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Review: Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Without Merit
Colleen Hoover
Simon & Schuster AUS
2017, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

I’ve only read one Colleen Hoover book before and it was years ago. I remember being underwhelmed but I’ve heard so much about how her writing and stories have improved and this sounded really interesting with quite a bit publisher push so I decided to give it a go.

Merit’s life is a bit of a mess. Her family is dysfunctional in the extreme – they live in an old converted church that her father purchased from his nemesis. Her mother (divorced from her father, agoraphobic) lives in the basement and never ventures out. The rest of the family – her father, his new wife, their young child together, Merit, her twin sister Honor and their brother Utah live upstairs. It’s not an ideal situation and it seems that there’s plenty of friction within the family.

For me, the biggest problem is that there’s just too much going on in this book. Merit is suffering from depression and anxiety (although is unaware/unwilling to examine it) and she spends a lot of time retreating into herself, skipping school and generally just avoiding as much as she can. Apart from that there’s also sexual assault, agoraphobia, hypochondria, other forms of mental illness, terminal illness and the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. It makes it really hard to connect to any part of the story because it’s always skipping to something else and addressing the next issue. There’s so many that for me, none of them felt examined in depth or given the amount of page time that they deserve. I especially did not like the way in which the sexual assault was treated. This was something that had plagued the victim for years, had really affected them and when they finally decided to blow open the secret it seemed to take one conversation for everything to be resolved and forgiven and I didn’t think that was at all acceptable or realistic. The perpetrator may have been “confused” but they were by far old enough to know that what they were doing was wrong and predatory behaviour and just plain not okay. And the fact that it was ignored for so long by them was ridiculous. And the reaction of almost jealousy by someone who wasn’t preyed upon? Really? Just….no. Nope. And then there was the tangled mess of what was really happening between Merit’s parents and his new wife situation which was just a few too many twists and turns for me. Add in the new wife’s brother to stir the pot in a way that seems far too obvious and there were so many things that were just clunky and too heavily handled. It really lacked the finesse to gently air out these serious subjects and the emotions and tangled relationships involved here. Especially as it felt like it only took about 2-3 conversations to sort out most of these issues and a whole bunch of stuff could’ve been solved if the family had not kept so many weird secrets and tried to shove things under the rug.

I was excited about this because it had been talked up so much to me, but ultimately it just wasn’t my sort of read. I kept wanting more – so much of it just kept hinging on the fact that no one communicated and all these people were living these separate lives despite all being under the same roof. And there were a lot of people living under this roof. The only character I really probably liked was Sagan and half the time he felt too good to really be true and why on earth was he bothering with Merit and all this mess when she was so horrifically bad to him? Because she was. Absolutely awful. Part of it stems from a misunderstanding when they meet, where Sagan seems to believe that she is her twin. But it continues on for so long.

Ultimately this was disappointing and will probably be my last crack at a Colleen Hoover book, even though I still have one that I bought ages ago on my iBooks. I just don’t think her ways of telling a story are for me.

4/10

Book #180 of 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Hopeless – Colleen Hoover

HopelessHopeless (Hopeless #1)
Colleen Hoover
Atria Books
2013, 406p
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU

Please note that this review does contain vague ***SPOILERS***. It also might be a trigger for anyone who has ever suffered abuse and mentions, or alludes to, child abuse and/or sexual abuse.

Sky has always lived a very sheltered sort of life. Her adoptive mother Karen doesn’t believe in a dependence on technology so they have no TV, no cellphones, no computer and no internet. Sky has been homeschooled all the way up until her senior year when she insists on enrolling at the local public school, just to experience it. After all, she’s going to be going to college soon and she needs to have some sort of lessons in interacting and dealing with other people. The only friend she really has is Six, the girl next door but hanging out with the flirtatious Six seems to mean that her reputation precedes her enrollment.

