This Week, I Read… (2021 #41)

#124 – Hold Still, by Nina LaCour

  • Mount TBR: 98/100
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I found this difficult to read not only because of the subject matter, but because of a personal bias which I will be up-front about: I usually dislike stories about or deeply involving photography, as I often find them tedious or pretentious. And this starts out very much being about the artsy, depressed teenager who’s a precociously fantastic photographer, so I wasn’t optimistic that I was going to like this.

Fortunately, it got better.

Which isn’t to say that the story doesn’t constantly tell us about the images that Ingrid photographed, or eventually about the ones our protagonist Caitlin snapped, leading up to her triumphant masterpiece series at the end that shows she’s healing. It’s carthartic, I get it. Or maybe I don’t get it, because the description of the photographs didn’t sound that interesting to me, and the feedback Caitlin gets from her teacher sounded–guess what–pretentious. Artists, man. I love the act of making art, but the really serious artists often rub me the wrong way with how they talk about art.

So I’m kind of meh about that aspect of the plot’s climax.

But there were things I liked! I thought that Caitlin’s antagonistic relationship with her photography teacher was an excellent way to convey that grieving the same person can sometimes put two people at odds with each other, with the extra wrinkle that it’s an authority figure, but not her parents.

I also liked the progression of Caitlin’s relationship with Taylor, even if I don’t think Taylor got enough characterization to stand on his own, or even to explain why he was interested in Caitlin. There’s a snippet of conversation near the end of the book where it’s revealed he didn’t know about two of her major hobbies–photography, and carpentry (the treehouse specifically.) Like, I get that you two got to know each other from working on a school project, and then you spend a lot of time making out, but did neither of those things ever come up in conversation?

It wasn’t a page-turner like smoothly-written YA novels sometimes can be, I wasn’t racing to finish. In fact, I had to take breaks sometimes on purpose, even if I still wanted to be reading in general I couldn’t take more of this book. Suicide and grief are difficult subjects. But I’m glad I made it to the end, since I wasn’t sure that I would when I started. It’s not life-changing for me or so amazing that I think I’ll need to reread it, but it was good.

#125 – Perv, by Dakota Gray

  • Mount TBR: 99/100
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I want to start by saying, I genuinely don’t understand why the narrative is so insistent that Nate is a pervert. Like, his fetish is giving oral sex, how is that the gold standard for perversion? People are turned on by far stranger things than a common sex act, and one that’s generally considered a good thing by women. I don’t want to kink-shame anybody by suggesting another fetish that I think is more suitably “out there,” but I can safely say there are a lot of things people will do to each other in the bedroom (or out of it) that I think would better qualify Nate for “pervert” status.

I’m much more creeped out by his behavior in attempting to find the woman from the bar, because it’s really difficult to convince me there’s ever a good reason for tracking a woman down when she didn’t volunteer contact information, and Nate’s admission of his tendency to fixate on things that bother him feels like a big red flag. Also, I would have expected him to hire a private investigator or something, but a paralegal? Am I missing something? How’s a paralegal going to get security camera footage from a bar? Wouldn’t it have to be involved with a case the law firm was working on? Like, an actual crime, or at least some kind of civil suit? This is just a horny dude looking for the woman who turned him down, so this can’t be legal, which is also a red flag. I know his friend is a big shot there, but that still seems like stretching things for a favor.

So he’s not a sex pervert (in my view,) but he might be building up to be a stalker. Ick.

I was super-tempted to give up there, but upon skimming some reviews to help me decide, both good and bad ones, I saw that the woman–I suppose at this point I should say “the love interest”–gets her own POV, and I haven’t gotten to that yet, so I waded back in to see what her thoughts on the matter would reveal.

Well, I kept going, and it never really got better. She’s under the impression from what she’s heard of Nate that he’s a super hardcore BDSM enthusiast, but I maintain that liking to give oral sex is not that extreme a fetish, and from his own POV he does not seem particularly into the lifestyle. Dominant tendencies, sure, and eventually there’s a sex scene where Robyn needs a safe word, but even that felt pretty tame (by my standards, which are apparently higher than this story expects.)

As for the emotional and romantic aspects of their relationship, it makes very little sense how they progress from “obvious sexual tension but I hate you” to banging, and then somehow to love, once the really belabored mystery identity of the friend/ex-lover is finally revealed. (Which is a strained premise anyway, and then the friend’s story didn’t seem compelling enough to make Robyn go to all this trouble. I mean, yeah, the friend died, but it’s not like Nate killed her. He didn’t even dump her, she dumped him! So how exactly did he ruin her life?) They both use the L-word by the end, but I can’t see why, because there’s very little to them aside from the copious amounts of sex they have, and then near the end they start cuddling a tiny bit and not being awful to each other. Not convinced.

So even if this were “pervy” enough to me to justify its title, it’s still not a particularly good romance.

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