Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review of Control, by Lydia Kang (recommended)

Control was a fun book, and there were two elements I really liked:

1) The science. There are too many YA books out there that villainize science in the name of plot, most of which are written by authors who know absolutely nothing about what scientific research actually looks like. Not the case with Control. The main character loves science, and the author actually knows her way around a laboratory.

2) Some of the plot elements were kind of cool. There was at least one action-y scene in a drug-hazed club room.

Unfortunately, this was also a very flawed book. If it wasn't for reason #1, this book would be entirely forgettable. These were the elements of the story that left me unimpressed:

1) Over-reliance on character archetypes: the plain, unsexy female protagonist, the attractive bad-boy love interest, the kooky girl, the vegan slut, the low IQ teddy bear (though I did like the latter two characters).

2) Attitude towards sex and beauty: I wouldn't go so far as to accuse this book of slut-shaming. Yes, the protagonist is judgmental about beauty products, flirting, and slutty clothing, but not to the point where she (or the author) treats conventionally beautiful characters with disrespect. What did annoy me, however, was how often the protagonist whined about how plain, boring, and unattractive she was.

3) The worldbuilding: Shaky and underdeveloped. Also, the way states were named was really tacky.

4) The villains: Meh.

There were also some elements of the story that actively bothered me:

1) The love interest. In the first half of the book, Cy scared me. He angered easily, showed absolutely no respect for any of the characters, and had a penchant for destroying other people's belongings. Of course, the protagonist was able to overlook that just long enough to notice how attractive he was. Now some background: I'm not against the abusive, over-controlling love interest trope in novels. What bothers me is when that behavior is shown to be attractive, or worse, when that behavior conveniently disappears halfway through the novel. Assholes don't stop being assholes when they get a girlfriend. Likewise, even true love won't make anger management issues disappear in less than two days. If your love interest's personality pulls a 180 after the first kiss, that's a sign of bad character development.

2) Zelia's disorders are inconsistent with her abilities. I don't care how special she is--there's no way you're going to convince me that a girl with a severe respiratory disease can scale a 1000-foot building. And can a girl with underdeveloped ovaries really experience sexual attraction? (No seriously? Can she? I have no idea. If you happen to have knowledge or insight on the matter, please let me know, because I'm really curious.)

3) I think the author sometimes tried too hard to show that Zelia has a scientific mind. (At one point, she comments that all humans are technically cannibals since the atoms of the earth are recycled from one living being to another. That's the sort of insight that a middle schooler might find profound, but for someone like Zelia, that should be kind of a "duh" thought.)

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