Monday, November 6, 2017

'Nothing' by Annie Barrows

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Nothing ever happens to Charlotte and Frankie. Their lives are nothing like the lives of the girls they read about in their YA novels. They don’t have flowing red hair and hot romantic encounters never happen—let alone meeting a true soul mate. They just go to high school and live at home with their parents, who are pretty normal, all things considered. But when Charlotte decides to write down everything that happens during their sophomore year to prove that nothing happens and there is no plot or character development in real life, she’s surprised to find that being fifteen isn’t as boring as she thought. It’s weird, heartbreaking, silly, and complicated. And maybe, just perfect.

MY THOUGHTS:
I was curious about the premise of this book. Two teenage friends are disenchanted with the predictability of life, and Charlotte decides to write an expose as a school assignment, to prove that it's not all it's cracked up to be. She plans to document what a typical, dull go-to-school life is really like, since there's no plot, no character development, but just a whole lot of mindless repetition. Frankie isn't sure how she'll manage to pull it off, but she's interested to find out, and so was I.

It would seem Barrows could have taken this either of two ways. a) The girls are wrong, and the title of the book will prove to be a misnomer, because there's always something interesting happening. b) The girls are right, in which case their ho-hum lives will have to be really well written to hold our attention.

I think the story was intended to be an a. We were probably meant to notice that even though their lives seem pointless, there's always enough bubbling under the surface to keep a bit of spice in them. After all, there were a few plot threads happening. Charlotte has a crush on a long-distance friend Sid, although she has no idea what he looks like because his face never shows up on social media. That's got to be rare for this day and age, when even the most camera shy among us can't escape being tagged by our friends sometimes.

And then there's Frankie, who is not just any little sister. She's the unpopular family lovechild, whose parents both split up their former marriages to start a relationship together. Frankie's older half-brothers and sisters never really let her forget it.

Unfortunately, although it sounds like the story had potential, it didn't really go places, and we ended up with more of a b. Imagine being stuck in a bus behind two fourteen-year-old girls, who gossip, giggle, make snide comments about their parents and ramble on about parties, clothes and make-up for the duration. This is the equivalent in book form. At first I wondered if it's just my age, since I'm not really the target audience, but no, there just doesn't seem to be much substance to Charlotte and Frankie. At one point, Charlotte even admits that rather than thinking for herself, she prefers to watch friends for cues as to how she's supposed to behave and react. That's presented as if it's meant to be one of the book's major revelations. Instead, we realise it's quite true, and probably the reason we're so bored after 200+ pages of seeing her herd mentality reflex in action.

Well, I guess we can't say that the cover, title, blurb and first few pages didn't warn us :) Still, it's a bit disappointing since I didn't expect it to really be about nothing. Maybe many authors have theirs hits and misses. This has to be a miss for Annie Barrows, who's also had her share of hits.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins Australia for my review copy. 

1 star (yes, I got to think of all the trees cut down to print this non-story)

4 comments:

  1. Oh that's a shame it's a miss. I loved the book she co-wrote with her aunt - 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society'. One of the few books I've read twice and I would happily read it again. Though it was really her aunt's baby and Annie helped her finish it as her aunt was dying, so the aunt's voice probably comes through. I guess you can't have a hit every time, but I do expect some consistency in the quality of the writing.

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    1. Hi Nola, I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society too, and even reviewed it here quite some time ago. I learned so much about the WW2 lifestyle for those brave souls holding things together at home. It's partly why I had had great expectations when I saw Annie Barrows' name. But whoa, they are two very different books, which shows she's tackled a couple of vastly different genres.

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    2. I hadn't even realised that the channel islands were occupied during the war, so it was an eye-opener. I loved the humour, but every now and then a poignant bit would creep up on you. Certainly made me want to add Guernsey to my bucket list. Wouldn't you love to have sit in on one of their literary meetings?

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    3. I love the way it started too. They were pretending to have a literary club, so thought they might as well really have one 😊 Definitely one of my favourite epistolary novels.

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