After by Anna Todd
Publishing Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 582 pages
New Adult Contemporary Romance
The Premise: The story follows Tessa Young who is starting her first year at WCU. Tessa has a strict mother who only wants what she considers as best for her and a sweet and loving boyfriend back home. Her world changes however, when she meets a cocky Brit named Hardin Scott. Hardin is completely different to what she is used to and she quickly learns that it isn't simply his looks that are drawing her in, but also unfortunately, his personality. He is rude and cruel and yet she finds herself drawn to him. And to use the tag line in the back of the book: "could this be love?"
My overall thoughts and review: Okay, before I really get into this, I want to warn you all now that this might be quite a long post and a longer review than usual. I have a lot about it. To begin with, before being asked to review this book, I knew just about nothing about it. The only mention of it came from a friend of mine who asked me while we were at a concert, if I had heard of a book that was originally based on fanfiction about One Direction, to which I replied nope. She went on further to tell me that the entire book series was actually written on the author's phone. My jaw was dropping at this point and I was quite curious at the time to find out this book and read about it. I am a fan of One Direction, so I was surprised to only recently hear about it. I am always curious about books that reach a crazy level amount of popularity though. I'm also curious about books that begin as fanfiction first, because I will admit, I was (still am basically) a big fan of fanfiction back in the day when there were forums and we were all awaiting the final book in the Harry Potter series.
Anyways, moving onto the actual review of the book now. Besides finding out that it was originally fanfiction and based on One Direction characters (she uses their names - which have been changed in the published version and their appearances, but the background stories and personalities are entirely of her own creation), I also came to learn that there is actually a lot of negativity surrounding the book and I am seeing that it is a popular pattern amongst books that originate as fanfiction (I will get into a discussion about fanfiction as a whole another time. Perhaps a bookish thoughts post?). A lot of reviews mentioned that there were similarities to the Fifty Shades of Grey series, where the author romanticizes abusive relationships. I will get into this component in a moment.
I will admit that I read this entire book in one sitting. It was quite addictive. When I first began the book, I was not all too impressed with either characters. Tessa and how she handled things with her previously relationship with Noah was just not great and Hardin, well Hardin as a person in this book was not particularly great either. They were both very "unlikable characters". I enjoyed that there were references to Wuthering Heights - because these characters were definitely like Catherine and Heathcliff. You don't even know if you should root for them alone as individuals to make it through the end of the book. Also, those who are confusing lines from the classics mentioned in the text as Todd's actual writing - which to me is insane, because I think Todd makes it clear, what is written by her and what isn't when she makes references to those texts.
My second point is that the book contains explicit sex scenes, which makes this book more new adult than young adult. I myself don't have a problem with reading these kinds of scenes, but I know some people do. It is a terribly difficult task, I think, to write scenes like this well and tasteful. I don't know how much I can say about the latter, but it is one of the components that many readers actually enjoy about the text. I think the problem that many people have with the text are these explicit sex scenes, but I think that it is something you should know going into it before reading. This book is not a typical YA book and it does not dance around the subject of sex. It gets quite into detail and even uses explicit language when discussing these scenes. I think the simple answer would be that if you are troubled about the content about this book, it simply isn't for you.
I will get into what I think of it overall in a moment, but I want to go back to the author romanticizing abusive relationships. I am in total agreement with many of the readers that this book definitely depicts an abusive relationship. Hardin is mean to Tessa, to the point where it is quite cruel and actually verbal abuse and yet he finds a way to draw her in again and again. It is kind of a never ending cycle. At some points in this book, I was wondering why Tessa wouldn't just leave and acknowledge that it was abusive. I was literally shaking the book because she kept returning to this abusive cycle. Furthermore, learning about Hardin more, did not make things any easier for his character. Although there was some witty banter in between it all from him, I think the revelations of his past only made things more difficult for him.
I see both sides of the argument when it comes to this book. Do I think that the book romanticizes abusive relationships? Yes and no. It depicts an abusive relationship and many young readers who are reading it may receive the wrong message from it, thinking that what Hardin does to Tessa is in fact "okay" when it is not. I think that certain readers will choose to place more emphasis on the scenes where Hardin is good to Tessa and vice versa and attempt to forget the bad parts. A part of me says no, because it states over and over again, how bad the relationship is. There is even outside characters commenting on the relationship that states it is bad. Is that romanticizing then? I'm not entirely sure. I do know that it is quite "raw" what Todd attempts to depict in her books. She definitely does not beat around the bush and she depicts the real difficulties of a relationship. She shows the good and the bad.
It is such a difficult task to write about love in general in books. Everyone has their own different meaning of love, and it is quite hard when you are not actually apart of the relationship itself, because you are on the outside looking in. I know that when Todd is actually writing this, she is inviting the reader to imagine as if they were apart of this relationship, but it is hard in terms of pleasing every reader. Many readers have looked to this book and appreciated it for its rawness and truthfulness, and that is because they regarded many of the experiences (the fights that happen) to be quite similar to what they have experienced. Other readers, who have not experienced bad relationships, may look at this and completely be appalled by what is being portrayed to them. I am not trying to equate the point of "If you haven't experienced what Tessa and Hardin, you don't relate and therefore will not like the book", but I think as a writer, Todd doesn't attempt to necessarily write a book that would relate to everyone. Everyone comes to a book with their own sets of values and ideas and it will resonate with them on different levels. There are different interpretations and different perceptions. What one person might believe as incredibly raw, true and relatable, another person may not. I can say from my own experience that the arguments resonated with me, because I myself, have experienced moments where things have been difficult and unfortunately they result in that, but it is in the moments that come after (no pun intended here) - that I really appreciated because Todd demonstrates that there is an after. It doesn't simply stop there.
Overall, I feel quite conflicted when it comes to reviewing this book. I have read the other books that come after this one, and well, things do get worse (book 2), but they also get better as well (book 3 and 4), but it is up to the reader if they want to put that time in to find out. I am definitely one that has to "see a series through" and if I want to talk about something, I always make sure, I read it in it's entirety so that I can fully comment on it. I found it addicting and the narrative was definitely topsy turvy, but it also was not predictable. I went into this not knowing to expect, but it has been quite the introduction into the realm of New Adult and it has spurred many discussions about subject matter, which I am quite happy about. I don't know what more I can really say about the book besides, if it sounds like it is something you would be interested in, give it a shot. If you aren't, that is okay too. And if you start it and don't like it, it is okay. There are many other books out there! Let's try to move away from leaving really "harsh and cruel" reviews, because I myself, don't really think that is fair to the author. If it isn't your cup of tea, it isn't your cup of tea. But I hope that many readers can come to this with an open mind and decide from there. There are definitely negative components to the text, but it is significant to learn how these components are negative to begin with and how to discuss them. Without spoiling, I like that the fact addresses the need to "get better" and "change" and it really comes to a nice finale in the final books, seeing Hardin's progression.. so again, it is up to you if you want to invest the time.
Lastly, to wrap up.. I just wanted to say really enjoyed the character of Landon so much and he reminded me of myself and I wish there was more of him. But I hear that Todd is making a book entirely for him, so that's good news!
My rating of the book: ✮✮✮ (3/5 stars)
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Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by Simon and Schuster Canada for consideration/review. All opinions are my own.