Book Review – ‘Final Draft’ by Riley Redgate

What I thought to be a cute contemporary turned out to be writing motivation.

Final Draft Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 272

From Goodreads:

The only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced—by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed.

At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval. Soon Laila is pushing herself far from her comfort zone, discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, temporary flings, and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity—but rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

I was most impressed with the writing in ‘Final Draft.’ And also the inspiration for writing… not to mention life affirming themes of living and identity. This novel truly left me revived. Riley Redgate managed to drag out the feels and has turned me into an instant fan.

Laila has some great character development, a diverse protagonist facing some truths and realities through the prism of her writing, fear, and eventually loss. For a goody-two-shoes teen Laila could have been laconic and uninteresting, but Redgate let the main character’s imagination and narrative shine through, adding a dynamic to the writing style that had me captivated.

It was great to see Laila challenge herself and explore without judgement shine through in the narrative, or from her peers.

There were a few brief moments were these inner lamenting’s dragged a bit, but on the whole, the pacing of ‘Final Draft’ is excellent and I completed the novel in just two sittings.

With many themes popping up in this coming of age contemporary, there really is a lot going on, a lot to hold your attention.

Final Draft Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

On a personal note, I maybe wanted a touch more humour… there was plenty of sarcasm, like an insult comic hiding in the wings, which was amusing, but not really my speed of entertainment. And even though I appreciated the ending and symbolism of those final paragraphs, I couldn’t help feeling like I wanted something more… romantic. In a rom-com sort of way. Sheesh, when did I become so sappy and derivative? But it is what it is.

The secondary characters are just as interesting and nuanced as our protagonist and I couldn’t help feeling that I wanted more of them. This is a double edged sword: one side being the cast was intriguing enough for me to keep reading and get invested in their arcs; and the other side of feeling like there was a missed opportunity and not really fulfilled upon completion of ‘Final Draft.’

I loved the family dynamic, Laila’s parents were present but not smothering. Her little sister Camille represents the doting sibling, just wishing to be included in everything while also carving out her own separate journey into adulthood. Their relationship was adorable. I can’t help but wonder why a more typical sibling rivalry/bickering was not included to make it realistic… but I guess that would have interrupted the tone of the novel.

Predictability for ‘Final Draft’ went out the window. I started to think this contemporary was one kind of story and then it turned out to be something completely different. So I can’t say I guessed to where this novel was going other than some sort of coming of age, write your own novel plot. It is that in spirit, but not in the most literal interpretation. Redgate’s writing style was simple and sophisticated. I was supremely jealous of her sentence structure and word usage. It makes me want to pick this up again and use as a study guide.

Definitely a novel I’d recommend to everyone – especially if you love contemporaries or envision yourself as becoming a writer.

Overall feeling: Pow! Bang! Boom!

Final Draft Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Final Draft Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Advertisements

Mental illness in writing

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

It might be a point of difference, a plot point, but mental illness in YA and literature can help save lives through education and lifting the veil on depression and related conditions. Before the person suffering takes drastic measures of their own…

I have a (secondary) character in one of my WIPs who suffers from depression, it provides one of the main characters in the story with motivation and characteristics important to their arc. However, while taking a break from framing out the second half of the novel, I jumped on social media for a nosey and catch up with friends. Two things happened that have me questioning my mentally ill character… first, a teenage girl in my family circle dealing with her own mental illness and a ton of online bullying; and secondly, the suicide of an idol. Part of the contributing factors leading him to his death were the continual hate he was getting online – he never felt good enough.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

It really hit home. I truly don’t fully understand what it is to be depressed enough to take your own life. I’m much too proactive and positive for that. It must be such a desperate and lonely place to be. And I wish others did not have to experience such a painful and debilitating emotion.

Professional psychologists attribute some of this to a chemical imbalance in the brain, as well as finding the coping mechanisms to train your thought patterns… it all sounds so clinical in the face of such a devastating state of mind.

I know there is no easy fix for something like this, but I always wonder why the two people mentioned above in particular don’t take some control of their exposure to the hate? Granted, they are the victims, and by right should not have to limit their activities. But why in the heck don’t they just delete all social media accounts? Or block the trolls? Online haters feel safe in anonymity; and the numbers and reach of these kind of people are incrementally greater online. Why not just switch off, unplug, and concentrate on you. On what you can control?

