April 06, 2018

Erin Callahan: "The Art of Escaping" (ARC Review)

Title: The Art of Escaping [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Erin Callahan [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2018
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Packed with secrets, danger, fun, friendship, unusual sidekicks and witty remarks. A heart-warming journey toward a place where one belongs.
Cons: Will's stream of consciousness sounds a bit too sophisticated/deliberate for his age.
WARNING! There's talk of sex (a first time), but nothing graphic. High-stakes danger. Mild swearing.
Will appeal to: Everyone who loves a deep, funny, clever contemporary about friendship and finding one's calling.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Mattie is hiding her obsession with Harry Houdini and Dorothy Dietrich from everyone, including her best friend Stella. When Stella takes off to boarding school for the summer, all of Mattie’s anxieties bubble to the surface, leaving her feeling adrift. To distract herself, she seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist whose life and career were snuffed out by a tragic plane crash. With Miyu’s help, Mattie secretly transforms herself into a burgeoning escapologist and performance artist. When Will, a popular varsity athlete from her high school, discovers her act at an underground venue, she fears that her double life is about to be exposed. But instead of outing her, Will tells Mattie something he’s never told anyone before and the two of them find out that not all secrets can remain secret forever. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have known Erin Callahan for 4 years now, and as guarded as I am about striking friendships with authors, our relationship has deepened through all this time and via a series of online contacts/collaborations (if I dare call them so) that I detailed in this post. The very book I'm about to review, I got from the hands of Erin herself (the story is recounted here). And yes, that's me in the acknowledgment section πŸ˜‰. I swear, though, that I'm going to be as honest about this book as I usual strive to be in my reviews. I wouldn't be of any service neither to the author nor to you would-be readers (?) if I didn't. Here goes...

TAKING CHANCES

You know that feeling when you love something so much, it might end up forcing your hand at becoming visible even if you're scared to death by it? And you have to choose between following your passion - no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, or how risky it is - and never coming out of your cave? Well, that's Mattie. And at some point of our life, probably all of us. And that other feeling when you don't fit the mold and you don't want to pretend [anymore] that you do, and you need to live your life in the open, but again, you're scared to death by it? And you have to choose between coming clean - no matter how hard it is - and never being true to yourself? Well, that's Will. And again, at some point of our life, probably all of us. There are two main stories and a unifying theme in TAOE - the need to get up and claim a place for yourself, and the recognition of how terrifying (but exhilarating) it is. This isn't true for the main characters only, but also for the ones who rotate around them, though to different degrees. And appropriately, it's not like everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow in the end. Change doesn't happen overnight. Victories are not forever. As Will says, "If I come out in high school, I still have to come out in college, and then at work. It’s like I’m facing an endless line of people assuming I’m something I’m not." [...]

THE (HE)ART OF ESCAPING

TAOE has got the heart and the wits. Most of the banter is funny and sharp, but there's a lot of warmth under the faΓ§ade.  Kudos to Callahan for avoiding the usual high school cliches - or for giving them an unusual depth and/or a redeeming quality. Also kudos for exposing the truth about teen sex - it's not always great or horrible, but more often than not, probably, something in the middle. And girls ought not to be shamed for having sex (or even for not having it, for that matter). Also, fundamentally good people can make mistakes for a number of reasons, and remain fundamentally good people. There are only a couple or three things that hold me back from giving this book 5 whole stars - things that I can't buy completely: the fact that so many adults are willing to be Mattie's partners in danger (though she saves her riskiest stunt for when she's turned 18) and that, in this day and age, she can operate under the media's radar for so long; and Will's stream of consciousness (at least in a few occasions - mainly his first appearance). He sounds so much older than his age, sophisticated, and a bit too retro. To be honest, not only Will, but also Mattie and even their closest friends, share an interest in old, uncool stuff (like jazz or antique swords), but only Will sounds too good to be true sometimes. I like him so much better when he struggles with coming out or befriends Mattie (and later, other characters I won't name because TOO MUCH INFORMATION πŸ˜‰).

