April 26, 2014

Kate Larkindale: "An Unstill Life"

Title: An Unstill Life [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kate Larkindale [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2014
Age: 14+
Stars: 2.5/5
Pros: Honest depiction of first love/sexual orientation awareness. Synesthesia episodes make for a different, creative prose. 
Cons: Some convenient (if not often agreeable) occurrences piling up.  Inconsistencies with the side characters (they seem to change their opinion/stance too easily). Requires some suspension of disbelief.
WARNING! Underage sex (though not overly graphic). A couple of sexual harassment episodes. A self-harm instance. Book also features a terminally ill character.
Will appeal to: GLBTQ+ romance lovers. Fans of coming-of-age stories.

Blurb: Things at home are rough for fifteen-year-old Livvie. Jules, her beloved older sister, is sick again after being cancer free for almost ten years. Her mom becomes more frantic and unapproachable every day. Just when she needs them most, her closest friends get boyfriends and have little time for Livvie - except to set her up on a series of disastrous blind dates. Livvie seeks refuge in the art room and finds Bianca, the school ‘freak’. Free-spirited and confident, Bianca is everything Livvie isn’t. Livvie finds comfort and an attraction she never felt before with Bianca. When their relationship is discovered, Livvie and Bianca become victims of persecution and bullying. School authorities even forbid the pair to attend the Winter Formal as a couple. At home, her mother’s behavior escalates to new levels of crazy and Jules is begging for help to end the pain once and for all. While searching for the strength to make her life her own, Livvie must decide how far she’s willing to go for the people she loves. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. Here goes...
This novel touches many bases. First love. Sexual orientation awareness. Coming out. Bullying. Friendship. People drifting apart. Mental issues. Family issues. Sibling love. Terminal illness. Death. And of course, synesthesia. All packed into 220 pages. Maybe that's why I found it a bit difficult to suspend my disbelief about some of the events occurring here. Sometimes it sounds like too much is going on all at once. On the other hand, I can feel the author is striving for honesty about the love story and the people involved in it. And if you're looking for a first love tale where the sex element is only part of the equation, and the characters involved do, indeed, have more compelling reasons to be together, you have come to the right place :).
Livvie doesn't have a clue about being a lesbian. To be more precise, she doesn't seem interested in having a love life of sorts - she simply acknowledges that she's pretty invisible to the boys at school, but doesn't make much of it. She's not your typical loner though, because she's been friends with Hannah and Mel for years. Livvie's first crisis arises when the two of them suddenly get boyfriends and drift apart from her, while, at home, her sister Jules relapses into cancer after ten years. From here, all hell breaks loose. The girls' mother dotes on Julia, but is pretty uncaring when it comes to Livvie. And when Jules' doctor finds out that Livvie can't even donate her marrow this time, because of a tattoo that might have given her hepatitis, her mother crosses the line from indifferent to maddened. It doesn't matter to her that Jules is refusing treatments this time, aware that she won't make it anyway (while the mother herself refuses to admit it). In the meantime, Hannah and Mel obliviously try to drag Livvie into the dating game, pairing her with the worst specimens of the male gender. And in the middle of all this, Livvie finds herself drawn to Bianca, the school freak, who seems to be the only one who genuinely cares for her.
Now, I have some issues with this part. All the characters who play a part in Livvie's life at this point (except for Jules) seem to suddenly follow a rigid pattern in a way. Her mother hates (or, at best, resents) her; her friends are so totally engrossed in their love lives, they can't even see what's in front of them anymore. Bianca is always there when Livvie needs help (and she always seems to need it in a big way), like a deus ex machina. No wonder the poor girl ends up clinging to her. Undoubtedly, there's more than that to their relationship. Livvie and Bianca share a passion for art (and I really like what Larkindale did here), and Bianca is protective of Livvie, which is sweet; also, the attraction between the two of them is believably depicted. I only wish that Livvie had met at least a decent guy in the dates her friends set up for her, and that she weren't so helpless and dependent from Bianca. That would have added depth and (more) believability to their romance, making us feel like Livvie had chosen to be with Bianca, as opposed to falling in her lap, so to speak. One thing I did appreciate a lot, though - Livvie doesn't immediately identifies with a lesbian just because she's in love with a girl. She's aware that it may be this particular girl she wants to be with. Since she hasn't questioned her own sexuality for fifteen years, this sounds like reasonable and mature thinking. [...]

Of course, the lesbian romance stirs a riot at school. And Livvie's friends are first shocked, then even involved - if marginally - in the bullying...just to change course again in the end (and frankly, I find it difficult to believe their bipolar behavior. Yes, they're teenagers, but still). In the middle of all this, Jules is totally supportive of Livvie, even while enduring her own trial. On the other hand, Livvie goes from grief-stricken to too engrossed in her own life at times, seeing Jules as a help dispenser of sort. But even Jules (a truly lovable character) ends up putting her sister in an impossible position...
Livvie does grow up during the course of the novel, though. Partly because Bianca is able to instill confidence in her; partly because she understands that she needs to stand up for herself. Of course, she still can use some allies on the way, and ultimately finds some unexpected ones. Her newfound strength shines during the school dance episode.
I have to say I have a couple of issues with the ending. There's a huge episode that I can't believe no one investigates further, and the extent to which Livvie's relationship with her mother got strained is a bit...extreme. Just my two cents :).
A last note regarding Livvie's synesthesia. I did enjoy Larkindale's descriptions of her seeing colours and tasting sounds. It seems that Livvie has two variants of the syndrome: one where sounds turn into colours, and one where colours suggest tastes. I am in no position to say if those symptoms (or their depictions) are accurate, but they were interesting and beautiful to read.
I think everyone looking for a sweet lesbian romance will love this one. Very likely, my issues with the story won't mean that much to them.
Note: the cover seem to imply that the romance is interracial, but it's not. It's just that a single drawing was used in order to portray both girls, so a strong difference in colours was probably the best way to make them look like two distinct individuals.

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  1. Wow, it does sound like there is a lot going on in this short book! I'm not sure if I'll seek this one out, but I'm definitely going to pick it up if I see at the library!

    1. Well, actually, it's an ebook...I got a PDF copy for review. You might try and request it from the author though, if she's still handing out review copies.

  2. Ahh, first I have to say I always reply back to comments on my page (you comments on my LGBT Allies post) but I must've missed it so sorry I'm commenting back so late. Whoa though, all of that packed into such a short book? Damn. I honestly just don't get how people can bully someone for being in love, no matter what gender they are, it's just really sad that it happens, you know? My best friend is gay, she fancied one of our teachers and once the people in our class found out, I wouldn't say they outright bullied her or anything, just more remarks and looks, but she moved schools then, and the rest of my high school life sucked. :( This sounds like one of the important books though, so I'll have to check it out. :)

    1. It's OK - sometimes one gets overwhelmed. It was nice of you to visit at all, after all these days - really appreciated!
      Yes, I know -it's sad...and unbelievable. But then again, if you're not gay, you're weird...poor...black...unstylish...there's always a reason for hating someone else :(.


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