As some of you have pointed out, I read a lot. While most of this reading is for fun, there is an element of “I am reviewing this” to a good number of the books I read, too. Reading doesn’t look quite the same when I’ve got a review to film or post instead of cracking open a book for pleasure. Just how different are the two?
Spoiler: not drastically. But there are far more copious notes to take when reading for a book review. Today I’ll give you a glimpse behind the scenes as I truck through one of my more recent reads, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. And after talking about the concept of “show don’t tell” earlier this month, it felt appropriate to see the idea in action. (Need a refresher on what Show Don’t Tell is all about? Look no further!)
Open Road Summer starts with an interesting premise, but quickly falls flat due to clunky narration. (Sadly) this book is a prime example of too much blunt narration and not enough development of characters and their motivation. It’s got other redeeming qualities, but its issues with overpower its rewards.
1. He hands me the notebook, and I can’t help but ask. Not only am I curious, but I’m also trying to get his attention. I can’t seem to stop myself.
“Tattoo, huh? Can I see it?”
Maybe this is a brazen thing to ask, but hey — he’s the one who had his shirt off in the first place. He tugs his shirt up and turns to the side. I lean closer, peering at the carefully inked letters. Clearing his through, he says, “It’s from the second verse of—”
“‘Forever Young.’ Bob Dylan,” I finish.
Matt’s tattoo is lyrics from a song I love, written by a singer I love. And I do not use the word “love” lightly or often.
I really can’t tell that Reagan loves this song, or Bob Dylan, or even music for that matter. Come to think of it, the only reason I know she’s associated with music is because she’s friends with Dee. The conversation here happens, but aside from her hasty response, Reagan doesn’t convey her love of “Forever Young” through anything other than her direct narration to the reader.
This could be a great moment to see Reagan’s reaction, to see how she reacts when she loves something, supposedly, so much. Not to mention the fact that she’s an interesting, “angsty” character, for lack of a better term, who’s trying to suppress her personal reactions as well as her growing feelings towards Matt.
2. “So I’ve spent the past two months atoning, keeping to myself as I carried my own brokenness beneath the heavy plaster of a blue cast. This whole time, I’ve been trying to figure that girl out — the one who got too drunk at parties just for attention, the one who dated a loser pothead because it seemed cool.”
Has she now? Reagan’s character is little more than a narrator in the direct sense of the word. She’s got a troubled, rebellious teen girl attitude, but most of her bad girl cred is implied and never shown. As much as I love the idea of her character struggling with a dark past, her characterization is all talk and no action. Up until this point in the story, I caught no real sense of this withdrawn Reagan, of a girl who is punishing herself in her own way for past behaviors that she doesn’t now approve of.
Reagan doesn’t even really cry for attention throughout the early pages of the story, making her statement about seeking attention at parties little more than empty words.
3. “Most reporters haven’t realized that Dee doles out face time based on respectfulness. If a reporter is especially nice to her, with thoughtful questions, she always remembers.”
Earlier, Dee remembers a little girl’s name in the crowd and gives the girl a very personal shout out in the middle of her concert. It’s a sweet moment that perfectly characterizes the singer and the attention she pays to her fans. Yet pages later, that moment is eclipsed by a matter of fact statement of Dee’s niceness that was more effectively portrayed earlier in the story. The earlier endearing moment of indirect characterization was better left alone.
While the story itself is intriguing, the abundance of direct characterization and narration make Open Road Summer a lackluster read. There are plenty of opportunities to provide insight into what are pretty interesting and complex characters, but the writing makes them forgettable and annoying. Being likable does not mean being perfect, but it does require readers to understand the character’s motivation and believe that it is honest, which is where Open Road Summer falls flat.
I won’t lie — this book frustrated me to the point of putting it down. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it, and until I can muster up the energy to sift through dry, direct characterization all day I’m putting it on hold for books that do a better job of exciting me. Despite its flaws, I do like Open Road Summer‘s depiction of female friendship, plus Dee’s got this Taylor Swift vibe going on, which is a major bonus and makes for an enjoyable aspect.