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Taxonomy of Love Hardcover – January 9, 2018
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" This book is groundbreaking in its demonstration of the complexity of human emotion."
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I really enjoyed how Rachael Allen looked at disability through Spencer's POV (his Tourette's is just a part of him), but I also really liked how his family doesn't make a huge deal out of it (I loved that his older jock-y brother especially did not). I also REALLY appreciated the frank discussion of interracial relationships and racism, and Confederate flag dinner conversation (in which their school bans anything w/the flag on it). I giggled at the Pumpkin Spice Latte references and Hamilton sing-alongs.
I appreciated that Spencer was into sports and science and that he grew into himself. Aghhhhh, what a sweet little dork.
A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Rating: 3 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.
Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.
What I Liked:
I'd heard great things about this book, and while I'm not a YA contemporary fan (definitely not a tough-issue contemporary person), I was curious enough to want to know more about it. This book broke my heart in many ways, but it was really and truly inspiring and hopeful. It wasn't an easy read but it was a meaningful one, and I'm glad I took a chance on it.
This book begins when Spencer is 13 years old, and his new neighbors are moving in. That is when he meets Hope. He likes Hope immediately; she is nice, fun, and she doesn't think he is a weirdo because of his Tourette Syndrome tics and sniffs. But his older brother Dean also thinks Hope is cool. As the years go on, Spencer and Hope are friends... Dean and Hope are a couple... and then they're not... Spencer and Jayla are a couple... Hope and Mikey are a couple... and so life goes. This book is a story of broken hearts and painful sibling relationships, or loss and life, and misunderstandings and lost time. It ends with Spencer being 19 years old, and thus closes the story after six years.
Most of the story is narrated by Spencer, though occasional chapters are letters from Hope to her older sister Janie, who travels to third-world countries to do humanitarian work (if I remember correctly). Spencer is a different kind of male protagonist, primarily because he has Tourette Syndrome (and you don't find a lot of YA books featuring characters with Tourette Syndrome - definitely not them being protagonists). Spencer is an intelligent, clever, logical kid who has his quirks and eccentricities but really is a good kid. He has the worst luck, falling for his best friend. His best friend Hope, who ends up dating his big brother Dean.
I have to say, I didn't always like Hope. She didn't seem to think things through, and she definitely wasn't a big fan of communication, from what I could see from her side of her friendship with Spencer. I didn't think she was good for Spencer at all, whether as a friend, or what he wanted (her as his girlfriend). I began to like her more as the story went on, but I was totally rooting for Spencer to not end up with her.
You can imagine how messy this book is. Messy isn't always bad because life really is messy. Relationships are messy. Nothing is ever black-and-white, like we'd hope. The relationships in this book are very muddled. Spencer has been in love with Hope for forever. Hope has been interested in Spencer for forever but... she gets with Dean for stupid reasons. And then she gets with Mikey after a bad breakup with Dean. Spencer starts dating a girl named Jayla, and I shipped them so hard. I was so hoping they would be endgame. But like I said... messy.
So I wasn't really a fan of the romance (except Spencer and Jayla, but even then...). The relationships I DID like were the slow development of Spencer's relationship with his dad; Spencer's great relationship with his stepmom Pam; Spencer's friendship with Paul, and eventually Traven. I liked seeing these more positive, healthy relationships blossom, because goodness knows none of the romantic relationships were healthy. Not even Spencer and Jayla's, and I had been shipping them. But some of the family relationships and friend relationships were really beautiful to see grow and unfold.
I personally thought the author did a great job with Tourette Syndrome representation. I knew a few students in primary and secondary school that had Tourette, but I don't really know much of the specifics of the syndrome. To me it seemed like Allen did her research and really understand the depth of the syndrome and how it affected life for the character, and the surrounding characters.
