I really enjoyed this ‘glimpse into the future’, because while this is indeed a dystopian novel, it sure seemed like I was reading a real journal (that of the main character, Nat, who writes it in the week leading up to her parent’s planned death). I chose this book for a group read on Litsy, where we send a book, marked up with our notes, along to the next person, and the other three do the same with their picks, so that we have a book mailing circle.
This first caught my eye in my local indie bookstore, where it had a recommendation tag (and an awesome cover), and the premise is this: teen siblings named Nat and Sam, accompany their parents to Hawaii who together have decided to spend their ‘Final Week’ before the contract for their deaths is carried out. Nat and Sam are long to say their goodbyes. That’s right, in this imagined future, where global warming has finally made the world so unbearable and everyone gets through their days by taking moodpharms (ie happy pills because the world is so depressing), you can take out a contract for your death when you get old enough, and you can pay for assisted suicide on the Big Island (it’s not illegal anymore and quite encouraged, and rather embraced).
The world that is in this dystopian future is so sadly believable that I read it as if I had some sort of special peek into what was going to happen if we continued with what we are already doing to this planet, and I have a feeling author Lydia Millet has distinct opinions on what’s to blame for the ruin to come (I tended to agree!); it’s not hard to imagine much of our wildlife gone, whole states like Florida under water, a whole garbage vortex in the ocean....
I can’t say too much about the plot but this was a great, thought-provoking, interesting story, and I will say there was some hope at the end. It’s not a long book but it packs in a lot to think about. I hope for everyone reading it, that it makes them think a little bit more about their carbon footprint and about how we really are lucky to have this Earth.
*And I don’t care too much about a future without pet cats. That will be a sad day.
This book. I have feelings. They’re conflicting.
On the one hand, this book is well-written. The three POV characters all have distinct voices. The mix of prose and verse is interesting and is used quite cleverly, in my opinion. It tackles important issues like racism and the deplorable state of immigration in Australia. It’s sad, it’s poignant, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s relevant, it’s disturbing, it’s thought-provoking.
And it made me really, really uncomfortable.
Anahita is a great character. She’s smart. She’s a rebel. She loves loud, ugly music and science. She’s got undiagnosed PTSD and dreams of the simple freedoms people take for granted.
Jono is a great character. He’s dealing with his parents’ divorce, depression, and his casually racist friends who call him Nip because he’s half Vietnamese and they thought he was Japanese and racial slurs make such endearing nicknames.
Kenny is a great character. He’s a legal immigrant from Vietnam who tries his best to fit in and be Aussie enough to gain acceptance. He’s working a job he hates to provide for Jono, and it’s killing his soul and bringing out the very worst in him.
That all sounds pretty compelling, right? And it is!
On the other hand . . .
Something really bothered me about it.
Between Us seeks to confront the Australian attitude toward and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and the inhumanity of the detention centers, and that’s a good thing—it needs confronting—but it does so at the heavy expense of Anahita, who has to experience a metric ton of messed-up shite in order to convey the author’s message. It’s obvious Atkins did a ton of research and approached the character with a great deal of care and sensitivity, and Ana does feel like a fully-realized character, but I can’t help feeling this is yet another well-meaning book that exploits the pain of marginalized people to raise awareness and teach a lesson. Would I feel differently if Atkins was an Iranian Muslim? Yeah, probably. As a Vietnamese-Australian, she brought Jono and Kenny to life in a way that someone without her cultural background probably could not. Their stories were hers to tell. I’m not sure Anahita’s was. And therein lies the root of my conflict.
~ABOUT THE BOOK~
You Look Different in Real Life
For the rest of the world, the movies are entertainment. For Justine, they're real life.
The premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There'd be a new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one could have predicted that Justine would be the star.
Now sixteen, Justine doesn't feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny and edgy in the first two movies, feels like a disappointment.
But these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what's on film. They've all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers. They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is through someone else's eyes.
~MY QUICKIE REVIEW~
While You Look Different in Real Life wasn't really for me, I think for a younger audience it may work. The only reason I listened to this in the first place is for a reading challenge (I needed a narrator whose name started with a Q).
Overall, for me, the characters were not memorable and it was really difficult for me to see where this story was going. Ultimately, there is a message there and that's why the ending is the only part that got a decent rating from me.
2/5 STARS - GRADE=D
~BREAKDOWN OF RATINGS~
Main Characters~ 2/5
Secondary Characters~ 1/5
The Feels~ 1/5
Theme or Tone~ 2.5/5
Flow (Writing Style)~ 2/5
Backdrop (World Building)~ 2/5
Ending~ 3.5/5 Cliffhanger~ Nope.
Book Cover~ It's whatever…
Narration~ Samantha Quan is not bad in this, but I really didn't like the book…so maybe that makes it kind of difficult to figure out how I feel about her as a narrator.
Setting~ New York and the surrounding area…I think
Source~ Audiobook (Scribd)