Saturday, May 11, 2013

True by Erin McCarthy

Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  When Rory Macintosh’s roommates find out that their studious and shy friend has never been with a guy, they decide that, as an act of kindness they’ll help her lose her virginity by hiring confident, tattooed bad boy Tyler Mann to do the job…unbeknownst to Rory.

Tyler knows he’s not good enough for Rory. She’s smart, doctor smart, while he’s barely scraping by at his EMT program, hoping to pull his younger brothers out of the hell their druggy mother has left them in. But he can’t resist taking up her roommates on an opportunity to get to know her better. There’s something about her honesty that keeps him coming back when he knows he shouldn’t…

Torn between common sense and desire, the two find themselves caught up in a passionate relationship. But when Tyler’s broken family threatens to destroy his future, and hers, Rory will need to decide whether to cut her ties to his risky world or follow her heart, no matter what the cost…

What worked for me (and what didn't): I have mixed feelings about this book. There were parts of it that resonated with me, parts which infuriated me and all manner of things in between.  The writing is engaging and eminently readable.  On the other hand, I thought the characterisations were sometimes thin and some plot threads didn't really go anywhere.  I'm finding this one hard to grade, I hope to have reached a decision by the time I finish writing the review.

I think, as readers, we bring the sum of our experience to a book.  The alchemy between reader and book is based on timing, personal experience, mood and possibly also the alignment of the planets.  What I will see in a book others may not.  What draws my focus may not be what draws yours.

I read the first chapter at Dear Author a little while ago.  Many of the comments were about the author's use of the word "ghetto".  I counted it three times in the book and it was used, on each occasion, by a different character.  In my little corner of the world (which I acknowledge is very safe and protected and privileged) my only previous exposure to the word "ghetto" was in the Elvis Presley song. (I don't mean that to be flip - it's true.) I thought it was a synonym for "slum" - although this is not a word we Aussies use either really.  (Mostly everyone knows the "problem" suburbs and the name of it is enough to connote all the things that "slum" may.  There is a tone which goes with it too, but it's hard to express in writing.)  I grew up in a poor socio-economic area; low employment, high crime, drug use, domestic violence, alcoholism, etc, etc.  I was only too glad to get out.  But the word "ghetto" doesn't effect me as it does others.  I had to look it up because, given what others were saying, my understanding was wrong.  While the word wasn't offensive to me, I can see how it could be problematic to others. My sense, FWIW, is that the characters in the book use the word without any racial meaning but that's just my own feel.

When I read the first chapter though, that word didn't register.  Because it's not a word with any special meaning to me.  What did register however was how Rory responded to the sexual assault - and in particular, this:
The realization that I was almost raped settled over me, and his hateful words lay on top of that, a final insult. He was right. No one wanted me. But that didn’t mean I could be treated like shit. It didn’t mean I wasn’t a person, that I should toss over my dignity and accept whatever attention I got, no matter how selfish and crude it was.
Because I was a little like Rory when I was younger.  (Perhaps not at 20, but at 16/17 and younger again; definitely).  And I have been in situations where consent was dubious (though the situation in the book was not dubious; there was no consent there), where peer pressure and fear of being alone and unwanted influenced my choices.  And I wish that I had thought the way Rory thought.  That I deserved more, that I was worth more.  Because, at the time, I didn't really believe that.

I did feel that Rory mostly read younger than 20, but that may be because she had been so sheltered from relationships and social interactions I suppose.

The police weren't called on Grant and apart from that he gave a lame-ass apology later in the book, it wasn't really dealt with further.  In an ideal world, perhaps the authorities would be been brought in and Grant charged, but it felt realistic enough to me that Grant's punishment was being punched by Tyler and getting thrown out of the house.  In real terms, that was validating for Rory and she had the support form her peers in this too, which (I felt) assisted her in minimising any residual trauma.  It never occurs to Rory to call the police.  To be honest, I can see why.  It might not be right, but I think it was authentic.
“Rory, are you okay?” She rushed over to me, blond hair flying behind her, dressed in men’s pajama pants and a huge sweatshirt. “Tyler told me what happened.”

Her arms wrapped around me and I let her hug me, grateful for the contact and her concern.

“What an asshole. If I see him, I’m going to cut his dick off and shove it down his throat. Let’s see how he likes cock crammed in his mouth.”

Her vehemence made me feel better. “I should have . . .” I started—but then stopped myself. I should have what? I shouldn’t have done anything differently. I was just sitting in my chair and he made a world of assumptions and I said no, and that was the truth of it. I wasn’t going to blame myself that he’d taken a fist to the face.

“No, screw that,” Jessica said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. And I’m sorry I left you alone with that prick.”
I had sympathy for Rory's feeling that she was on the outside looking in.  Her bafflement at the relationship dance.    I did think that she was a little hypocritical in how she saw herself (but, who isn't?) - she felt she was a straight shooter and was always honest.
Maybe it would have been more strategic to keep my future plans on the down low, or at the very least, not expose Tyler to the reality of it on a TV show filmed in a morgue, but that seemed dishonest. This was me.
But when she overhears the girls talking about how they offered to pay Tyler to "de-virginise" her (which was just a stupid idea and not my favourite plot device by the way) she doesn't actually talk to Tyler about it.  She hides and evades and he only finds out she knows by accident.  I can understand the initial hiding, but after they are hanging out again, her straight shooter nature felt inconsistent with her not bringing it up.

