I’m not the type of person who curses a lot – in fact, the occasional swear word I throw into a review or discussion post tends to be more than I ever say in real life. I’m the type of person who definitely prefers using language like that when I’m really stressed, mad, frustrated, or some other similar, strong emotion. So, using even a small word like “damn” in the title of a post is my way of telling you that this is a discussion post full of strong emotion – but, in this case, it’s more frustration, stress, and sadness, rather than me being pissed off. So, really, this paragraph has nothing to do with it, but I felt like starting things off by saying all this first.
OK, on to the actual bookish stuff. Normally, when I write a discussion post based on a book I recently read, I wait at least a few days before writing the post. This time, though, I pulled out my laptop in the car (I’m currently traveling, thus the lack of posts at the end of November – well, that and NaNoWriMo and a very minor blogging slump and general busy-ness) right after I turned off my Nook, on which I was reading one of my latest books: The Fine Art of Pretending by Rachel Harris. I was kind of excited about this book because it just sounded like a fun and fluffy book, complete with one of those fake relationships that’s obviously going to turn into something more. I knew that it would be fun and not too serious, and since that was what I was in the mood for, I was looking forward to it.
As I started it, I was a little unsure what I thought of the main character, but beginnings can be a little rough and I was ready to keep going and get to the cute, couple-y moments she was sure to have with her male best friend once they obviously started having a fake relationship. I got to chapter two and even though I wasn’t super invested yet, I was prepared to enjoy myself in the car while getting farther into it. However, I never made it past the second chapter before I DNFed it.
Now, before I say why I did that, I want to make one thing clear: I don’t think the book is a bad book. I obviously didn’t read enough of it to know, but I’ve seen good reviews of it and there wasn’t anything to offend me in it. However, I just couldn’t go any further because, as I mentioned in the title, sometimes I take books way too personally. It’s not their fault – I’m sure the books all want me to enjoy them, just as I want to enjoy them, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen.
You see, this book involves a trope that once kind of annoyed and bored me, but has now started really depressing me: oh no, I’ve only had one boyfriend in my life! I’m a 15/16/17 year old freak! It’s obviously something wrong with me, rather than simply a lack of boys or girls to choose from.
There’s not really anything wrong with this trope, but it rubs me the wrong way. High school tends to be the first time that people start getting into real relationships. Sure, there was a girlfriend-boyfriend duo as early as fourth grade in my school, but it was never real – they just had the title and might sit together at lunch or have a play date (emphasis on “play,” because fourth graders are still just kids!); it wasn’t until you reached high school, and specifically the freedom of being able to drive yourself, that a lot more people really began dating. Some people had lots of relationships in high school, some had none; some were casual, some were really serious; some developed slowly, some seemed to come out of nowhere. There are so many kinds of relationships, just like there are in college and after schooling is over. So, guess what – it’s totally possible to get through high school without having a single relationship! It doesn’t make you a freak (and you’re not a slut if you do have a lot of relationships or kiss a lot of boys/girls/both)!
So I’m getting tired of reading all these books about teenage girls moaning about the fact that they’ve only been kissed once or twice or only had one boyfriend or only gone to school dances with boys who are friends. I know this is a stereotype in itself, but many big book readers are always reading books because they don’t have all that many romantic entanglements. Yes, there are great, outgoing readers – there are even some great reviewers you might now, like Renae from Respiring Thoughts – but there are also plenty of quiet readers. These people might be reading these books, looking at their own lack of relationships and wondering if there’s something really wrong with them.
This is where I’m going to get personal in a way that kind of scares me (not in a Kathleen Hale kind of way, though – definitely, definitely don’t put personal information like your address or last name or something that can help people find you): it might not come as a shock if you’ve been reading the whole post up until this post, but I’m one of those girls. I’ve never had a relationship or really done anything, and as a college student, I guess that means I’m a freakish spinster old maid or something by now. I say that in a slightly joking way, but there are definitely times when I truly do believe this. I’ve never been asked to a school dance, even by my guy friends – I would always just go with a group of people and dance in the big groups and either leave the dance floor or sway in a circle with a bunch of girls during the slow, “romantic” songs. And even though I think I’m a pretty well-adjusted person, it definitely gets to me.
I don’t want to be a freak, whether it’s true or not. After my issues with stress and the fact that I’ve begun seeing a therapist who is very helpful, I’m hopeful that I can stop being so damn shy, but until then, I’m much too scared to try to reach out to someone as more than friends, and when I’m so quiet and seemingly uninteresting, no one’s really going to come knocking on my door. I know that it’s partially my fault – I can’t be too scared to open up to people even a little bit – but it’ll take a little while before I’m in a place in my life where I’m brave enough. I can accept that, and much of the time I do: but when I read books like The Fine Art of Pretending, where the protagonist thinks there’s something wrong with her because her first boyfriend was in her junior year and they broke up a few months ago, it’s hard to remember that. Instead, it just depresses me and makes me feel even worse about myself, which can definitely be a problem with my anxiety issues.
I’m not writing this post so that you feel sorry for me – although I’m now strong enough to admit that I am the type of person to fish for acceptance sometimes, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be happy for that acceptance or whatever – but because I think this can be a really difficult thing for book readers. If you’re like me, you often read books to escape from your life a bit – so what can you possibly do when the fun, happy books you read to get you in a better mood end up hurting you in ways you weren’t prepared for? It’s not like picking up a book like Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson – when you read that, you know you’re pretty much guaranteed to cry and get a bit of a sucker punch to the gut because it’s about a parent dying and that’s not a happy thing. It’s when something is sprung on you, something that isn’t meant to hurt you but does it a personal way that many other people wouldn’t understand. If you have a lot of issues with food, for example, reading a book that continually waxes on and on about feasts and desserts might not work for you, but it’s hard for people to warn about that in reviews. You can warn about slut shaming, rape, death, racism, homophobia, sexism, and so many other “big” things, but what do you do about the little things that are personal to you?
This isn’t really a post with a solution, I suppose. This was just my chance to get everything out – a therapeutic want to vent about the ways a book hurt me even though there really isn’t anything wrong with it. And, I feel like I need to repeat this: there’s nothing truly wrong with the book. It’s not the responsibility of every author to think about every small little thing that would bother a person. Yes, it’s important to be considerate, but you can’t expect everyone to know personally what things bother you. So, really, this was my chance to vent about this trope and my feelings – but I’d also love to hear from all of you, to know that I’m not the only one who can sometimes be hurt by taking things so personally. If I can’t keep all books from hurting me, then it’d be really, really great to know that at least I’m not alone in the pain.