readers who like fast-paced, easy reads. I prefer a slow-burn romance myself, so my lack of love for the plot comes more from preference than “bad writing.”
I will say though that I do love road trips and am all for it. 100%. pointspointspoints.
I don’t know if my lack of connection with the characters was due to the writing style and genre (I think most of it is) or if there is a larger part of me that is more concerned with one reason I didn’t like these two characters.
I still don’t really know Liz. I just know what Adam wants from Liz.
I don’t connect with Adam. I found his “style” of getting to know Liz by asking her personal questions right off the bat a little jarring and disconcerting. I love that the author is advocating for deeper more meaningful relationships (we need them, I need them lol), but I felt like Adam’s questions the entire time was built on what he wanted from Liz rather than wanting her regardless of the questions or what she would answer, etc. I found the love story a little disconcerting as a result. The dialogue was sometimes entertaining, natural and made the book un-put-a-downable, but I never really had a clear idea of what these characters wanted and were aiming for.
Really the only thing I did like about these two characters and their relationship was the fact that they bonded over poetry and quotes poets all the time. MY HEART.
This is the point that I found excelled the most. McBride brought up topics and situations I have thought a lot about myself but have never read in fiction. His views on relationships (taking them seriously as opposed to the hook-up/flings tendencies of our culture), faith, and healing I found poignant, refreshing and well-developed and executed. You can tell Brian wrote this book. It’s very him. It was authentic to him and his beliefs (as far as I can tell.) This book felt real, and for that, I am not only grateful but am in admiration. He closes the book out with a Dear Reader where he explains that he would rather write a real book than a perfect book. I agree and I would say that he succeeded in this.
With all of this being said, I will also mention that the writing-style aspects that irked me and the lack of connection I had with the characters are present in my own debut. I have since then developed my style and have moved past these flaws. Writing is a process. I very much believe that McBride has done the same, so I look forward to reading is the upcoming release Every Bright and Broken Thing to see how he has evolved as a writer. He has a lot of potential and views on the world that needs to be shared. This story, while not my favorite, has marks of a true, passionate storyteller that will write books impactful to many hearts. So, if you like contemporaries or have a thing for debuts lol, READ THIS BOOK. I may have not enjoyed it the most, but I know there are others who will. I hope that this “negative” review will help others find their new favorite story!
Stay tunes for Every Bright and Broken Thing. I’m excited!
You can find Brian McBride on Instagram!
You can find his book here!
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