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI understand asking that of today’s youth would be like removing a limb – but wouldn’t you rather value your mental health than put up with idiots and haters? It has become such a huge problem that we are dealing with since the growth of online communities. Depression, anxiety, and bullies are a dangerous mix – it can lead to suicide, substance abuse, or fatal retaliation. Thankfully there are ways to deal. Help lines, organisations, peer counselors, teachers, parents, friends, doctors, mental health professionals. While life online has exposed people to more hate, it has also connected us to real help. Plus, we can control what we are exposed to with security settings, blocking profiles, reporting abusers to moderators. It’s not a hopeless situation. And seeking help online isn’t as difficult as reaching out in person. There is no shame or embarrassment.

I feel like including characters in my writing, and reading about them in fiction, can help educate people about this issue in an informal and personal way. I may not fully understand the things that go through someone’s head suffering depression, but with some research maybe I can help a reader feel like they are not alone, show them ways to handle these strong feelings, and seek out the help they need? Some of the novels I’ve read have certainly educated me in handling grief, bullying, depression, and anxiety. It’s also shed light on other mental illnesses and disabilities and how individuals cope with them in their lives, like bipolar, schizophrenia, being on the autism spectrum. When I was a child, things like this were taboo. Never mentioned. But what I see today is that dealing with mental illness doesn’t have to be struggled through alone. People can overcome the difficulties. And it’s more common than you think.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

It hurts my heart to see such a dark side of humanity laid bare when I think of those driven to take their own lives from bullying and hate. We don’t need to do that to each other. And to anyone surrounded by shadows and clouds, feeling worthless and alone – don’t believe those feelings. Don’t give in. You are a special, unique individual. A part of what makes this universe tick. Even though these words are coming from a complete stranger through a screen of some kind – you are loved.

 

And there is help.

 

Please call for help.

uppercase-lowercase-banner-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Book Review – ‘Noteworthy’ by Riley Redgate

Drag of a different note…

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 404

From Goodreads:

A cappella just got a makeover.

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

 This was a fun book to read. Once I picked it up, I could not put it down until I reached the last page.

For the most part I enjoyed protagonist Jordan, I felt she was a fun and adventurous. I also liked how she thought about trespassing on other minority group’s territory; I.e. transgender men, gay men, and feeling like an impostor and essentially wondering if the act of disguising herself as a guy was itself was discrimination. Not as gender expression, but for a chance to join a singing troop. It can certainly be viewed that way, but in another light completely harmless. It’s all about perspective.

I enjoyed how you didn’t get a sense this had a love story in it, but I knew Jordan was going to meet a man from reading the blurb, and it was fun trying to sleuth out which person it would be. I like that is wasn’t clear until the near of the novel, because different people’s reactions played out in realistic and organic ways.

I was horrified about a certain elevator scene – I get the point of gender roles being reversed and it not being made such a big deal of – but in the aftermath (and reveal) I wondered if her fellow Sharpshooter Isaac who was in the elevator with her and listened to her drunken ramblings, then went around exposing Jordan, how nothing was brought up about that altercation. It didn’t play to bolster Isaac’s character at all.

This is so full of drama and angst I was glued to the page.

I liked the social commentary on gender, gender roles, gender identity, and sexuality. It is such a big jumbled mix and really hammers home that we are all simply human – in all different shades.

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The boys of Raven (The Sharpshooters) each had their own distinct personality, and really added colour and complexity to the world of Kensington-Blaine’s College Campus (and a great example of fantastic writing and character development.)

I’m not a big fan of poetry or song lyrics in novels – they lose their context and meaning in this medium, and I ended up skimming past the lyrics to get back into the narrative. But it’s a personal preference, some readers may enjoy the cadence. I have to admit, I learnt a lot about music and a capella just from the language used and descriptions of the group trying to pull a number together for a performance. So intricate – it really helped paint a picture in my head of how they actually sounded: which is a phenomenal task creating an imaginative aural sound from a sentence written on a page.

