Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: Melt

by Selene Castrovilla

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall a well written and impactful teen story. There is no relation to the Wizard of Oz, and in fact I question the use of Oz at all (more on that below); but that doesn't retract from the fact that the writing is good, the teenage voices are authentic and the message is one always worth saying to anyone, just in case.

Trauma & Abuse
Yes this is a book about traumatic things. They are described, discussed and ultimate drivers for the climax and ending. When you are reading a book like Melt it can be difficult to remember that all the things that seem illogical or 'backwards' that our characters say are likely exactly how people feel in that moment. It's easy to judge from the outside. Melt does a wonderful job of rationalizing behaviours that we all 'know' are poor choices; but let's be truly honest here, knowing and believing in any scary moment are two totally different things.
I commend Selene Castrovilla for not backing down and making her characters seem like perfect John Green angels or teens that are stronger than everything. There is no pandering or gloss to Melt. This is straight-up a story about abuse and how it affects everyone touched by it in different ways.

Teenage Voices
For some of us, myself perhaps included, we are getting a bit far away from being teenagers and so we tend to forget what it might feel like when we were 15-18. Others perhaps had some traumatic moments during those years (let's face this is maybe the most difficult stage of life) that have made us soften the memory or we like to believe we were smarter than the average bear. Likely none of that is true.
In Melt, we get a very authentic voices in the two lead teens (one male, one female). Each are annoying and frustrating in their own way (like real teens can be). And each have their own unique perspectives on the situations they are in. What's always interesting about POV chapters that swap back and forth is that you get the same experience from each persons perspective. This really changes how you might feel or even view the situation. Castrovilla does a wonderful job of swapping these two POVs at the right time and keeping the teen angst at a place that feels authentic. Her use of stilted language and mechanism to even change the grammar and layout between our characters is a clever writing tool to make the reader feel more like that teenage would.

Perfect Ending
This is not a fairy tale. There is not necessarily a 'and they lived happily ever after' moment. Instead we face a reasonable, realistic, open door ending that allows any number of things to happen. But it's enough of an ending to provide closure for the reader. The progression of each of our characters is obvious both in what they say it and in how the grammar and layout of their voices each changes.
It also helps that, as I suspected from the beginning, there is an author's note indicating that the circumstances of our story are based on true events. This goes back to the authenticity of, not only our characters, but of the extreme situation they are put in. It just feels like a true story throughout. Between the nuggets of real-life events and the set-up of the writing structure (our boy rarely has a full sentence or thought on one line in the text) it pushed me into feeling the mood and head space of our two teens.

The Issues
While a four-star review is a very good rating from me, I know people can't help but wonder why not five given the praise above. It actually comes down to two very simple things for me.
One, the use of Wizard of Oz was unnecessary and feels like a marketing ploy. As someone who adores Dorothy and her story I felt like it was being used as a crutch to make the book stand-out from other independent books. I normally wouldn't forgive this type of use of a classic; except the story is genuinely good enough that it's not as major of a factor to the overall story as it might have been. Remove all the Oz references (but keep the lead gal's name Dorothy) and it wouldn't change the tone or story in any way. For me, that begs the question of why use it at all?
Two, our main characters are a little too isolated for me. I would have liked to see more of the friendship fall-outs and social complications the relationship of our two teens would create given the the intimacy and closeness these two characters begin to have. Additionally the family dynamic for our girl was stilted and cliche. The 'only child that loves her parents, tells them everything; but then dates a bad boy and never talks again' story is very overdone in my mind. I'd have liked to see there be more genuine interaction between the characters, their friends and family.
In the same vein as with our leading gal, I wanted to have at least one scene between our leading boy and his mother; or maybe even with his brother. There was too much isolation in the story given that there were other witnesses around who were party to intense moments. Silence outside the home is one thing (and certainly common in real life); but silence inside the home amoungst those who need each other for support felt a bit too false to me.

I think there is a very good story here. It's not overly complex, it's honest and it's not difficult (or too long) to read. This is a good book to leave around for teens to find or stumble upon. Unlike teen books like Go Ask Alice where the shock value is the driver; Melt has a more balanced approach and gives the characters more room to feel real. Because it's based on true events there is also the obvious respect and authenticity that parts of this story are someone's history. They are someone's trauma they had to deal with. And while that may be easy to type out or even to read; it is far from easy to live.
If nothing else hopefully this story gives some perspective for readers of: things they should be grateful for, tips for spotting warning signs of domestic abuse or alcoholism, or even the nerve to place a copy of this book in someone's hands or where a needy teen might find it. Just maybe someone's life will be changed when they read the rationalizations and authentic voices of these characters. It only takes a slight change in perspective to motivate an action.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book via BookSirens. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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Leonore Winterer said...

It does sound like a book worthy of reading, but the whole oz-theme seems really strange. But okay, it does make for a catchy title after all...

Sandra B. said...

I wonder if the Dorothy/Oz elements were added because when it was being written the Dorothy Must Die series was being published?