Monday, August 22, 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester

I really disliked this book when I started reading it. What kept me going was that it was a nice hardcover I'd won for free from the authors of the Girls Taking Over the World tour at Summer's Stories. I thought I'd give it a chance.

Lara Zielin's The Implosion of Aggie Winchester is a young adult novel about a high school principal's daughter, Aggie, who is Goth, angry, afraid, in love with the wrong guy, and pretty much messed up. Within the first few pages, there is bad language, including the F-word, and innuendo. And it doesn't get better. The further I got into the book, the worse Aggie and her Goth friend, Sylvia, were. They were the opposite of everything I like in characters or want to read about.

But I also got a sense from the author that she wasn't condoning their behavior. She was telling the story of a girl who was going to have some dramatic stuff happen to her and, therefore, become a better character. I just wasn't sure if it was worth wading through all the garbage to get there. Still, I kept reading.

What really bugs me in some books (and it happened in Nocturne, too) is when a teenager and her parents completely miscommunicate and just get angrier and angrier with each other, resulting in the parents alienating their child and the child rebelling even further. I'm not saying it isn't realistic. It's too realistic, and I read books, in part, to escape that.

But aside from Aggie's flawed family relationships, Aggie herself drives me nuts. What kind of role model is she for a teenager reading this book? Characters in books can certainly have flaws. In fact, I think it's usually better for the story if they do. But, as my husband pointed out, Anna Karenina is a Russian classic all about an adulteress, and you never actually see her have sex. You never need to. I think some young adult books (adult books, too, for that matter) are more gritty than they need to be. I don't need to see the F-word every few pages to know that, yeah, Aggie's not a great person.

As I suspected, the book turns Aggie around, but not before she goes through a lot of pain. It's rough reading, watching characters' emotions spiral out of control when the answers are right there but no one will listen to each other. There's a scene I particularly like between Aggie and her mom, but it comes after a lot of awful stuff. Aggie also manages her boyfriend problems happily in the end, but I feel like I'm repeating myself here: it comes at a price. She never has sex, but she does practically everything else, almost negating the value of her abstinence.

The end somewhat makes up for all the story puts you through, as the reader, but I'm still not sure I would recommend it unless you know someone just like Aggie who could use a dose of reality to get her life straightened out. For me, however, it didn't cut it. It's just not happy reading. It's like reading about your local high school's gossip and scandal. However fascinating it may be, it's not uplifting or satisfying. It's rather horrifying, like a train wreck you can't stop watching.

But it's a good, solid, positive ending, so I'll dish out two and a half stars.

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