Let’s go through a list of things I love:
2. young adult fiction that is not dumbed-down
3. Flux publishing
4. Publishing houses that have tumblrs.
5. Moped(ing) … at least it’s on my bucket list.
6. Stephanie Lyons and how she starts her Goodreads bio with “Most days I’m 17.”
7. Girls in books who date boys that are seriously wrong for them, but spark. Because, I’ve been there.
Somehow, I just didn’t get what I need from Dating Down. There were moments when I thought, “awh, yes, we’ve arrived, finally,” but then they would be fizzled out with useless lines of poetry that should have never been poetry.
Let’s start there. I think when an author writes a novel that is usually written in prose (YA) and writes it in verse, it has to be for a very delicate reason. It has to have the strength of specifically chosen words that are arranged in a way to move the reader through the line, but stop them at each end stop, each brief indent of white space. If a novelist writes a book in verse just because, just because it’s new, just because it’s in fashion, just because it seems fun, just because occasionally she wants to rhyme a line, this cannot be. A novel should be written in verse only when it must be written in verse. It must have less words. It must have words chosen not from a bucket of synonyms, but from an unscathed thimble. I do not believe that Stefanie Lyons proved, for the first critique of this book, that it needed to be written in verse.
And I was pumped about this. A YA novel written in verse about a girl making a poor relationship choice while all her friends watch from the sidelines as she loses herself in his poorly timed and cliche lines. The story isn’t new. And neither is the verse.
At times I literally said aloud, “What was that shit?” because a line was so frustratingly already “prosed-out” (kind of like “bro’ed-out frat guys but with words that should be in sentences) that I was confused and at a point of book-throwable.
That wasn’t the only problem I had with this book. It’s a story line that’s been done four thousand and eighty-seven times (to be exact) and if a writer can’t make it new, just don’t.
This is the quintessential teenage love story. Throw in some drugs. Throw in a side hoe. Throw in a few lessons that make girls realize what they should look for in the next guy, only to make this exact same “choosing the bad boy” mistake about four more times before she’s officially grown out of it, and even then, she probably marries a guy who rides a motorcycle, or screams fuck really loud every time he drives through a tunnel or over a bridge, or steals pencils from Target because the pack was already opened, someone already opened it.
Basically, here’s the lesson. My Mom taught it to me, and I chose not to listen, which is exactly what my mother did, and my grandmother before her, and my great-grandmother before her, and my great-great grandmother, and so on and so forth back to the time when my father’s family were Kings and Queens of Denmark and my daughter will probably disregard it until she’s twenty-four and realizes her worth.
And this is the one thing that Stefanie Lyons gets right in this story. The gut feeling. All girls have it, all girls choose to ignore it, all girls get seven months, four years, twenty-two days down the line and realize that all those gushy feelings they were feeling should have been trumped by the one gut feeling that said RUN. or said HM. or made you start a sentence in your diary with “I’m just not sure…” or “I wonder if he…” or “Maybe…” then you probably should have listened to that gut feeling that just feels like a slight drain leak instead of those humming butterflies.
In the section “Cracks, Pt. II” Lyons conveys this gut feeling spot-on from the girl perspective. This is the point in the book when you want to just shake her, but you can’t because she’s a naughty book character, so shake your friends who do the same thing.
Cracks, Pt. II
We roll down the street
split-open car seats
slightly ripped vinyl
coils and springs
years and years of people
in the passenger’s seat.
How many girls have sat here with him? Jessica?
seems my seat might eject me.
Another bump, another girl?
Suddenly, so insecure I never used to be like this
with Ted or with myself.
Is this what love is?
A jerky jagged jumpy ride?
If you can name a particular girl in relation to your man. RUN. If he picks you up with cracked seats and the entire car ride you think love is a “jumpy ride” or you explain your love as a “roller coaster of emotions,” you’re either still in high school, Courtney-Love-Throw-Plates-At-Kurt insane, or you need to RUN. Run your leggings off. Run even though you’ve given him what your Christian parents told you girls shouldn’t do if they’re not married. Run even if he says all the right things in that sweet spot of air between his lips and the shell of your ear. Run if other people are telling you he’s no good, all of the other people. Run if you’re fighting for your love against an army of haters. (Hint, it ain’t the haters).
Lyons gets this high school feeling. The feeling is spot on. And that feeling is precisely why we read books. We think about our Brandon’s, our Justin’s, our Steven’s, our Oh-Jesus-if-I-would-have-ended-up-with-hims. And we enjoy ourselves. That’s what this book is. It’s an enjoyable little diddy on why girls can’t be on top of the world because we’re stuck up in all our feelings about boys, and hair flips, and ab muscles, and whether or not they’re really bad enough.
Damn, we need to hot glue the cracks.
I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.