Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas

Books where characters get to live out two different realities and then face the consequences after seeing the results are something I find very interesting. Who hasn't wanted to go back in time and see how something would be if we had chosen a second option? Hindsight really is 20 / 20. Plus, as a hopeless romantic, prom is something that can easily draw me to a book. Both my senior prom and the spring formal I went to during university were 'blah' to say the least, so I guess it would be fair to admit that I enjoy living through these things vicariously when book characters experience them.

Ask Again Later had lots of prom goodness, but did it give me my cute fluffy romance fix? Read on and find out. :)
(Summary from GoodReads)
Despite what her name might suggest, Heart has zero interest in complicated romance. So when her brilliant plan to go to prom with a group of friends is disrupted by two surprise invites, Heart knows there's only one drama-free solution: flip a coin.

Heads: The jock. He might spend all night staring at his ex or throw up in the limo, but how bad can her brother's best friend really be?

Tails: The theater geek...with a secret. What could be better than a guy who shares all Heart's interests--even if he wants to share all his feelings?

Heart's simple coin flip has somehow given her the chance to live out both dates. But where her prom night ends up might be the most surprising thing of all..
Premise vs. execution. I know we've had this discussion before. When they are equal, we get a book that is great. When they aren't, we get a book that is okay, mediocre, or worse. For what it's worth, Ask Again Later isn't a terrible book. At no point did I want to DNF while reading it. In the moment, it was entertaining. But at the same time, I feel that it ultimately failed because when I set my Kindle down and started thinking about what I'd say in this review, it dawned on me that I didn't care.

About the plot. About the characters. About the motivation that was a huge part of Heart's overall conflict. The story did not win our heroine my sympathy and I actually kinda felt she brought on her own misery. Maybe it's because I actually had a friend somewhat like her during my high school days (the general disinterest in dating--not Heart's exact motivations for it) and I could never totally grasp that / my 16-year-old self was probably very confused / frustrated by it. 

Okay. Let's tackle each of these issues...

This was a small book with an absolutely monster cast. This was 'helped' by the fact that there were two dates going back and forth, and by the fact that both Heart and her brother Phil had large groups of friends. The problem this posed for me is that I never really felt any kind of connection to any of the secondary characters. Even the 'love interest' (whom I won't name, even though it gets REALLY obvious about 5 pages after the Amazon sample ends) really didn't wow me. I could never really, totally grasp what he saw in Heart or what she saw in him. 

Which leads me to say that I could not identify with our leading lady here. Heart had some interesting quirks and didn't seem like a terrible character. But she threw her teenager cred' away for me when she pretty much told us that any decision made at 18 is probably a stupid choice we will ultimately regret. Is this "true"? Is it something we might think or say later--often to someone who is currently 18? Perhaps. But in literature it makes me think of a villain coming on stage and going, "Hey, look! I'm evil!" ...Just doesn't fly, in my opinion. 

Which leads to motivation, heading full circle back to my issue with the plot. The real conflict of this book revolved around the reason that Heart would not date, why this lead to her actual love interest not inviting her to prom, and why she was so incapable of rejecting the two guys who did. I can somewhat understand the motivation given. But the extreme to which it was given, and the lack of background about it--how did she come up with it? when did it actually occur to her that it was necessary? if her situation with her mom effected her this much why is she emulating her mother's love of vintage clothes?--kept me at arm's length. I didn't really buy into the idea that a teen girl would think in this way, and that kept me from getting more invested in the story. 
I didn't hate Ask Again Later, and I'm sure I'll check Liz Czukas books in the future because I did like her writing style. She did a great job with Heart's voice and, while I didn't 'click' with Heart, I recognize that she was unique and distinct. With that said, I don't think I've ever been so glad to have bought a book on my Kindle, because this would be on a one-way trip to the Value Village bin otherwise. (My room is tiny! I don't have space for books that I don't mad-love.) If you can get this book from the library or you totally LOVE the Kindle sample go ahead and read it. But ultimately, this would be something I'd suggest borrowing or skipping over buying, if I'm being really honest. A shame--it had potential. 


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