Honest and lively YA book reviews
Every single time I eat Chinese food, I end up feeling like crap. And yet I still come back for more. Picture the scene: you worked nightshift last night, you've had a total of around three hours sleep and it's now 9pm. It's safe to say you're feeling pretty zoned out, you're hungry, you're exhausted so what do you do? Well, you sure can't be bothered to cook so you reach for the number for the Chinese takeaway. I mean, the place is like a three minute walk away for crying out loud! It's just too easy! So you order way too much food and basically eat your own body weight in satay king prawns and fried rice. And boy does it taste good. All those chemicals and fats and flavourings coursing through your blood stream! Amazing! However ...... The price you pay for this food of the gods? A three day stomach ache. That's right - the last time I ate Chinese food I had a stomach ache for three whole days. And not just a little ache, oh no my friends! Like, I had to take it easy kind of ache. I was trying to clear out the closet in the spare bedroom and my stomach hurt so bad, I had to go lie down. That kind of ache. It prevented me from living my life.
So .... My boyfriend took matters into his own hands. He wrote at the top of the Chinese menu, right next to the phone number "DO NOT order food from here, or any other Chinese takeaway place. It makes you sick EVERY TIME! LEARN!" so that the next time I reach for that number I will be reminded that sometimes, things that seem like a good idea don't always pan out that way.
The point I'm trying to make is this is Candor: it seemed like a good idea, an interesting premise, an intriguing plot but in fact turned out pretty crappy if I'm being honest.
So the story goes, Oscar's father is mayor of a town he created from the ground up. A perfect town, housing perfect families living perfect lives, in perfect comfort. But this perfection is not achieved through the good schools, the appealing surroundings and the friendly neighbourhoods. Oh no! This perfection is achieved through secret brainwashing. Messages hidden within music are played constantly to the residents of Candor via speakers covering the town, constantly bombarding everyone with reminders to be respectful, honest and courteous. Everyone is taken in, everyone is transformed into a plastic, artificial, model citizen. Everyone except Oscar who has discovered the truth behind his fathers creation of Candor, and who has a plan for freedom which involves messages of his own .....
Ooh! Sounds good, right? Sounds tense, yeah? Sounds intriguing, huh? Err ..... actually it's super dull.
The style of writing is so disconnected from any emotion that the whole thing, instead of being interesting and engaging, just becomes very clinical and bland. There's such a horrible amount of wandering around, staring at things and completely pointless conversations between people, that it feels very unnecessarily drawn out and convoluted. I feel like beneath all that there's a very basic and short story to be told, and the author felt the need to pad the thing out to make it a credible novel. So we ended up with a lot of Nia smirking here and drawing something, and Oscar dashing there and being rude and irritating and then Mandy flouncing about over and over and over.
Characters can be outlined very quickly and easily. We as readers make a judgement on what kind of character each one is almost instantly based on the information we read. So if a character is harsh and vulgar in the first chapter, then that's who we assume they are for the duration. We don't need to be continually reminded every dozen pages or so what kind of person these characters are. We've already established that, so it's time to enjoy a well paced, lively, engaging plot. But the author of Candor obviously thought the book was being marketed to amnesiacs and so very kindly reminded as, almost non-stop what an arrogant, jumped up little dick Oscar was and what a pouting, know-all stereotype Mandy was, probably due to lack of an actual storyline. So in short, it was boring
(haha! It's catching! I've just used, what? Four paragraphs to let you all know the book is boring. A perfect example of the point I'm making about unnecessary padding out. Haha!)
The characterisation drove me crazy. I hate them all. Every last one of them, I hate them.