At the grocery store just after senior year starts, Sky meets Holder, someone whose reputation matches her own for notoriety. According to the rumours, Holder spent the last year in juvie after assaulting someone and the times she sees him, Holder certainly seems to blow hot and cold. He can be charming and friendly and dark and accusatory the next moment. Sky knows that she should probably stay away from him, he’s too unpredictable but despite knowing that, it seems that she can’t. She and Holder are both drawn to each other in ways that Sky can’t explain.

Sky doesn’t know much about her life before being adopted by Karen, but the time spent with Holder will begin to spark little threads of memories, brief fleeting moments that Sky wants to explore. She finds that Holder has been keeping his own secrets and that it seems he knows much more than he’s letting on. When Sky puts together all of the pieces and remembers everything, nothing will ever be the same again – her life as she knows it has been tilted and the healing process may be long and slow. Holder will be there every step of the way, as long as Sky allows him to be.

Hopeless is a compelling, gripping story of first love and also of discovering the secrets of a past long forgotten and finding the strength to deal with that and let go and move forward. Sky and Holder are both drawn to each other, Sky by something she cannot understand or explain. For Holder, it is that Sky reminds him so much of someone he loved and lost when he was a child. Despite the fact that Sky has led a very secluded life, she’s had plenty of casual boyfriends, usually the mates of the latest hook up of her friend Six. Sky finds a blissful ‘numbness’ when with a boy, none of them have ever been able to make her feel anything. All of that changes when she meets Holder, who is able to make her feel plenty in the times they spend together, despite his hot and cold and often moody, unpredictable and possibly even scary behaviour.

However the compelling ride of Sky and Holder finding each other, exploring their feelings and then revealing all of Sky’s secrets (most of which she doesn’t even know she possesses) doesn’t cover up for the fact that there are some jarring moments in this book. It’s hard to talk about them in depth without ruining several of the key twists in this book, but a lot of the stuff that didn’t sit right with me revolved around Holder and his actions, both in the present and the past. Holder in the present is just over 18, a bit of a bad boy and often his mood swings were a bit of a red flag but they seemed more normal 18 year old behaviour than Holder in sensitive, deep mode. He spoke in ways that 18 year old boys just don’t seem to do and when they flashed back to when Holder was 6, it was even worse. Also the way in which he talked about being blamed for something by everyone, just did not seem believable at all. “The boy who lost {a child}” – as he was tagged by the press. I cannot buy that at all. He was six years old. While the media are often open slather on a lot of folk, those tirades are not particularly directed towards innocent children who didn’t know what they were witnessing, nor could they have particularly done anything about it at the time. It may have been different if Holder had been 11 or 12, but at 6, it’s highly unlikely many children would be interrogated for hours like that. Also the excuses by Sky’s father were ridiculous and seemed to make light of what he had done, what others had experienced. I couldn’t decide if Hoover was attempting to make him remorseful or not because if she was, then it didn’t work and I find it hard to believe such a person could be remorseful about acts so disgusting and abhorrent. And if he was just spinning a line, that didn’t really work either, given his next actions. And those actions seem to impact far less on Sky and Holder than they should have, especially given the previous, similar trauma that Holder had experienced already.

I think Hoover is a great emotional writer and she knows how to draw the reader into a story. However I’m not convinced by the twists and turns in this book, because so much of it just doesn’t seem to add up and it seems to rely on a connection that started when two people were 5 and 6 years old. Is it even possible at that age, to grasp or engineer such a bond? Something that lasts for the next dozen years of no contact? I don’t know. I’d have liked more accountability for the crimes committed in this book and there’s no excuse for such behaviour, so please don’t offer such a pathetic one. It made me annoyed at Sky that she was able to find sympathy towards her father. There is no excuse for that. None. Nothing. Not grief, not alcohol, nothing. To offer one is to insult anyone who has ever suffered, including the main character.

Did I enjoy this book while I was reading it? Yes, I did. Even though I had some issues with it, the story kept me hooked, kept me turning the pages. I would definitely recommend it to people who have no problem overlooking implausibilities and who focus on the passion, the feeling, because this book has those in spades.

7/10

Book #159 of 2013

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