First, the two main reasons that people are going to have issues with this book: The mega insta-love and the “he’s so perfect, omg” characters.
Second, the reason they did negatively impact my rating: Because this story relied so heavily on the characters and the story and neither were executed well enough for that.
Third, the moment I knew how I was going to feel about this story:
“Why does the sound of him saying my name make my insides melt?”
Because this quote is like all of the quotes. This quote shows what the writing is like and it shows how the rest of the novel is going to work—an instantly, for no apparent reason love sick girl is won over… with absolutely no effort on the young man’s part. Why did I pick this quote? Because there was absolutely nothing leading up to it. She just suddenly feels jiggly in her insides because he’s cute. I mean, jeez.
How many stars do I give this? 2.6 because it’s got holes and only so-so writing.
It has a wicked hook and there is potential… but the writing just wasn’t up to standard and in the end, there was too much rushing in a story that should have been twice as long.
But let’s begin with The Bland And So-So Writing.
What I enjoyed personally:
The fast-paced nature of it. As I mentioned, it’s got a hell of a hook and that helps a lot with a story like this. The first chapter really sets the stage for the story—for Drew anyway. And that helped a lot with getting through the rest of the story. I’ll also mention that I didn’t mind the switching POV. For this story, I found it helpful and with only one perspective, the story probably wouldn’t have been even this good.
What I felt was a little questionable:
The fast-paced nature of it. I know, I just mentioned this as something I liked, but let me explain. The story started off fast, which is good, but then it got bogged down by things like “Craig Morgan”. Is there a reason we have to say his full name every time? It started to feel like you were saying He-Who-Must-Be-Named-Every-Time… Like, give it a rest. But that aside, I’m actually talking about how Drew’s life is now. By chapter two it’s all “and no one likes me and I’m the bad boy and I don’t expect anyone to care…” All of which was important, but the author sped through it like lightning and I was just left scratching my head thinking, “Why do I care?” Because I didn’t. The stuff with his family was horrible—but I’m not really sure how it spilled out into his high school career. Was it just a result of gossip? Did his father spread the rumors? We don’t know. Because there’s nothing to let us know. Instead, we get a rapid fire break down of what’s going on and it just needed more… development. The start of something was there, but the author seemed so hellbent on getting through that she didn’t much care whether we were following or not. I needed longer scenes, or at least more developed ones. What are the characters thinking? Why are they thinking that? Why are they so hooked on each other? She tried to tell us, but I just didn’t buy it—and that’s a flaw in the writing, not necessarily (though additionally) the plot.
Moving on to The Too-Fast, Too-Insistently-Intense Story.
What I liked:
That the story is about hope and overcoming the bad things. I don’t necessarily think that reading has to teach us anything, but I think when it does and it’s not overly preachy, that can be really beneficial and add something to the story. In this case, I think it did. It’s about forgiveness and love despite differences and, ultimately, about finding hope. I’m not sure it’s really enough to save the story, but I appreciated it all the same.
I liked that Hailey was blaming her initial attraction on mystery. Oh, he’s the bad boy, so I just want to know, not that I’m really into him! It’s maybe not written well enough or followed through on later to be truly believable, but I thought that was a better way of tackling the otherwise overwhelming insta-love found here. I wish the author had stuck with it a little longer and dealt with Hailey’s drive to not have feelings for Drew.
What I didn’t like:
I didn’t like the insta-love, as I’ve mentioned. It was excessive and that’s dangerous in a story that is literally about that love. Because it’s all about the getting together, not the being together in a story. It’s about the fighting to be with one another that lends enough drama for a story to really exist. That’s why we end up with love triangles and parental disapproval and wrong side of the tracks stories. Because there has to be a struggle and if we don’t get one, the story is, unfortunately, boring. We need the drama, and there was a lot lacking here—even when it wasn’t.
Additionally, why the heck didn’t she have more reservations about him? She was all, “he’s demented!” and then “I want to jump his bones”? How do you get from one to the other in a straight line? I don’t know, but Hailey did.
