Published by HarperTeen on April 11th 2017
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance
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A girl realizes her life is being written for her in this unique, smart love story that is Stranger Than Fiction for fans of Stephanie Perkins.
Annabelle’s life has always been Perfect with a capital P. Then bestselling young adult author Lucy Keating announces that she’s writing a new novel—and Annabelle is the heroine.
It turns out, Annabelle is a character that Lucy Keating created. And Lucy has a plan for her.
But Annabelle doesn’t want to live a life where everything she does is already plotted out. Will she find a way to write her own story—or will Lucy Keating have the last word?
The real Lucy Keating’s delightful contemporary romance blurs the line between reality and fiction, and is the perfect follow-up for readers who loved her debut Dreamology, which SLJ called, “a sweet, quirky romance with appealing characters.”
I really enjoyed Lucy Keating’s debut novel Dreamology, and Literally follows the fantasy-like concepts that she puts into a Young Adult contemporary. While the concept sounds very cute and sweet, the execution left much to be desired. Literally had literally the chance to break through common stereotypes, tropes, and commonly used clichés, but instead falls into the category of just another contemporary that seizes on these things – albeit with a fantastical twist. I would really only recommend this book for readers looking for a mind-numbing contemporary: nothing more, nothing less.
The book starts with the introduction of Annabelle Burns, a straight-A student with a 4.0 GPA and stellar extracurriculars. She’s the queen of organization and structure, until things start falling apart. First, her parents announce a divorce and that they are selling their well-loved, beautiful house. Then, a cute new boy arrives at her school and suddenly casts his attention on her. Finally, an author stops by as a guest in her Fiction class and lo and behold, announces that her current WIP is about a girl with the exact description of Annabelle’s life. With that, Annabelle starts getting clues to show that she’s actually just a character, with details left by an author.
Without realizing it, I break into a run. My life is filled with TKs, because my life does not belong to me.
My life belongs to Lucy Keating.
I really wanted to like this story, as even the blurb really intrigued me. But Literally turns out to be as full of tropes as the next contemporary, even with the interesting set-up. There is the mandatory love triangle, mandatory best friend role, mandatory romantic scenes with each part of the love triangle. The thing is that even though Annabelle discusses how she’s pushing and pulling between two different boys, she ends up falling into the storyline anyways, by picking one of them. Even while trying to make the book twisty and unpredictable, the characters’ actions still end up being predictable. It felt like… a book that’s trying too hard to stray from the norm that they go on the path that becomes the norm while refusing. Case in point: given a love triangle, there’s the perfect guy and the not-perfect guy. By going against the guy that the author had set in mind, that’s exactly what readers are expecting. Want a way to make it unpredictable? End up with NO guys or elope with the girl best friend. Anything else would be exactly how another contemporary would conclude with.
Additionally, the discussion that happens within the characters of the book are never backed by actions, with the exception of the main character breaking free from the limitations of the author’s writing. There’s the best friend, Ava, who complains in a set of dialogue that she’s going to be the supporting character that’s one-dimensional. Even as she recognizes this, her character is still ultimately one-dimensional by the end of the book. What is the point of adding this dialogue and revelation when it won’t be confronted or changed? And don’t even get me started with how awkward it is to see the author as a character in the book.
‘Annabelle, if you don’t like the way your life is going… rewrite it.’
I’ve heard from another blogger/reader that Keating wasn’t quite into this book while writing since the general plot was given to her and she had to go with it (or something along those lines). It really shows in this book. I couldn’t wait to get to the end of Annabelle’s story because I pretty much knew what would happen. It wasn’t necessarily bad writing; the dialogue was actually pretty direct and quick. But it overall just didn’t capture my heart – neither the characters nor the story.
I did like the family relationships in this book, but they weren’t explored on at all. Everything happened just so fast: first day of school and the new hot guy asks the main character out. I liked the quick pace at first, but it really stepped over the bounds of reality (even with the fantastical bent to the overall story). Finally, I’d just like to make this general complaint that I see often in contemporaries: characters getting great grades that are all a part of telling, not showing. I never really see Annabelle doing work. In the book, she spends less than twenty minutes finishing up assignments in one particular scene. In fact, in the details mentioned in the story, it seems like Annabelle spends more time at parties than studying! Nothing wrong with that, but doesn’t really fit her valedictorian status, as well as a future Columbia student. Another reason why I consider this book more of a loose-fantasy contemporary: all the colleges mentioned in the story are top 10 colleges. Granted, it’s only three, but still. Why do many contemporary authors default to well-known colleges for all their main characters? It’s just not realistic, nor an accurate representation of what a student goes through to get into it.
So I did have many problems with the book. It follows checkboxes of “average contemporary YA with well-known tropes” very clearly. The only place where it diverges is the twist where the main character has to wage war with her creator, which I admit was a cute addition. But other than that, it felt the same as the older contemporaries I used to read as a younger student: no diversity of character, thought, or plotline. I would well recommend the author’s previous book Dreamology above this one, and other recent contemporary books for a more in-depth story with likable characters.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Thank you Edelweiss and Harper Teen for the review copy!