Published by Simon and Schuster on June 6th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, LGBT, Diversity, Romance, Contemporary
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After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka suddenly finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust in the limelight: She’s gone viral.
Her show is a modern adaption of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.
And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.
Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top?
What would Tolstoy do?
What happens when one day, you’re refreshing your YouTube video over and over again to get more views, and the next, your web series has gone viral?
Or supernova, as Tash likes to think of it.
This book was sooo sweet, charming, and everything I like in contemporary books. Tash Hearts Tolstoy follows the first person perspective of Tash, who is obsessed with Leo Tolstoy and is directing a YouTube web series based on his work Anna Karenina. I really enjoyed reading from Tash’s point of view and the character development she goes through. This was also a really refreshing lead because Tash is asexual and this isn’t the focus of the story, but something that adds to her overall characterization and emotional journey.
The book really gets rolling when a famous YouTuber mentions Tash’s web series and suddenly their small following starts becoming a fandom. As someone who’s familiar with web series, (I’ve watched Carmilla and the Lizzie Bennett Diaries) I really liked seeing the technicalities of filming, Tash’s relationship to everyone on her team, and the emotions that come out after stardom is achieved. There’s always going to be haters, which makes Tash worried and creates self-doubt. There’s the approval of another famous YouTuber that has Tash feeling butterflies in her stomach – from both excitement and worry. There’s also discord between members of the production team and cast of Unhappy Families, the web series that Tash directs. These aspects of her constantly changing life were all wonderful to see as each part of it just made the characters closer to each other.
There’s a feeling that something is happening. Something big and uncertain and out of control. It is splendid and terrifying – splendifying. I guess that’s how filming has always been.
There’s a wonderful focus on family as things are constantly changing within Tash’s own. I liked delving into the traditions of her Czech father’s side of the family, and her mother’s Kiwi side. Tash is Buddhist, likes to meditate, and is vegetarian, taking after her mother. Her sister, who is an over-achiever, likes meat like her father and is going to Vanderbilt for engineering to continue the family legacy. Their relationships are composed of a lot of compromise, but not before tensions arrive. Tash finds herself distanced from her sister, who wants to “enjoy her summer” before college and party with friends. While this is happening, there is also development with Tash’s best friends, Jack and Paul, who are not only family friends but neighbors. I loved their friendship, both the ups and downs, hills and valleys. I found it really realistic as they worked out problems, communicated lovingly with each other, and did fun things together in general.
It is an almighty mess of belly laughs and broken ankles and outdoor voices and first cusses. Friendship like this has to be destined.
Another aspect I liked exploring in the book was Tash’s asexuality. I think having this is really important, as it validates ace readers and shows them that they’re not alone. Tash is a bit confused with her sexuality, mainly because she feels romantic attraction but just not sexual attraction, making her alloromantic asexual. I do think the book could have benefitted with a more thorough exploration of what Tash researches though, because it’d be good knowledge for readers that are more unaware of these matters. For example, defining the terms that Tash searches up instead of just mentioning them. But I do think it’s still a great addition to see ace rep in YA, and from the accounts of ace and demi readers, this one is certainly a success!
Still, no matter how many posts and replies I read, no matter how much more knowledgeable I became about terms like ‘ace’ and ‘graysexual’ and ‘allosexual,’ no matter how supportive everyone on those forums seemed, I could never convince myself it was okay. That the way I felt was normal, that it was lasting.
Despite all the fame going on with Unhappy Families, Tash has to prioritize if happiness or honesty is more important to her. Characters will jump out with unexpected dimensions, relationships will evolve or devolve, and throughout it all Tash is just trying to take the next step forward with life. I really loved the way Ormsbee develops Tash’s character and all she has to go through: in her directing, with her friendships, and with her family. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is ultimately a triumphant story where Tash discovers herself and explores that gap of adolescence where one never knows where their future could bring.
Rating: 4 out of 5