Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski

How My Summer Went Up in Flames by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Publisher: SimonPulse
Release date: May 7th 2013
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Source: Bought
ARosie’s always been impulsive. She didn’t intend to set her cheating ex-boyfriend’s car on fire. And she never thought her attempts to make amends could be considered stalking. So when she’s served with a temporary restraining order on the first day of summer vacation, she’s heartbroken—and furious. To put distance between Rosie and her ex, Rosie’s parents send her on a cross-country road trip with responsible, reliable neighbor Matty and his two friends. Forget freedom of the road, Rosie wants to hitchhike home and win back her ex. But her determination starts to dwindle with each passing mile. Because Rosie’s spark of anger? It may have just ignited a romance with someone new…  
How My Summer Went Up in Flames is a cute summer read if you can ignore how problematic its message is. Which I obviously couldn't. It scores the trifecta of promoting problematic views on gender, race, and class, so... get ready for a rant.

At first I thought Rosie might be a character I could love. I had read multiple reviews talking about how they couldn't stand Rosie because of her impulsiveness and her lack of understanding of how serious her situation is. Generally, if other reviewers complain about an unlikable female character, I'm going to love her because I'm sick of the standard quiet, "likable" female characters. (Likability of female characters is a topic for a post on its own.) I did like these elements of Rosie's character that other reviewers complained about - she's relatably flawed, and I loved having a different type of contemporary YA narrator for once. But that doesn't mean I didn't have other kinds of issues with Rosie...

Rosie's expressions on issues of gender are what bothered me most about this novel.. There's some serious slut-shaming going on in Rosie's opinions and depictions of her breakup with Joey. She talks about sex as if it's something that she would never do, and condemns Joey's new girlfriend - and her friend Avery - for having done it, which is not okay. She keeps making offensive comments about femininity, and lets her whole life revolve around guys, having no ambitions for herself. (She liked saying "Joey's wife" when people would ask her what she wants to be later on.) This is never really addressed as a problem, which frustrated me throughout the novel.

The novel's portrayal of class is just as problematic. From the way Rosie, her family, and the guys' families treat money, they all have to have quite a lot of it, and that's never really mentioned in the novel. Instead, they're the ones who are "normal," in comparison to their ultra-rich friend Avery, which results in scenes like Rosie being surprised they are taking a limousine to the club and commenting that her family only uses limousines on prom or to get to the airport. The never-addressed privilege that is so obvious in scenes like those perpetuates really problematic depictions of class and privilege, and it bothered me throughout Rosie's story.

Then there's the issue of race. In theory, How My Summer Went Up in Flames at least scores diversity points for having a woman of color as the protagonist. Rosie's mother is from Ecuador and her father is Italian, so she is described to have a dark complexion. But the whitewashing of the cover kind of ruins that. Rosie refers to herself as dark-skinned and curvy throughout the novel, so of course the cover model had to be... a skinny white girl. Just... ugh.

Despite all feminist rage caused by this novel, there are still some parts of the story that I really enjoyed. I always love road trips, and this one is no exception - I loved reading about all their stops and adventures. Rosie's interactions with the guys are entertaining too, and I especially loved Matty. I'm not a huge fan of the romance because I don't think it's necessary for the story, but as far as unnecessary, predictable romance goes, this one is at least kind of cute.

How My Summer Went Up in Flames was an okay read for me. It's a quick, entertaining book, and there are plenty of things I enjoyed about it. Looking deeper, though, there are issues that I couldn't ignore, meaning I can't really recommend How My Summer Went Up in Flames.

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