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

This is a story that has the power to appeal both to teens who struggle with finding their place in the world, and to all the people who were teens once and still remember how it felt not to fit in, or not to be able to find a safe haven (metaphorically speaking...just think of Mattie's hobby πŸ˜„) where they could let loose. In a world where we're constantly told we need to be seen in order to be real, where talent shows have distorted our perception of inner calling, we all need stories like this, where being seen is just a necessary consequence, not the aim all along. Also, stories in which your passion for something is the first step to go out there and own a place in the real world. Stories in which you can be weird and unique and still make friends and share each other's love for whatever you love. In a way, TAOE is the literary Fame for the new generation - minus the singing and dancing and with a heavy dose of lock-picking and straitjackets πŸ˜‰.

For Erin's post about this book's backstory (a fun one, I promise) click here.
For more Contemporary books click here.

16 comments:

  1. Oooh we may have a book that we BOTH like! lol

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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  2. Wow, this novel sounds spectacular! I absolutely adore when a character has something in their life - a future career goal, a hobby, ANYTHING tbh - that they are so passionate about. Unfortunately, there really aren't that many examples of this in books - not just in YA but any book tbh - which BREAKS MY HEART. As someone who loves movies, music, books and blogging - and, basically, everyone I know has something they're super-into - it's hard for me to imagine a character not really being passionate about something. I love that these characters have some more unusual interests, and will def pick this up when it gets published. Can't wait! Fantastic review!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

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    1. Now that you make me think about it, characters are usually too busy saving the world for them to be passionate about anything else πŸ˜„.

      I hope you'll like this one (I KNOW you will). And thank you!

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  3. I like a lot of what you said! Girls should be allowed to have sex and it not be a big deal. It also doesn't have to be mind-blowing, or so bad it makes you cry. Sex can just be...sex.

    I also like what you said about good people making mistakes and still being good people. No one is perfect, we all mess up, and it's how we deal with our mistakes that matter.

    So glad you liked this one! Congratulations on making it into the acknowledgements. I hadn't heard of this book, so thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. Thank you! Sometimes we need books to remind us of that.

      This is a debut novel by a small pub, so it's normal that you haven't heard of it before...but the first reviews on GR (legit ones, by people who read the ARC - not the usual endless string of friends-of-the-author πŸ˜‰) are mostly flattering. I hope you'll not only trust mine, but those too!

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    2. I do trust you! I'll definitely check this one out.

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    3. *performs happy dance*

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  4. I love seeing MCs who have an interest that is a little different from the norm, and I have not seen an escapist in any YA I have read (yet). Great review!

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    1. Thank you! This is one of those hidden gems, but I have high hopes that it won't remain hidden for long - though it's from a small pub and not out yet, the reactions on NG-GR have been very positive so far.

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  5. Thank you so much for this amazing review Roberta!!! This line -- "In a world where we're constantly told we need to be seen in order to be real, where talent shows have distorted our perception of inner calling, we all need stories like this, where being seen is just a necessary consequence, not the aim all along." Oh my goodness. Not only am I flattered that you get me and my writing on such a deep level, this is such a perfectly worded statement. Are you sure you don't want to write a novel? Maybe a short story? You know you'd have at least one beta reader lined up. :) Well, even if you never decide to start penning fiction, your reviews are ART.

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    1. Haha, no, I'm not taking the writing route - especially in a second language - but thank you for your offer. Writing takes a discipline that I can't muster, plus the time that I can't spare, plus all the experiences I've never had, though my age might tell another story. I'm contented with helping (if and when it happens) to get the word out about novels that are worth it, and if this is art on some level, I'm flattered, but still my humble self πŸ™‚. After all, this is not about me, but about the books. Thank you though! It feels rewarding, since I do put a lot of work into my reviews.

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  6. Oh, I was looking forward to this review! This one sounds amazing- and YES, we need more books that talk about teen sex in realistic ways. I love that this one seems to have steered clear away from the usual high school cliches. They got tiring fast so I love it that authors seem more and more aware of them now!

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    1. I rarely read straight-up contemporary, but when I do, they're bound to be amazing πŸ˜‚. I know Vera wants to read this one, and I hope you'll go next! I'm sure it won't disappoint you.

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  7. This sounds like a wonderful, inspiring story, and I am all for kids that can be and think outside the norms and the molds. Also happy to see a small author succeed.

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    1. Yep, it seems she got off on the right foot, and it's so well-deserved!

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