Most helpful critical review
Not Exactly What I Expected
on May 17, 2014
I read Nina LaCour's first novel, Hold Still, a year ago and I really enjoyed it. So, I was excited when I finally got around to reading this one. However, I was expecting a much more fun, relaxed book. The bright cover and the summary on the inside jacket lead me to believe that it was a happy, fun in the sun road trip type of book. It definitely has its fun parts, but it's not a happy book. There were parts that I really liked and parts that I hated. Overall, I liked it, but it still wasn't great.
One problem was that I misunderstood what the book was about before I read it. As I said above, I thought it was a fun summer read. Also (this was probably my own fault, but still) I was under the impression that Colby was a girl. Haha, big mistake. I knew that it was a gender neutral name, but I've only met girls named Colby. So, when I read the inside jacket and it said NOWHERE that he was a guy, I just figured it was a book about friendship and a bunch of girls bonding before they separate after high school and all of that. I was surprised to find out that, no, the main character was actually a guy. And no, it wasn't REALLY about friendship, considering he's head over heels in love with his best friend. I didn't sign up for a romance, but oh well. I decided to read it nonetheless.
Once I got past my initial shock, I still wasn't thrilled with the book. The premise is that Colby groups up with his friends (three girls that are in a band together) to go on a week long road trip, as the band tours around the northwestern United States. After the trip, he's planning on traveling around Europe for a year with his best friend (the girl he's in love with), Bev. Only, while they're on the trip, Bev drops the bomb that she's going to college instead and has been lying to Colby for months. He's left with anger, confusion, and absolutely no plans for his life. The book goes on from there.
The plot was okay, but I found it really hard to sympathize with Bev at all. And it doesn't sound like I'm the only one that thought this. She was rude, insensitive, and very distant. She had been lying to Colby for ages and when she basically ruins his summer, she refuses to even explain her reasoning. It was difficult to even see why he was attracted to her. I think for the novel to work well, Bev had to be an interesting character for the readers. Instead, she was just frustrating. In my opinion, Nina LaCour needed to include some details at the beginning to make Bev more likable (she could have included some scenes before the trip started or something-- anything to make us like her, before she started acting like a jerk to Colby). Near the end of the book, I did finally start warming up to her. I could see where she was coming from. But not until the last fifty pages or so. That was far too late.
The other characters were alright. Alexa and Meg, the other two girls on the trip, were fun. I liked Meg a lot, but Alexa's personality fluctuated a little bit too much for me. One moment she was happy go lucky and the next she was really upset for no reason. It was hard to grasp her character. I liked Colby, for the most part. He was easy to empathize with and I could relate to a lot of his emotions. However, I still don't understand what he saw in Bev. If I were him, I would have ditched her the moment that she screwed up my plans. Instead, he was STILL fantasizing about her and was still completely obsessed. He forgave her way too easily and it made me mad. He was also a little too devastated about Bev cancelling on him. He acted like it was the end of his life. Yes, it was terrible and he had a reason to be upset. He didn't have a reason to mope for over half the book though. He was taking one year off, that's all. He easily could have gone to a community college or (Heaven forbid) taken the trip by himself. His mother lived in Paris, so it wouldn't have been as if he were all alone in Europe.
Characters aside, there were still good and bad things about The Disenchantments. The writing was good. There were a lot of good quotes. Sometimes it went overboard, though. I love John Green's books, but occasionally it seemed like Nina LaCour was trying to imitate him. She'd have one of the characters make a big statement about the universe and it just made me laugh out loud. But other times her writing hit home with me. The pacing was good. I love road trip books, because they always seem to have a good pace-- the characters never stay anywhere for too long, which keeps the story moving nicely. I thought some of the settings were a little weird and boring, but it contributed to the quirky tone of the novel. I also really liked how the book came full circle near the end. Often times, in stories centered around traveling, there are a lot of minor characters introduced, but they never come back. There are a few who reappear near the end of The Disenchantments and that was nice.
Personally, I had a hard time liking the first half of the book. Colby was just too mopey and Bev was too annoying. Nothing happened that really interested me, but I kept reading in hopes that it would get better. It did. The second half of the novel was so much better than the first. In fact, the closer it got to the conclusion, the more I liked it. Near the end, the plot got more interesting and the whole book was just a lot more fun. If it were that way at the beginning, I easily could have rated this book four stars.
All in all, the Disenchantments was an alright book. I liked it, but didn't love it. I thought it was a little unrealistic at times (occasionally things worked out too smoothly for the characters, despite the fact that they were in very sketchy areas), but not to the point that it was annoying. I don't regret reading it, but I'm not sure if I'd pick it up again. I might have enjoyed it more if I knew exactly what I was getting going in and I wish that the cover and summary had been more accurate. If you're interested, I'd recommend it though. There's a lot worse that you could read than The Disenchantments. Although, I still liked LaCour's first novel a lot more. If you're interested in her writing, I would suggest you read Hold Still before trying this book out.
3.5/5 stars (but it's not good enough for four, so I rounded down)