I had such high hopes for this one as nearly all of my friends have been gushing about it. I started it thinking it would be a nice, quick, light hearted read. WRONG. I had so many issues with this story.
Short recap: Esther Solar believes that she and everyone in her family are cursed. She believes they are doomed since her grandfather met Death many, many years ago. Since then, she has made a very comprehensive list of phobias (or just things that scare her) and she has stayed away from them. Everything in her life changes when she is runs into Jonah Smallwood, an old classmate from very long ago. After an awkward reunion, he is determined to help Esther overcome her fears and live her life.
Now that sounds like a right fine story, doesn’t it? Sadly, that is not what I read. What I read was two grossly underdeveloped characters, a weak plot, and two teens that cuss like a sailor on leave. Yeesh. I cuss as much as the next adult but, my word, I could take lessons from these characters.
The number one thing I remember from my very short time with this book was how the narrator’s voice didn’t match the character. I still wish publishers would realize how a narrator’s voice could absolutely make or break a story. For me, it broke it. I didn’t like the way she interpreted Esther. She made her seem like a lackadaisy idiot. The girl had issues for days but the narrator made her seem even more so, if that makes any sense. It just was not a good fit.
Esther’s character felt underdeveloped, just like the weak ass storyline. I just did not get it. I did not realize this story was “magical realism” or I would have ghosted on it altogether because me and that genre do not get along. I did just did not understand what was going on. Sutherland wanted me to believe that a girl that dresses as someone other than herself every single day since a long lost friend from elementary left her suddenly is ready to take on the world and face her fears because that long lost friend makes his way back into her life? Get out of here with that nonsense. You’re selling and I’m not buying. Esther has to be one of the most gullible characters I’ve read in a long time. She was robbed (pickpocketed) by this long lost friend and then she lets him back into her life with no issues? PFFFT. Whatever. I’m a bleeding heart as much as the next person but even I have my limits. Remember that phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”? That’s what they remind me of. The way Jonah pushed Esther into facing everything on her “Semi-Definitive List” didn’t feel believable. If the girl is honestly scared of this stuff and has phobias of others, leave her alone, dude! Let her be scared. Personally, I have a severe phobia of clowns and there is nothing on this planet anyone can do to make me or help me get over that. Don’t come at me with that noise. I’m terrified of them and that’s that. You can’t convince me otherwise. Same goes for small spaces and spiders. Those are my three phobias. Maybe I’m just not the right audience for this story because if Esther was so easily swayed into “getting over her fears”, then she wasn’t really scared to begin with. I know her entire family was terrified of other things but why couldn’t she or someone else sought professional help? Why let some strange boy she hasn’t seen in years suddenly help her after robbing her? Do you see why I’m so confused? Her fears didn’t seem to be based on anything of substance but I’m sure my phobia of clowns could be seen that way by others.
The other thing that really stood out was how dated this story was and will always be. Sutherland did her absolute best to drop every modern and outdated reference into this story. You want 90s movies mentioned? Check. You want obscure TV shows? Done. You want outdated trends that people under the age of 25 won’t understand? You got it. I could not, and still do not, believe how dated this book already is. There is a reference to the show Highlander. WHO NOWADAYS IS GOING TO KNOW THIS REFERENCE?! I grew up in the 90s so I get it but few others will. I truly believe people will either glaze over those references because they don’t understand them, or they will stop and pull up Google.
I DNFd this audio a lot later than I should have. Part of me wanted to keep listening to see if it got better but when Esther started going on about how she was scared of moths because of the obscure movie, Mothman Prophecies from 2002, I knew I was done. I am happy that so many readers loved and enjoyed this story so much. I only wish I could have been among that crowd but sadly this book was just not for me.