And of course, the taxonomy illustrations at the beginning of each chapter (most chapters, anyway) were really cool. They definitely tied everything together! I would occasionally skip one (because I was engrossed in the story) but I always came back to read that taxonomy that I skipped because they were interesting, and mostly foreshadowed that chapter's events.
This story was really hard to read, because it's heartbreaking (especially in terms of Spencer/Hope, but also for other reasons). But I'm glad I gave it a chance. It's worth the read and makes you think about things like relationships, and loss.
What I Did Not Like:
My personal opinion: I thought Hope was kind of a toxic character, especially for Spencer. She seemed to be a negative influence in his life and didn't act like much of a friend. She started dating Dean and I thought that should have been the end of her and Spencer's friendship. Spencer didn't take it well (Hope and Dean dating), and I think he should have cut the friendship at that point. Hope was not a very supportive friend and didn't do a good job of being Spencer's friend. I hated when she walled herself off from Spencer and how much time they wasted not talking to each other, because of Hope's hardheadedness. Anyway, even if Spencer hadn't had feelings for Hope, I still would have wanted him to distance himself from her. She was toxic for so many reasons, before and after the big loss in her family.
In all honesty I was so hoping Spencer and Hope would not end up together. I thought Spencer and his girlfriend Jayla were great together! (Until Jayla did something awful.) I definitely didn't want Spencer and Hope together. So that was disappointing.
Would I Recommend It:
I do and don't recommend this book. If you're a YA contemporary fan, especially if you're a tough-issue contemporary fan, then I DO recommend this book. You'll probably love it - it's very well-written and so thought-provoking. But if you're not a YA contemporary person? Don't even bother considering reading it. It's not a non-contemporary-fan's type of read, for sure!
3 stars. I am glad I gave this book a chance. It made me think and reflect on my own relationships, past and present. But it wasn't a book that I loved or totally enjoyed. This type of contemporary really isn't for me but I'd hoped that I would like it. But I think it wasn't for me!
When the new girl moves in next door, she and Spencer become strong friends. Who else but Hope could understand Spencer's love of bugs and climbing trees. Who else could understand the ways in which he is different and yet not treat him as if he is any different at all. But sometimes life is messy and not as easy to categorise as Spencer would like. Friends, more than friends, not friends at all?
A Taxonomy of Love spans seven years. Written in six parts, plus an eliplogue, this book starts when Spencer is thirteen, picks up again when he is fourteen and continues revisiting him for a chunk of time each year until he and Hope are nineteen. In this way we readers get to view the journey of Spencer and Hope's friendship, from their early teen years and their first days as friends spent climbing trees and making plans for the future, through family tragedies and other relationships, to times when they were not speaking and times when they were each other's rock. This large timespan also allows readers to watch Spencer and Hope grow up. It made me really proud to see what sort of adults they were becoming, watching how their pasts shaped them, but also how the choices they made changed them. These six parts do mean that a few things are skipped over. We don't get to witness first-hand all the major events of their lives. But this worked surprisingly well, and it was always fun to begin a new part and catch up on the events of the past year.
All the chapters are written from Spencer's point of view, however, throughout the novel Hope's perspective is shared through her journal entries and emails and texts to her older sister. These are particularly prominent during a traumatic time in her life and they help readers to understand what she is feeling and experiencing - if only poor Spencer could have had the same privilege. But misunderstandings, distance, and hurt are all part of life, as Spencer learns.
A Taxonomy of Love is about love and romance, but it is also about so much more than that. Spencer has Tourette's syndrome and his journey of understanding and accepting this, or rather, more importantly, how he sees other people accepting him, is a prominent and important part of this book. So too is his relationships with his father and with his brother. Along with the complexity of his friendship with Hope, Spencer has other friendships and relationships and the glimpses of these help us to understand Spencer and who he would like to be. Wrestling, too, becomes an important part of Spencer's life. It is all these little things that connect to make up the bigger story, one that is - at its heart - a simple but powerful journey of a young boy growing up, learning, falling in love, and accepting himself.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
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