Have you ever picked up a book and a handful of pages in put it right back down knowing it wasn’t worth the precious minutes it had already stolen from you?
That’s how I feel about This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp.
Full disclaimer at the beginning of this, I made it to page 7 before I was 156% done with that book, so if you want a review of the story keep it moving. If you want to know the fundamental flaws in writing, character design, and attempts at diversity that left this black chick with a bad taste in her mouth then welcome.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The book is about a school shooting. As a member of the nation that had a mass shooting at least twice a day last year I was more than a little interested. As much as I know I HATE YA I had high hopes for this book. Even after a lack-luster first chapter I was still all smiles. The writing in the first few pages was. . .eh. Nothing special. The signature YA 8th grade reading level that I loathe beyond belief.
“Openings are either amazing or awkward, this was awkward but I can deal for a story like this.” is what I said to my boyfriend after I’d finished hugging my Valentines Day present (Yes I hug books. Doesn’t everybody?)
After being introduced to Claire, who is good at running and not much else, we meet Tomas. He is breaking into the permanent records with his friend Far. Far doesn’t say anything but through Tomas we learn that his name is Fareed Al-Sahar and there’s a mildly confusing reference to the school never filing his name correctly. We don’t learn what Tomas wants in the permanent records but we get a bunch of unnecessary internal dialog about the school, and Far who can’t, it seems, tell his own story.
Then we get a BUNCH of personal information about another girl who has an abusive household and are switched to a Hispanic girls who NEEDS you to know she’s ethnic and also possibly in love with Abused Girl. I have no confirmation of this but this book has no depth so it’s easy to see where this is going. This is where I stopped.
I looked up the town in Alabama this is supposed to take place in, it doesn’t exist but I did learn that Alabama is 69.7% white, 26.7% Black, 1.5% Asian, and 4.1% Hispanic (including other races identifying as Hispanic). That means that the chances of Fareed, Slyv, and Tomas all going to the same high school in bum-fuck Alabama is not the most likely thing in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some pretty diverse places in Alabama but the numbers say it isn’t likely. That’s okay. But if you want to make a book with Fareed Al-Sahar maybe put him somewhere that actually has a Middle Eastern slot in their census records?
Now I can already hear the complaints of BUT DIVERSITY! Oh believe me I cry when i find a book that is as ethnically diverse as I need it to be. I thrive on culture and color and language. But when it seems forced, when it seems like a young white author (who I don’t dislike for any reason) is trying very hard to include color in her writing just to get brownie points, that is a huge red flag for me. That says this person didn’t get the “Write what you know” memo. It tells me that this person is trying to appeal to an audience that they may know nothing about in the name of political correctness. For me, a biracial girl living in the United States, that is a problem. It makes me uncomfortable. It feels like pity.
Now I see this mostly from young white authors who mean well but are a bit misguided in how to fit ‘diversity’ into their stories. It’s GREAT to want to have characters from other cultures or colors in your books, please do! But don’t force it. Please. It will make me, and many other people put your book down fast.
My other complaint is the pacing. Now I understand that this book takes place over less than an hour, that was one of the biggest selling points for me, but that meant I went in prepared to not know some things. I was prepared to get glimpses, to have to piece together stories in memories and dialog whispered between lovers saying goodbye. I thought that would be amazing. Instead I got short blurbs of info dumping right off the bat. Wow Autumns father beats her? That sounds like the kind of thing I don’t need to be spoon fed within moments of meeting this girl. That sounds like the sort of thing that might require some depth.
I wish Slyvs character hadn’t been so blatantly obvious about her love for Autumn either, it seemed like Autumn didn’t know so it would have been nice to find out slowly that this deep affection was more like love. Maybe as one of them lay dying? I don’t know. I needed more.
Nothing grabbed me. Nothing said “YOU NEED TO READ THIS!” The premise was perfect, the execution was botched. But I’m finding that so often now it’s no wonder I’m not reading as much. I need to go back to reading Dickens.
Oh, and be sure to read some of the other Goodreads reviews as well. There are some good ones.