I think the ending was oversimplified (maybe a little trite,) but to be fair, if it wasn’t executed in this manner the book would have dragged out another couple of hundred pages. It was a cute tale. Tones of ‘A Mid-Summer Nights Dream,’ ‘Milly Willy,’ and ‘She’s the Man…’ playing with gender roles can be fun. But with such a heavy subject matter like identity and gender roles, ‘Noteworthy’ was wrapped up too quickly and too nicely. I found myself wanting a more resounding conclusion. But what a fantastic writing style. I remember the first few sentences and how expressive they were in setting a great tone for the novel.

It is predictable in that it wouldn’t be a story without Jordan getting found out – so that part was easily foreseen: but the things Jordan went through was waaay more out of the box than I had guessed. I’d expected some hijinks, but this was visceral and poignant. A great social commentary.

Overall feeling: Ay Caramba.

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Noteworthy Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Another Day’ (#2 Every Day) by David Levithan

Same story – just a switch in perspective.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 327

From Goodreads:

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person…wasn’t Justin at all.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

While I revelled in Levithan’s great writing – there wasn’t much else to this novel after reading ‘Every Day,’Another Day’ a companion novel recounting the events from the debut of this series told from Rhiannon’s perspective only added tiny glimpses of new information to the storyline. It did not, however introduce new plot points, new characters or add something new to the ending.

I found myself skimming over the dialogue as it is exactly the same as that from ‘Every Day.’ I was really hoping Levithan was going to do something new, enrich the tale of A and Rhiannon, but it was all predictable, re-hashed and flat.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I was still able to consume it in a day, love Levithan’s writing style, the themes of identity, gender, and humanity that were explored; but really, this felt like when you re-watch a movie with the Actor/Producer comments option on… it’s all the same, but just a little bit of extra padding. And it can either bore you and tarnish that first experience, or allow you to relive the splendour of your first time reading.

I am looking forward to ‘Someday’ the third book in the series (which I now have in my possession;) there were so many elements that were set up and not resolved, and I am anxious to see where it all leads. What is the mythology behind A’s condition? Are there others like A out there? How do they live/function in society? Is there the possibility of A remaining in one body? Do A and Rhiannon have a chance at a future together? Will we see Nathan Daldry play a part in this new instalment? What new aspects of identity and the human spirit will ‘Someday’ explore…. so many questions. So there is a lot to look forward to.

I’d only recommend ‘Another Day’ to die-hard fans of ‘Every Day,’ and maybe don’t marathon them, as it gets very repetitive. Otherwise, read the debut, and skip the second book and jump straight into ‘Someday’ you’ll probably enjoy the story much more (and won’t miss anything.) Or if you want a refresher on ‘Every Day’ before jumping into ‘Someday,’ then this could be a great way to do that.

Overall feeling: Argh! Not what I was expecting.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ (#1 Wayfarers) by Becky Chambers

The exploration of space putting humanity under the microscope.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (#1 Wayfarers) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 404

From Goodreads:

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

Never have I read a novel where all of the characters are so fully realised! The depth, history, culture, politics, piled on top of interspecies interactions is a level beyond. I was flabbergasted and delighted. Such detail in sculpting out alien races, their physicality, and socio-cultural background was amazing. Adding their individual personalities on top of that – Becky Chambers is a Goddess.

The story line is simple – but this isn’t really a novel about the destination. It’s about the journey and how it shapes you. I fell in love with the crew of the spaceship Wayfarer. There is such a sense of family and belonging. This is such high quality sci-fi that has the reader not only looking upward to the stars, but also within to their humanity… or should I say sense of self given that only a small portion of the cast are actually human.

The relationships and friendships the crew form is also a symbolic narrative on interracial and same-sex relationships in society today. It was handled so brilliantly, I’m still a little gobsmacked and amazed at how Chambers crafted such an intricate novel of so many individuals working together from such disparate worlds. It was a thing of beauty.

One aspect of ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ that played against a perfect score for me – and it may be because of all that detail, intermingling, and fully-realised characters – is that the pacing felt slow. I put this book down twice to read a number of other novels. I didn’t want to read it tired, or get despondent because the world of the Wayfarer is so interesting and colourful. But there were sometimes I just wish the story would’ve moved forward.