Fortunately, that part of the story didn't go anywhere (and really, I wish it had not been there at all).  The focus shifts to Tyler and his family.  His life is mostly bleak.  Really, really bleak.  I know there are people who live like that (not even all that far from me even).  I know there is despair and poverty and drug addiction and bad mothers and no help. But I struggled with how dark things got for Tyler in this book.  Tyler and his older brother Riley are basically raising their younger brothers U (there's a story to it) and Easton.  Riley lives out of home and Tyler lives at home with his younger brothers and their drug addicted mother.  Their mother will not release the younger boys to live apart from her and if Tyler and Riley call in the authorities, the boys will most likely be separated in foster care.   So, Tyler and Riley are doing the best they can in the meantime, while saving (Tyler's education is part of this) so that they can look after the boys better in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, they live in squalor.  The boys have to hide food and money from their mother.  They are not cared for by her at all.  It was super bleak and depressing and the parent in me was outraged. 

Tyler is 22 and at college, with a part time job at a convenience store.  There is very little money for his family but he still goes out on weekends and stays overnight at Nathan's (or later, Rory's) and he has money for beer and cigarettes.  I feel kind of uncomfortable pointing it out because I do feel that, at 22, Tyler deserves a life.  But on the other hand, if he's taken on the task of looking after his brothers, why is he buying beer instead of fresh meat and vegetables?  It wasn't made clear exactly who was looking after U and Easton (if anyone) when Tyler was away from home.  I'm not suggesting Tyler was irresponsible but there were some inconsistencies which I felt weren't really addressed.

I really struggled with the injustice Tyler faced later in the book and the egregious consequences of it.  I hadn't been expecting the story to turn quite that way (and I'm being vague because I think it would be a major spoiler) and my inner  underdog supporter was roused and fired up.  The story is told from Rory's 1st person POV.  So, if Tyler doesn't tell her anything (and there is much he keeps from her) she doesn't know it.  And neither do we.  I was all, "Back up the truck, why aren't you doing this? Why is that happening? Can't you do this instead?  Isn't there another option?"  None of those questions were answered because Rory wasn't involved except as a bystander on the periphery.    And the end, when it came, was so abrupt as to infuriate me.  For me, the HEA/HFN is tied up in more than Rory and Tyler being a happy couple.  It seemed to me that most of Tyler's future had been dashed and I saw nothing of what was next.  Nothing.  That was not enough for me.  From a reader perspective, I hadn't dealt with my "grief" over what happened to Tyler and wasn't ready to let it go. I didn't understand it, didn't want to accept it and hadn't had time to get over it.  Even though, this kind of thing probably happens every day, I wanted (probably unreasonably) a better solution in "my" romance novel (dammit!) (and yes, I know, my privilege is showing. I'm owning it). But even if there wasn't a better solution, I wanted something more at the end so I felt like Tyler was going to be okay.  Because it's not a HEA for me without that and just being with Rory was not enough.

Scenes toward the end of the book had me in tears, so that tells you I was invested in the characters.  And it was because I was so invested, that the end of the story didn't satisfy me at all.

The next book in the series is about Jessica and Riley.  Tyler and Rory will be in the story but not POV characters.  The excerpt at the back of this book indicates that the story starts pretty much straight away after the end of True (or close to anyway).  Tyler and Rory and U and Easton are heading to Rory's dads for a week or so - what???  By the end of this book, there was no resolution to how Rory's dad felt about Tyler.  But now they're holidaying together?

I'm a person who likes loose ends tied up.  I like to have closure of at least the significant storylines by the end of the book.  But I felt like I didn't here.  Sure there was a HFN in terms of the romance but much more was left unresolved in my view.    What was heading to a B- ended up at a C.

Grade: C



Merrian said...

Hi Kaetrin, I was reading this article and thought of your comments on the word 'ghetto'. Thought you would be interested :) Think it gives a really clear outline of the racism/weight that the word holds

Cheers :)

Kaetrin said...

Thx for the link Merrian. I thought the word was originally used regarding Jews during 1930/40s? I take it then became a word used in, the US at least, which was mainly about black people? I get that it's a problematic word. But I can't honestly say that it offends me because I have no experience with it. I'm not trying to be flippant about it, just honest. I think it's terrible what various societys have done to marginalise minorities and that there is so much poverty in such wealthy countries as the US and here astounds me still. It appalls me how this country treats immigrants, particularly those who come by boat illegally. I feel like I have a social conscience which is growing with education, but I can only react to a text based on what I know, my own biases and experience. It's not a word I'd use, particularly now that I'm more aware how offensive it is but it didn't jump out at me from the text and didn't cause a negative reaction in me.

There is an interesting thread over at DA about the new Raybourn book - one of the commenters - Janine or Robin I believe, made the point that books with problematic themes can have value in highlighting biases and privilege, can be jumping off points for useful and important discussions. I often feel like I can't ask a question about this kind of thing for fear of stepping on a land mine but then I wonder, how else am I going to learn about stuff if I can't ask somewhere? You are one of the people I feel I can ask offline about some of these things and I appreciate that you can see honest intent in that. It can be so difficult online to have an open discussion about problematic themes and issues without things getting offensive to someone (intentionally or otherwise). I hesitated to mention some of the issues I raised in the review as it was, but in the end, I felt I had to say *something* rather than let it ride.

Merrian said...

I think it is important to do what you do which is reflect and ask questions. Exploration and thinking out loud is a good thing.

Kaetrin said...

It's amazing what I learn from reading romance novels and participating in the online romance community :)