Welcome once again to the shelf for a close look at an intriguingly premised YA new release, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowry. Today I am joined by Shouty Doris, who has a few things to say about our experiences of this book. Given that Shouty Doris has a very low level of regard for the sensitivities of others, you can be certain that this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! You have been warned. I also must say a hearty thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for furnishing us with a copy of this exceedingly hefty tome (646 pages!) and an impressed “well done” to the Australia Post postie who lugged it to our address.
But let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Darren hasn’t had an easy year. There was his parents’ divorce, which just so happened to come at the same time his older brother Nate left for college and his longtime best friend moved away. And of course there’s the whole not having a girlfriend thing. Then one Thursday morning Darren’s dad shows up at his house at 6 a.m. with a glazed chocolate doughnut and a revelation that turns Darren’s world inside out. In full freakout mode, Darren, in a totally un-Darren move, ditches school to go visit Nate. Barely twenty-four hours at Nate’s school makes everything much better or much worse—Darren has no idea. It might somehow be both. All he knows for sure is that in addition to trying to figure out why none of his family members are who they used to be, he’s now obsessed with a strangely amazing girl who showed up out of nowhere but then totally disappeared.
Told entirely in lists, Todd Hasak-Lowy’s debut YA novel perfectly captures why having anything to do with anyone, including yourself, is:
3. ridiculously complicated
4. possibly, hopefully the right thing after all.
Did you get that? The book is formatted ENTIRELY IN LISTS! As an avid list writer and general fan of lists, that was enough to have me salivating over this tome. Unfortunately, there was one main problem with these lists.
I’ll say. They were about as funny and engaging as a train-spotting accountant’s grocery list. AND they made the book ridiculously long. Not to mention heavy. God only knows what they were thinking with this one.
Yes. Well. As Shouty Doris so clearly points out, if a book is to be composed entirely in list format, I would suggest making those lists reasonably quirky and interesting. Or chuckleworthy. Or at the very least, engaging. Sadly, most of the lists in this book were …well…unnecessary and plot-slowing.
Yes, yes, we realise the boy is confused but including multiple lists consisting of various ways to say “What the Fox?” is both tedious and self-indulgent. Honestly, I wanted to poke someone’s eyes out by about page 50. Preferably my own.
I also had a bit of a problem with the main character, Darren. Essentially, I found him to be quite underdeveloped and that he lacked a solid voice. I didn’t really feel that he had anything going for him, especially considering the characters around him, including his overcompensating father, his self-centred and distant mother and his significantly-cooler-than-Darren brother, were just so much better developed. So while I quite enjoyed the parts that involved Darren relating his interactions with these other characters, a significant part of the book is just Darren monologuing in fairly uninspiring lists.
Can’t stand a monologue. Especially from a teenager. Nobody can wallow in misplaced self-pity quite like a teenager.
The strange thing about this book (and be prepared for spoilers here) is that the actual content could have formed the basis of a fantastically engaging read. The incident mentioned in the blurb that causes Darren to question his very identity (and indulge in multiple WTF? lists) is one that was unusual enough to generate lots of interest as well as provide a springboard for in-depth examination, discussion and general turning-over of the topic. It really could have been a story that engaged teenagers (and others) in discussing their attitudes, beliefs and prejudices and how these might affect them if they (or someone close to them were in a similar situation).
Stop beating around the proverbial. The twist is that Darren’s father announces over the breakfast table that he’s GAY. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to start the day for young Darren?! Imagine what could have followed! But young pity-party Darren just uses the opportunity for another round of “What the Foxes”.
Seriously, I feel that the author missed an opportunity here to make this story relevant and arresting. The coming out of Darren’s father isn’t actually the only storyline going on here and I felt that things just got convoluted and the focus of the plot wasn’t clearly defined. I suppose this is a danger of breaking usual rules of narrative style – while the list idea is great as an initial drawcard, it needs to be backed up by masterful writing and, more importantly in my view, ruthless editing.
Overall, I think there will be a certain readership who really enjoy Darren’s story and can appreciate the author’s style, but for me, it was disappointing to see an interesting format and a conceptually meaningful story, with potentially far-reaching influence, executed in such a pedestrian way. I suspect I would have enjoyed this much more if the author had dispensed with the quirky list idea and instead focused on developing the characters and plot.
It’s a “no” from me, Barry.
Until next time,
Bruce (not Barry. Forgive her, she’s getting on.)