An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review. This did not alter my thoughts in any way.
As you, I, and many others know, books aimed at the Young Adult demographic are full of female narrators. Heroines who have problems with their crushes, who have been chosen to lead revolutions that would topple governments, and heroines who will one day save the world from the evil, nasty, eternally-laughing villains. That is expected given that the majority of readers in the YA category are female, and that is precisely why I look forward to books with male narrators for once. I want to see how a male would encounter the same problems (oh come on, don't look at me that way. There is hardly any originality anymore!), how romances are viewed in their perspectives, yada yada yada.
That's why I expected a lot. Male narrators are rare (at least I can count the ones I've read with my fingers) so you'd think they would be done nicely, right? Not only the character but the plot as well, right?
For the last few years, Tony and his family has been in the Witness Protection program while also avoiding a notorious mafia leader who his father betrayed. Unfortunately, his dad always gets into trouble with the law in all the cities they've tried to relocate to so they had to move from one place to another, until they get their last chance in the town of Stepton. Here he takes on the identity of Nick Pearson, and he has to make friends all over again. He meets Eli, a gamer who runs a sort-of Journalism club, and his twin sister Reya, as well as a couple of jocks who want nothing but to club his head against the wall. Unknown to them, the danger is bigger than a bunch of football players who flex their muscles...
Nick Pearson (Tony) could have been an interesting character. He's "funny", "intelligent", and "laid-back". He's the mysterious teenager who's had to take on so many identities in the past that he has admitted he sometimes don't know anymore. He's a flawed hero with a tragic past who we're supposed to feel sorry for. Unfortunately, while reading, I found myself not giving any rat's ass about him. We're told he's like this, he's like that, but it was hardly shown due to the very lacking narration. His being "funny" was shown in the dialogue when he's conversing with other people, but I never found myself smiling or chuckling at all - he was flat, boring, as interesting as watching paint dry, and as cringe-worthy as cats in heat (ugh, my ears...). I wish I were kidding, but he just didn't show enough humor to justify this. It would have been cool if it was portrayed in the internal narration, but I never felt the narration was engaging enough. There were times it was cool, but oftentimes it was lackluster.
Me:What's da Urethra Gauntlet?
Eli: Urilium Gauntlet. U got my message.
Me: I got it. What wuz it?
Eli: I'm talkin Finite Universe. An MMORPG
Me: wuz dat a typo?
Eli: Massively multiplayer online role-playing game
Me: Like Warcraft?
Eli: Hellz no. Better. More scifi than fantasy. No weirdo stuff like dwarfs and fairies.
This was one of the times I almost wanted to drop this book. I know text speak has evolved over the years, but I'm surrounded by teenagers all the time, and they never text like this. "U" is acceptable, I suppose. "Da" could be bearable after a little teeth grinding. But "wuz" and "hellz"? WTF. Dude, one message can have as much as 160 characters. USE IT. Goodness, if anything, one version of text speak is shortening the words, not making it longer. So why add a "z" at all? Why use "wuz" when "was" has the same amount of letters? I know I may be accused of being nitpicky, but personally, having been in this phase myself and having texted hundreds of people over the years, rarely do I see this kind of text in real life. It gives me a migraine and teenagers aren't that stupid.
"We're on a date. If anyone asks, that's our cover."
"Right," I said. "Pretending."
She glanced sideways, then back to the road. "People are going to talk when we come in together. We better give them what they ask for. It will make the night go more smoothly."
"Hope I don't miss your rep."
She laughed. "Mess up my rep? Do you own a mirror?"
"What do you mean?"
"De pinga! I can't tell if you're being modest or you're one of those guys who got cute over the summer without realizing it."
Focus, focus, grin, focus...
...is this real life? Am I dreaming? Am I really reading a guy who's supposedly cute and good-looking but didn't know it?!FACEPALM
I... I don't know. I'm sorry. I've read of so many heroines in YA whose beauty were not known to them (let's call Captain Bullshit for this, yes?), and for some reason... a guy doing that... feels...worse. You be the judge.
Aside from that, the book just lacks character development. I didn't love the hero and I couldn't bring myself to care for the side characters, too. We're told he feels this way towards this person and that person, but we're not really shown. Hardly any of his "feelings" were enforced. These things were only told and expected to be seen as facts, but proven? Not sure about that. He says he loves his mom but never once has he shown appreciation for her actions. All he does is talk about himself, despite knowing his mom being unhappy with their current situation. He says he has lost trust with his dad but he has never shown his frustrations with regards to him. He lies and covers for him even (...what for?). Zach and his cronies felt superficial as well. Football guys, macho galore, who would sack the first person who'd approach his ex-girlfriend, Reya *insert yawning here*. It felt like watching a movie with typical and stereotypical characters all over again. I think the only person who had a bit of complexity was the Mayor's son... but even I was able to see through him. No depth in the hero, no depth in the side characters... is it such a surprise I'm rating this a 2?
The romance as well didn't feel believable to me. It started as an instalove and went downhill very fast.
The girl I'd bumped steadied herself, said, "It's okay. I'll live."
I barely heard her, though. Too busy seeing her.
You know how in the movies when a gorgeous girl enters the scene there's music, and slow motion, and fans blowing her hair? None of that happened or anything, but for the first time, the concept didn't seem stupid. She made a gym uniform look good.
In their succeeding scenes, he'd often find himself feeling everything is in slow motion with cheesy music playing every time they see each other. He'd be saying something, she'd pop, and then the things he wanted to say would be forgotten in a snap. Not too long after, they much confessed they like each other, and I was like... "why?" We weren't shown what he saw in her aside from her appearance. We weren't shown how he really felt from her aside from the "everything went into a standstill" comments. There just weren't any substance. At all.
This book's only saving grace at this point was the mystery factor. Unfortunately, that didn't deliver at all. By the end, there were still so many questions lingering in my head, and a lot didn't make sense. I could talk about that here and wonder what the fuck was going on, but that would mean spoilers (if interested though, check out the comments. Stuti and I pondered about it).
Overall, this book was meh to the very core. I was not impressed. Definitely, there were some interesting moments, but majority of the time, I felt empty while reading and only tried to finish it because I needed to give a review. It was fast-paced though, so you can get this one if you want something quick. Otherwise, if you're looking for a good mystery with substance, you can skip this one and sleep easy knowing you didn't miss anything.