REVIEW: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

Fans of the Impossible Life 02

Title: Fans of the Impossible Life
Author: Kate Scelsa
Format: ARC, 356 pages
Publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you so much Kate!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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Synopsis

MIRA is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

SEBBY, Mira’s gay best friend, seems to carry sunlight around him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

Review

I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

As eloquent as it is heartfelt, Fans of the Impossible Life takes storytelling to a higher class and diversity higher still.

Let me be the first to say that this is a novel—if not the novel—champions of the We Need Diverse Books campaign should be talking about. Scelsa delivers a coming of age at once achingly moving and softly poetic told from the perspectives of her three MCs. Her play at different points of view is nothing short of adroit—Jeremy’s chapters are in first person, Sebby’s in second and Mira’s in third. And it totally works, both in function and aesthetic. It provides a window into the complexities of her characters, and boy are they complex.

“… you lay awake on that night’s floor thinking about what you could have said to them to make them understand. What it felt like to know that the two people who knew you best couldn’t ever really know what your life was like.”

The author also doesn’t shy away from the hard edges of her story. Fans of the Impossible Life covered many important issues without once feeling overwhelming nor romanticized. There’s drug abuse, identity crisis, depression, suicide, bullying, racism—you name it, it’s probably in here. And Scelsa approached these with insight and sensitivity. Just as much as she paid her secondary characters attention. I am particularly impressed by the fact that they have these stuff going on for them. Like, Talia is whatever, I’m incredibly furious at her for what she did in the end BUT she was the one who helped Jeremy through his catastrophic episode, who apologized to him for not speaking up. And there’s Julie, perfect Julie who doesn’t wanna deal with Mira’s drama BUT who shows up, not attending her lecture to be with her as soon as she comes home.

“I had been nothing before that moment and one day I would be nothing again. But there and then my life was real. With his lips, and his lovely mouth.”

Early this year, Malinda Lo wrote an essay on perceptions of diversity in book reviews—in fact it’s just one in a four-part series which you need to read if you care about diversity. In it, she cited a critique that blatantly pronounced ““perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible,”” a suggestion that “this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.” Okay. Not only do I call total BS on this problematic trade review, I have Fans of the Impossible Life to reinforce my claim. Scelsa’s debut has multiple POC characters and characters representing three (3!) different orientations from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. But what’s really remarkable is the ease with which the author handled sexual and racial diversity. It doesn’t just look at individual experiences, it’s reflected in the family structures of her main players. One of the leads has two gay dads. Another has interracial parents. They get loads of crap for this and I’m thinking, that’s reality. It feels natural because this happens today, no matter how much we long for the contrary.

“At that point she was keeping the crying hidden. When it first started, she let people see it because she didn’t know what else to do. She thought if they could witness her in the middle of this thing, then they might be able to understand. But they couldn’t. It was exhausting for others to watch. For herself to experience. So she stopped showing them.”

I’m not you, but if I were, I’d be a fan of Fans of the Impossible Life too.

4.5 out of 5

Author

Kate Scelsa

Kate Scelsa has performed in New York and around the world with experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service in their trilogy of works based on great American literature, including an eight-hour-long performance that uses the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Wesaun @ Oreo and Books and it is SO GOOD we both finished it in a 24-hour time frame.

Is this on your TBR list? If not, have I convinced you to include it? (Because, really, you definitely should check this out.) Do you think there are such works with “too much issues” or “too diverse”? And what about you, what was the last awesome book you read that celebrates diversity? Or just any solid 5-star read. Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

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Title: The Night We Said Yes
Author: Lauren Gibaldi
Format: ARC, 304 pages
Publication: June 16th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by my fellow blogger/friend (thank you D!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: High School Romance, Young Adult

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Synopsis

Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over her ex-boyfriend and graduate high school—simple as that. But Matt—the cute, shy bass player—was never part of that plan. And neither was spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of. But then Matt leaves town, breaking Ella’s heart. And when he shows up a year later, wanting to relive the night that brought them together, Ella isn’t sure if re-creating the past can help them create a different future. Or maybe it can. . . .

Review

In his book Looking for Alaska, John Green had a handful of quotations that rang true with my own experiences in life. But one that easily comes to mind is “I wanted to like booze more than I actually do.” Sadly, this speaks too of my relation with The Night We Said Yes.

To be fair, I really like the premise of Gibaldi’s debut. The story takes place in two nights, exactly one year apart. It’s told from Ella’s perspective and it starts with her trying to move on from her ex-boyfriend Matt who bailed out with no more than a note and a lousy excuse. Except now he has returned. And while Ella is hesitant—for obvious reasons—she wants answers all the same. The novel then jumps back and forth in the timeline as Ella in the past falls for Matt while the Ella in the present figures out if she and her friends are ready to take Matt back into their group. This should have been a favorite. Friendship story. The titular night of saying yes to every(reasonable)thing. A non-linear narrative. Instead, it’s trite, which, again, would’ve been fine except the main character—also the narrator—is problematic.

“It was my favorite part of the night—when the evening’s events were still unknown and unpredictable. It was the sense of possibility that I loved, the idea that anything could happen next.”

I’d go right off the bat and tell you Ella is not for me. She wallows in sadness and is often overcome by the secondary characters. And I know that our high school selves are supposed to be subjects to heightened emotions but I can’t get past the fact that Ella (in the Now) was thinking about Matt and their failed relationship 95% of the time. Then we have Meg, the best friend, who clearly reads as a foil to the MC and Jake, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, who was almost fun—if only he had more layers. I must say, however, that Matt was enjoyable, especially pre-break up. But although the “Then” storyline entertained me, I was looking for something more, something to connect with, something to make me care about these characters. Alas, I was met by a two-dimensional plane.

“It’s as if my mind can’t process what would happen if he were to come back, so instead of reacting, it gives up, checks out, and leaves town.”

In addition, there are several scenes that are cloying if not downright groan-worthy and the stuff they said yes to were underwhelming. I was hoping (praying) the reveal might redeem the novel but when it was time for it—the reason why Matt had to leave—it was a bit of a letdown.

The Night We Said Yes is a light, summery read, but unlike many summers of my younger years, it’s bound to be in the dregs of forgettable made-up drinks.

2.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Gibaldi

Lauren Gibaldi is a YA librarian at Orange County Public Library, where she hosts youth programs. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and daughter. The Night We Said Yes is her debut novel.

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Do you plan to read this one? Or if you already did, what’s your take on it? Do you stick to a story without much plot going on but that has a character(s) you can connect with? And if you happen to DNF books, which I don’t, at least I haven’t had the strong urge to, how many pages do you go in before deciding to say yes to walking away (okay, that’s hyperbolized, but see what I did there?)? Sound off in the comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

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