Mandy was a walking cliche, Nia was trying desperately hard to be hip and cool but due to a complete lack of depth ended up as dull as dishwater and Sherman was simply vile. I've already explained pretty clearly why I hate Oscar. He sets up a business whereby the kids who are desperate to leave the perfect hell-hole that is Candor pay him whatever they've got (seems like they've all got thousands stacked away under their mattresses .....) and he creates "counter messages" to cancel out the brainwashing bombarding them all around town. He then arranges for them to be picked up in the dead of night and delivered somewhere far away so they can make a new life. Now, instead of perhaps figuring out a way for these "counter messages" to be fed into the town's speaker system, and thereby saving the entire town from losing their personality and freedom, Oscar makes it an exclusive service. A very expensive, exclusive service. He has an opportunity to expose the brainwashing and free the whole town from the mindless drones they've become but he doesn't. He'd rather get rich instead. How selfish! He spends a helluva lot of time moaning and bitching about his father and how messed up he is, but he does nothing about it. He chooses to hide, play the perfect son in front of his father and rake in money from the scared rich kids he pretends to help. It really is bullshit. Oscar is bullshit. He's so unlikeable. He's everything I hate in a guy. He's sexist, he's arrogant, his ego is disgustingly over inflated and he's incredibly disrespectful.
Okay, okay .... He's only fiction! And maybe I shouldn't get so up on my high horse about a made up character. But he's not really made up, is he? Every story ever told, no matter how bizarre or out there or seemingly entirely imaginary has some grain of reality within it. If it didn't we would never relate to it. It would be impossible to enjoy it as we wouldn't have any sort of connection or way of placing ourselves in the situation and appreciating what's happening. So, unfortunately there are Oscars out there, in the world right this minute. And what makes me mad, is this is our hero. These people are supposed to be people we look up to. We admire. People who seem to have it all, as Oscar does apparently, through being selfish, scheming, lying and cheating. Why create someone like that to be the main character, narrator and hero of the story? Oh that's right, because these people are heroes in real life too. People who are popular through power, not achievement. Not by being a real stand up guy but by being thin and tanned and in control. This way of judging people in our society is so skewed and wrong and I do not like to be a part of it. So I do not appreciate being expected to root for a main character who, in my eyes is the bad guy.
However, Oscar is super popular, everyone wants to be seen with him, hang out with him, praise him and fall at his feet. But there is nothing likeable about him. He does nothing just to be a good fellow human being to others around him, every action is for selfish, personal gain. Even with Nia, that's not love! He just wants to make out with her! He acts, mostly like he doesn't give a fuck about her as a person. Not as a girl with a fit body, but as an actual living, breathing, feeling human being. He makes some fumbled attempts to win her over using art which is one of her passions, but he never goes beyond that. He doesn't seem to have a real, genuine interest in her life. He just wants to impress her enough that she'll let him put his hand up her top. Urgh. This ladies, is why we shouldn't be blinded by gifts of flowers, jewellery and chocolates - just because he buys you dinner, does not mean you owe him anything! I was really bugged by the sexism in this book because it was very subtle and uncomfortable. Yes, the town was brainwashing everyone, controlling everyone, but Oscar was putting messages in the girls heads of his own devising that forced them to like him, to be attracted to him, to desire him. It was pretty sick. And he did this under the illusion of helping these people? Yuck.
So we can safely say that Oscar is a real jerk, yeah?
Until right at the end, when he suddenly puts Nia's safety and freedom before his own and I guess, as a reader we're supposed to marvel at the character development, and how Oscar has grown up through his experiences and how love has changed him into someone so giving he will trade his life for that of his loved one ..... Barf! What crap! The only impression I got was that Oscar had taken some kind of turn, or had a serious momentary lapse in judgement, or aliens zapped his brain and scrambled his circuits or something wild like that. Because there was zero character development leading up to this great act of chivalry. It was simply Jerk Oscar one second, replaced with Thoughtful Oscar the next. There was no journey. Therefore this transformation was completely unbelievable, and not at all genuine. The boy was a douche through and through for the entire duration of the story, and remained that way to the bitter end. Which, by the way, sucked. I must admit, I was kinda glad to see Oscar get what he deserve, but it was still a complete cop out and let down. Nothing has changed. The entire thing turned out to be a complete waste of my time as we end right back where we began. In LaLa land, everyone living their dream life of brainwashed perfection. Urgh ..... What a disappointment.
I had high hopes for this one too. The cover is stunning, the premise sounds interesting and original and the thing is initially somewhat intriguing. But it all rushes downhill fairly quickly. It really lost me when Oscar stated that if residents of the town stopped listening to the messages for even a few hours they would die. Really?
So I think the moral of the story is that some things, like Chinese food for instance, seem like a great idea, and even start off well but this does not mean things will end well, and without a three-day stomach ache.