Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

Synopsis (via Goodreads): When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.

Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.

When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship...

This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?

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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

Call It What You Want was a heavy read that really weighed on my mind. A lot of tough topics are addressed throughout the book, and it was refreshing to see teenagers having authentic reactions to distressing situations. Their emotions and responses were realistic and really packed a punch, and my heart repeatedly broke for these characters. Sometimes life isn't fair, and we occasionally get lost in the gray areas. 

It's not always easy to distinguish right from wrong. What if you did something wrong to protect a family member? Does that make it right? Maegan knew people's secrets, and constantly struggled with whether or not to tell someone. She knew her sister needed help, and that someone else should know what information Samantha had shared with her, but she didn't want to lose her sister's trust. However, keeping Samantha's secret could have caused more problems for her in the end. Is it better to keep the truth to yourself, or risk hurting and helping in equal measure? 

Everyone's secrets seemed to find Maegan, even though she wasn't very good at lying. When cornered, she tended to give away whatever she was hiding, even if she didn't want to. However, Maegan was a good friend. She wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt, and she was also loyal and fiercely protective. She didn't always know what to think, but she tried to not judge others and looked for the bigger picture. I wish her friendship with Rachel had been elaborated on. They've been best friends for years, so I was hoping for more conversation and conflict resolution between the two.

I did enjoy seeing Maegan and Samantha repair their relationship. Samantha was hurting and conflicted, Maegan was lost and unsure, and they really rallied together when it mattered. I also liked their family dynamics, and that their parents were really invested in their lives and well-being. I think their dad was a little judgmental, and he came across as an overprotective father. It was clear he loved his daughters and only wanted the best for them.

Rob's family is a little trickier... I understood his mother's perspective, but I didn't really agree with it. As a mother, I can see her wanting to protect her son and his future. As an outsider looking in, I think she did more harm than good. It was hard to watch them interact with Rob Sr., because his condition affected everyone around him. His choice to end his life, and the fact that he failed, only caused more strain on their family and what they were going through. They all loved each other, but I think their feelings were misplaced for awhile. 

Speaking of Rob, I do have a small complaint about his character. He's lonely and frequently complains about having nothing to do, but he has a vehicle that he can drive, so why doesn't he have a job? He's struggling with money, his mother has gone back to work, and he has the means... so why didn't he get a job after school? That would have helped everyone, and he likely wouldn't have felt the need to rebel in other ways. It doesn't make sense for him to stay hidden away in his room feeling bad about his situation, especially since he often mentioned wanting to do something to help.

There are a lot of complicated relationships in this story. Relationships between old friends and new, siblings, parents, teachers... it's amazing Kemmerer managed to squeeze them all into one book. Everyone was hurting, or knew someone that was, and we see that people can be unnecessarily cruel. They can also surprise you by being kind and doing things you wouldn't expect.

Like I said before, there were a lot of tough topics addressed in this book, but I think Kemmerer handled them all very well. Nothing had a perfect resolution, but that's life. It's rarely perfect. If anything, her portrayal of this story was brutally honest. You want to cheer these characters on, but at the same time, you don't know how to make their individual circumstances better. Oftentimes, there was no right answer, only moving forward and trying to make the best of a bad situation.

12 comments:

  1. I'm reading this one right now and liking it, but yes, it's very heavy. My heart just aches for these poor kids. They deserve better!

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    1. Definitely! I didn't hate any of the characters, even when they were being unkind. Kemmerer shows us what their lives look like behind closed doors, which made it easier for me to sympathize with them. I didn't always agree with their actions, but it was hard to hate people just because they were hurting and didn't know what to do with it.

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  2. I think I like that best about her YA contemps though, there never is a neatly wrapped happily ever after. They are complicated and even though there are conclusions to her stories, you can still tell things are realistic and they will be tough and each character is still going to have to work at whatever it is they are trying to overcome.

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    1. Yes! This book covers about a year of their lives, so we only see a glimpse of who they are, and who they're going to be. Nothing is set in stone, and their choices are constantly changing their futures. Kemmerer does a wonderful job of tackling big issues, and then leaving plenty of room for the characters to grow once the story ends. Their lives are not full and complete at the end of the book, but expanding and changing with every decision. Loved it!

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  3. Sounds like this book really made you think. For me, that's a HUGE positive. I love books that make me examine my own thoughts, feelings and motivations and make me ask, "what if?"

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. Right?? I asked myself that question a lot while I read this one. I kept trying to imagine how I would handle certain situations, and then compared my thoughts to their actions. Sometimes there are no right or wrong answers, just a desire to find/do something better.

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  4. Kemmerer does such a great job of writing about tough topics and emotions!

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    1. She's fantastic! I really love her books and cannot wait to see what she writes next! :)

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  5. I loved this book, but as for why Rob didn't have a job - a theory: his family was sort of excommunicated, because of the crimes his father committed against so many of the community members. I could imagine it would be difficult to get someone to hire him. Just a thought.

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    1. I thought about that! However, you'd think there would've been more people like Mr. London. He was wary of Rob at first, but soon learned that Rob wasn't responsible for any of it. He wasn't in the library to torment him, but to actually read. They may have been doubtful at first, but he didn't try (that we know of). What about Wegman's? They were open late, and probably could have used extra help. I don't know. I may have felt better about the situation if Rob mentioned trying to get a job and no one wanting to hire him. His mother was able to get a job temping, so he might have been able to do the same. Maybe someone she worked with needed help?

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  6. This sounds like a tough, emotional read but so, so worth it. I’ve loved Kemmerer’s previous contemporary novels and this one is high on my summer TBR.

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    1. I hope you enjoy it! I could tell the book was about teenagers, because there was some serious angst going on, but the story itself was enjoyable. I thought Kemmerer used teenagers in a way that highlighted their insecurities, but also their strengths. They were children, but that didn't mean they weren't important. Their decisions still mattered and impacted the lives of those around them.

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