Rosemary, the newcomer to the crew. The much needed administrator provided a fresh perspective for the reader to initiate introduction to the alien species living on the Wayfarer as the ship is commissioned to build permanent wormholes across the universe. I loved her quiet and open observation, her introspection. And also how she contributed to the crew of the ship: being a paper-shuffler is often considered as a frivolous job, but Rosemary pulls her weight and gets the crew out of some scrapes. Her unique perspective even lends itself to a growing affection for alien crewmate Sissix which was truly incredible to read unfolding on the pages of ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (#1 Wayfarer) Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Other characters of note like navigator Ohan a dual ‘them/they’ identity, and Grum the chief and Doctor of the Wayfarer who’s lifespan starts off as female, develops male after their egg laying years are over, and ends up “wherever” after that. It really challenges human society’s views on gender, gender roles, and identity. The narrative tackles this with ease, and puts our existence into perspective – maybe leaving me feeling a little small.

There were a few plot twist that had me salivating and engaged, but were spread too far apart or built around the climax.

Chambers has a wonderful writing style, so descriptive yet innocent. I just wish the pacing was much better. I wanted the story to be 100 pages shorter without losing all the information we were given. Halfway through I didn’t think I was going to like this novel at all, but Chambers changed my mind with the sheer, practically tactile world, and the characters she builds.

As soon as I finished I jumped online and ordered the next book, ‘A Closed and Common Orbit,’ and pre-ordered book three, ‘Record of a Spaceborn Few.’

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ is told in numerous perspectives, that of the crew, the A.I. on the Wayfarer, other alien races, and normally I don’t like a lot of ‘head jumping,’ but it totally worked. Each different perspective brought something new and developed the story even further.

I think I would have rated it lower if it wasn’t for the outstanding complexity of characters given I put the book down twice from a dragging pace. This is truly an interesting novel and I can’t wait to see what ‘A Closed and Common Orbit’  brings. I just hope Chambers has grown even more expertly as a novelist…

Overall feeling: Phenomenal!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (#1 Wayfarer) Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (#1 Wayfarer) Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Film vs Novel – Every Day

Every Day Film vs Novel Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe book by David Levithan consumed me. I read it in one sitting, totally engrossed in the condition of the human soul and its ability to love. I was really excited to hear a movie was coming out, and when I finally got to see it, while not disappointed, though felt the tone and narrative had moved away from the text.

The spirit of protagonist A goes beyond gender and sexual identity and into a space of simply ‘being.’ An exercise in gender fluidity. It was such an amazing perspective on existence. Juxatpose that with the love interest, Rhiannon’s perception and interactions with A, and her gradual understanding and acceptance of A, and their humanity, and you end up with a universal attitude of love and acceptance of everyone. It was truly inspired. This theme rings true in the novel, however in the film version we don’t get the insights and expansion of A’s experiences and it loses a lot of soul and context of the narrative. Additionally Rhiannon spent a larger portion of the movies length struggling and coming to terms with A. So many cuts had to be made to get this novel to fit into an acceptable length for a movie, we miss much of the characters struggles and development. But the cuteness and romance are still front and centre, as is the sci-fi/paranormal element of A inhabiting different bodies every day.

Every Day Film vs Novel Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.png

On the reverse side, being A was weird. Always the interloper, unsure of your very existence. It’s a hard place to be. Alone and transient. Enough to send you completely bonkers. But A finds a way to balance it all – A’s own desires and wishes without impacting the lives of the bodies that are being borrowed for the day. The novel delves into this a lot, where the film mentions it in passing a number of times, and it’s not really discussed until close to the end when religious zealots Nathan (a body A previously inhabited) and his father Reverend Poole challenge A. (Thinking A a demon.) But both novel and film end the story on a big question mark.

Every Day Film vs Novel Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

I loved the tone of zero prejudice about the physical being and of identity. I loved getting to walk, if somewhat briefly, in so many other people’s lives and feel that impact. The novel explores so many aspects, where in the movie much of it is reduced to a montage. I think that was the biggest let down for me. We lose all context of the connection and struggle between the characters and the tension that is slowly building throughout the plot.

