This book is everything I ever wanted to write in my sleep but didn’t. I’m not even mad about it, it’s just that good.
I don’t read modern YA as a general rule–the further young adult fiction drifted from the ethereal Francesca Lia Block and lavished in the episodic- love-triangle starring (insert battle female archetype here) I checked out and haven’t returned. But this brave little book is the exception to every rule about YA I ever maintained.
Do you not like characters doing bad things and getting away with it? Do you not like morally ambiguous decision-making paired with the gut-wrenching agony of “things can never be the same”? Do you not like it when the “bad guys” or the “wrong thing” wins in the end? Then don’t read this book. However, if you’re like me and all of the things above intrigue, titillate, and make you pant for joy with the diversion from “sameness”, continue on.
From the outside, the plot is pretty inane. Sasha and Xavier are best friends. Sasha loves Xavier, but Xavier is getting over Ivy. Ivy is a manic pixie dream girl who likes to play with men. She makes moves to get Xavier back to spite Sasha. Sasha decides to go on Instagram and make a fake profile of a boy to entrap Ivy in her cheating ways, to prove to Xavier she’s no good for him. Then things get very dark, very suddenly. Sasha must do some very questionable things to protect Xavier, and Xavier must swallow some disturbing truths so they can protect themselves.
I was drawn to the novel because of the natural way in which the characters interact with one another. There are no stereotypes here. These are real people I know, real friendships I’ve had—they feel aged, concrete, like firm handshakes. As real as these teens feel, they also dance in the blue velvet electricity of youth; they live within the hazy in between of reality and fantasy that makes growing up so raw, desperate and immediate. Emotions are an emergency and reacting is as involuntary as breathing.
Ivy is the newest example of The Cool Girl I’ve found in recent literature. Accessible but mysterious, free but manipulative, with complete ownership of her body and agency to express desire, Ivy is the broken-doll of the hipster generation. But her opposing force in Sasha is not a simpering, weak-willed, self-conscious girl; Sasha is thick-thighed, intelligent, repeatedly referred to by multiple characters as strong and beautiful, with a quiet confidence and a penchant for enjoying time alone. I know more Sashas than I know Ivys, but I know them both, very well. And then there’s Xavier, the incidental sweet boy, caught between the idea of a woman and an actual woman, a problem most men won’t come to terms with until they’re much older and been given too many greenlights in Hollywood.
The book perfectly encapsulates the nihilist zeitgeist of the twenty-first century id-stomping horror-scape that is the “becoming” of adulthood, the essential “putting away of childish things.”
There is a divine, cellular desire to believe in tomorrow as if it’s palpable. We can chart it, plan it, touch it, count on it. Tomorrow is as real to you or me as yesterday. But Sasha and Xavier get to experience how wrong this assumption is by bearing a different denial for the rest of their lives—the denial of innocence.
I love it when bad things happen in novels and there is no justice. It so satisfyingly mirrors real life and adds a nuance that tied-up-in-a-bow endings never earn. Read this is you’re like me and find valor in taking secrets to your grave. I warned you.
“Be careful when your feelings are too strong, when you love someone too much. A heart too full is like a bomb. One day it will explode.”
“What is getting over someone if not a slow, excruciating forgetting?”
“Leave your body and don’t crack. Do what you need to do, watch from outside, don’t feel, don’t think. You are not here. You are far away, operating the puppet hands that are your hands, operating the puppet legs that are your legs, the puppet mouth, the puppet heart. Do what you need to do.
Leave your body and feel nothing. Leave your body just like she did.”