BOOK REVIEW – What They Always Tell Us by Martin WilsonWhat They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson
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James and Alex have barely anything in common anymore—least of all their experiences in high school, where James is a popular senior and Alex is suddenly an outcast. But at home, there is Henry, the precocious 10-year-old across the street, who eagerly befriends them both. And when Alex takes up running, there is James’s friend Nathen, who unites the brothers in moving and unexpected ways.

Sometimes we read books whose wicked plots and twists, while blatantly aimed to make us feel something, fail their purpose and sometimes, sometimes, we come across a quiet book which lead us to strong and real feelings.

What they always tell us is that kind of books, and that’s why, even though I have issues I can’t overtake, lowering my rating below 3 stars wouldn’t be fair in my opinion. I mean, I ate it up for fuck sake! Indeed contrary to many readers, my main problem wasn’t the pacing, because I was never bored. It’s a quiet book for sure, not our standard roller-coaster, but I do enjoy reading this kind of books sometimes, especially when they manage to make me feel, as it was the case here.

This being said, despite my utter involvement in Alex and James’s lives (well, mostly Alex’s, if I’m being honest), I can’t help but feel cheated somehow, as the last 25% disappointed me and left me almost empty. Don’t you hate it when you’re LOVING a book and then you’re only waiting for it to end? WORST. FEELING. EVER. Although I adored the first half, I began to slowly change my mind, finishing it in complete exasperation.

This story deals with bullying and the importance of family in a believable and touching way, as we follow James and Alex, two brothers who try to build their relationship again after Alex became suddenly an outcast. Even if James never was my favorite person (mostly he’s a know it all jerk for me, especially when it comes to girls – what a slut-shamer he is, I can’t even), I understood the need and the interest to get his POV too.

Alex though. Alex broke my heart. Alex made me smile so big. Alex made me cry, too.

▧ What I really appreciated was the way bullying was portrayed, because to me it was realistic – Sometimes being ignored, laughed at, quietly belittled can be more hard to live than many persons acknowledge it, sadly, and Martin Wilson does a great job to picture the thin line between “friendship” (see the quotation marks? Yeah?), teasing and bullying. To be frank, I didn’t get what Tyler’s deal was (apart from being an asshole, that is), but we don’t always understand why people act that way in real life too unfortunately.

“Tyler, in particular, used to bombard him with stinging comments, punctuated always by an empty “Just kidding, Alex.”

➸ This sort of passive-aggressive comments is so common – and there they were supposed to be still friends. Damn. The guy pissed me off.

▧ Moreover, what we get here is a portray of realistic characters, with their flaws and their best parts. When I say that they sounded like real teenagers to me, that means that they sometimes think the most stupid things (trust me) – that I had to roll my eyes a few times, actually, but I didn’t mind, because for once, I could have imagined them being people actually living.

▧ As for the romance, I must say that Alex and Nathen’s gradual and growing relationship was fantastic to follow. They were the cutest, really, and I shipped them from the beginning to the end. Indeed I loved how Nathen tried to break Alex’s shell without never being intrusive or judgmental. He was the best, really, even if he irked me with his addiction to the word BUDDY (for real – how many times can he say that?). The ending frustrated me so much though.

▧ I love when YA doesn’t try to do YA. That is to say, a dick’s a dick, that kind of things (the first shower scene made me laugh way too much for my own good – I don’t even know if I was supposed to laugh. Oh, well)

The whole subplot with their young neighbor was messy, especially towards the end where it was completely ridiculous. Let me sum it up : there’s Henry, a little boy about 10 years old who moved with his mother at the beginning of the year and who’s having a hard time fitting in at school. Nobody really knows why they’re here and what his mother does for a living, therefore of course, of course, unfortunately, people can’t mind their own business, and you know, speculate about them and wonder why they move around the country so much. Not to mention that the mother is gorgeous so you can infer in what place people’s guesses go. Sigh. Add some drama lama in the end and you’ll get an annoyed reader (yes, me). Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the friendship building between Henry and the two brothers but the whole drama with his mother got to my nerves, especially in the end because it stole the show and frankly? I didn’t care.

The lack of world-building. Yes, you read correctly, I wanted more world-building in my contemporary – or is it, really? After reading it I looked up the date of release and it was released in 2008, not so far away then, right? Now, tell me, did the teenagers had not cell phones and internet in 2008? Huh? Of course they did. Therefore from what I picked in the book (and trust me, there’s almost nothing other than the lack of things) I can infer that the story is set in the 90s and therefore I would have LOVED to get some pop culture references or something, anything, really, to help me put the story in perspective because yes, I do think that it’s important when we deal with how people react, especially when it comes to tolerance. That’s why I’m shelving it as historical romance.

The ending was unsatisfying at best, and mostly frustrating. Look, I’m not usually bothered by open ending but as I said earlier, what maddened me was the fact that we focus on the neighbors’ subplot and I didn’t fucking care about that. Finally, and it’s my own inner brat talking, why the fuck do we get James’s POV for the last chapter?

► I wanted Alex’s so bad, and I don’t give a damn if I’m being a sulking brat at this point.

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