While we only get the tiniest hint of the mythology behind A and his existence, the rest of the novel feels like a social commentary on identity and how we treat each other. How we are all different, yet the same. I wanted to get involved more into the reasons why A was the way he was – a wandering soul. I was hoping that in the sequel ‘Another Day’ I’d get more answers, but alas, only another brief touch on the mythology. I have my fingers crossed that we can really sink our teeth into the paranormal or science fiction of it all in the third book of the series ‘Someday’ due out on the 2nd of October this year. Not long to wait now! There is no news of a ‘Someday’ film as yet… and we may not see it given the performance of ‘Every Day’ at the box office. The themes weren’t fully explored and the social commentary on gender fluidity was not strong enough for audiences to pick up – at it still may be a confronting and confusing topic for the population of general movie goers. Maybe if there was more action and exploration of ‘soul-jumping’ it would appeal to a wider audience. I guess only time will tell.

There’s not much to say about this novel. It’s a romance, a character study with a heavy dose of philosophy. I loved it. The concept so fresh in YA! Unfortunately, for me the film fell much flatter than the novel. Still a fun romp and light escapism, but ultimately not quite there.

The book is a beautiful quick read that I highly recommend. The movie does not do it justice, but is still great viewing – though it concentrates more on the romance than of the theme – what is a soul and what makes us human.

Every Day Film vs Novel Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Openly Straight’ by Bill Konigsberg

Getting a chance to redefine yourself… and discovering you are so much more than you first thought.

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate break down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

I really loved the perspective in this novel and its discussion on the importance we place on labels, and the type of people we are without them.

I found the friendship/relationship growing between Rafe and Ben adorable. How some people you can just click with, and others are doomed to simply remain superfluous. It was a great character study in friendships.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the ending… I actually found it poignant. The object of this novel was about Rafe finding himself and learning the importance of the labels he’d let himself get classified into. Life is messy, it’s coloured with other people’s perceptions, there is no clear black and white… and it’s an ongoing journey.  I feel this was set up at the beginning of the novel and then commented upon at the end, comparing where Rafe ended up to where he started. Very cerebral, loved this aspect.

The friendships were great too. How Rafe felt freer to be himself by metaphorically going back into the closet. I get the whole thing about people constantly seeing him in a certain way – generally speaking we all do that. They are identifiers that help us to relate to the world at large. But they certainly not all we are. The more you get to know someone, the more they deconstruct the labels you have put on them.

It was wonderful to read a novel about a gay youth experience that didn’t involve single parent families, or unsupportive families, violence and discrimination, there were some elements of bullying and heterosexim used to illustrate the differences between a gay perception and a straight one. The whole book felt positive and informative about friendships and how to find your comfort zone with the outside world.

The relationship between Rafe and Ben was like a slow burn. It grew organically and was introspective. It was if they both decided to take the blinkers off and come at their growing feelings in a different way. I found it refreshing. A little unrealistic, because I’ve yet to meet a teen who approaches the world this way. But I appreciated it for what it is.

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Claire Olivia is cute too. Wise beyond her years. Like most of the cast in this book they are all proficient at character studies of those around them.

I also got some great writing tips from Mr Scarborough’s critique of Rafe’s writing – pushing him to think about the motivation behind his prose. Also the different forms of writing – a short story compared to free writing (stream of consciousness) it can only serve to enrich my own journey.

The humour in this novel is fantastic. Many times I was chortling so loud I sounded like a misfiring hairdryer! The characters have a dry sarcastic wit that translates well off the page.

The only downside, and the reason I’m not awarding top marks is because I felt like I wanted more from this novel. More meat. While highly philosophical, I found myself yearning for more plot, more story. As it stands this novel is fantastic, but as a reader, that sense of needing substance is not a great thing. It’s speculative, adorkable, and even educational, but not filling.

I’m definitely keen to read on in this series – with a novella (‘Openly, Honestly’) and a second book recently published ‘Honestly Ben,’ you can bet I’m going to be diving in as soon as I can. I also will be adding some of Bill Konigsberg back catalogue – his writing style is effortless, introspective, and deliciously hilarious. Dude – you’ve made me a fan!

Overall feeling: It got me here, *points to head* and here *points to heart*

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.