And that’s how we end up with this gem:
“I haven’t heard why he’s a supposed murderer. What did he do to get that reputation?”
Um, I don’t know, like, MURDER SOMEONE? I hear that killing is the leading cause of murder-related deaths these days…
The whole party scene. From the moment with her dad to the next morning, I was rolling my eyes. And that’s a lot of eye rolling. I didn’t buy that Hailey was just suddenly super comfortable getting tossed—because the author didn’t sell it to me. She told me, “Yep, Hailey’s on a bender!” which seems so out of character for her, despite the circumstances. Not that that is necessarily an unwarranted reaction, but Hailey just seemed so… natural about it that I found it unbelievable. And the whole “Oh, Drew is here! Now I’m feeling super sober—despite the, like, six shots of tequila”? No. Just no. Have you heard of alcohol poisoning? Have you heard of drunk the next day? Have you heard of puking in the bushes?
None of that happened and that seemed… unlikely. It just made everything else that happened lacking it realism to the point where I was just shaking my head.
Honestly, there’s more. The whole dad thing. How can we have the characters not freaking out about this? Yeah, they get a little upset, but then it’s like “oh, but if you see it from his point of view…” No. He does not get a point of view. Because a-holes do not get point of views. Ever. Because they are, in fact, a-holes. And he was. The most selfish jerk ever… and no one called him on it. It was just like “oh, Hailey, you just need to learn to forgive him.” Um, no. At all, no.
I thought the Val-Craig thing was useless. I thought the father thing was… poorly executed. I thought the mom thing was sort of out of left field and didn’t add anything really to the story other than a “and they all lived happily ever after!”
I know there’s a lot I didn’t like and I wish it weren’t so, but when the writing isn’t great, we need the story to carry us and vice versa. We had neither of these things here and it shows.
Next, Le Characters.
What was good:
Drew being a good guy and supportive of Hailey. Perhaps a little cliché? But I appreciated that he wasn’t just some bad boy that she was trying to change. He was legitimately a good person.
Hailey being able to look past the wage differences of their families. I don’t think it was shown enough, though they mentioned it several times, but it was nice that the money really didn’t matter to her.
The mom freaking out after what happened with Hailey’s dad. It was probably the most realistic reaction of everyone in the book and while it was annoying on some level, I appreciated that it was genuine. We didn’t get enough genuine in this, I think, and I’m grateful that it showed up here at least.
What was bad:
The fact that there was really only one “bad guy” (two if you count the party, but that was all so surreal…). Everyone else wasn’t a bad guy, even when they seemed like they were a bad guy—or really should have been. Did it help the story that Craig was a decent guy despite his reputation? No, not at all. It would have been more beneficial if he played a larger actual role, but he’s so peripheral until the party that it’s moot point. And what’s the point of forgiving the dad? He broke so much trust, wrecked a lot of lives, and didn’t even think he did something wrong! Staying with a child in a loveless marriage is the dumbest thing a parent can do and doing it for the sake of the child is just an excuse. Especially in this circumstance.
Finally, a section for Tropes and Other Much Hated Things:
I’m just going to list them here, because… yeah.
• The Poetically Deep Kid In Bad Boy Clothing
• The Preppy Popular Cheerleading Rich Girl With A Heart Of Gold
• The Shallow Best Friend Who Only Loves Shopping And Boys
And that’s not even dealing with the assumptions the characters make about each other—everyone seems to buy the stereotypes in this book until otherwise proven. Like “Craig Morgan Reads a Book” time or the “Cheerleader Listens to Country” or the “Bad Boy Likes Poetry”. All of it makes these huge assumptions about people they don’t even know, and everyone gets offended even as they turn around and do it to each other…
Would I recommend this? Sadly, no—but if you can get past the bad writing and the poorly developed plot and the really bad insta-love, you might enjoy this. But I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone.
Title: What Doesn’t Kill Us
Author: Stephanie Henry
Approximate Length: 259 pages
I received a free ebook version in exchange for an honest review.