Book in Review: Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas12:09 AM
Author: Liz Czukas
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publishing Date: March 11, 2014
Rating: 1.5/5 stars
Ask Again Later is about a girl named Heart LaCoeur who has vowed to never date, as she does not want to turn out like her mother (who got pregnant at 18 and left her kids). Prom is coming up and Heart has already made plans with her No Prom-A Drama friends when two boys, Ryan, the theater geek and Troy, the jock who is her brother's best friend, ask her out to prom. Now Heart is torn between the two, and to solve her dilemma, flips a coin. Then the novel unfolds showing both scenarios, told in alternating chapters.
Ask Again Later is a choose your own story type of book, a writing style which is not so original or clever but when executed well can turn out to be a fun and interesting read.
Sadly, Ask Again Later is not that kind.
Remember when I posted the other day that Ask Again Later is one of my 2014 debut favorites?
I take it back! I must have been half asleep when I wrote that because I really didn't like this book.
I have since finished Ask Again Later and I don't feel good. Not at all. In fact this book will leave you offended and violated for all the worst reasons possible. And it can't go any further than that.
The name Heart LaCoeur basically means Heart heart, as LaCoeur is French for heart. It is obviously a very ridiculous name which even the main character herself complains about all throughout the book. This wouldn't be as problematic if the author had chosen the name simply at random; that would've been more forgivable. However, the name choice was obviously a conscious decision made by the author for no reason other than to establish Heart as one of those 'other girls'. Once again, the protagonist falls into the category of those girls who are considered unpopular, geeky, but apparently better than the rest of the social ecosystem - especially the popular kids consisting of the cheerleaders and jocks who seem to only care about their clothes and nail polish and drink and party for fun which are activities that are just SO SHALLOW for 'other girls' like Heart - just because they are 'different'. The name is also a plot device to create 'fluff' - an archetype/genre of overly cutesy gratuitous nonsense scenes that will make you automatically ship (or in my case, hold in puke) the couple involved in said scene. Chase, one of Heart's friends who's part of the No Prom-a Drama club thing, is the main love interest in this book (and this isn't even a spoiler because if this wasn't obvious to you at first then I don't know what's wrong with you) who calls Heart by other organ names like Pancreas, Lungs etc., in an attempt to be flirty and witty and cute and all - but sadly this isn't even funny, it's just cringe worthy. There is much to be said about the characters' names in this book, as Heart also opts to call Chase by the name Schroeder which doesn't even make sense to be honest. The banter between these two people involving their names is very annoying and cheesy and also shows how obvious that they like each other that there shouldn't have been any problem in the first place.
The name isn't the only thing problematic about this book. The characters are even worse. Heart is an okay protagonist but there is absolutely nothing special about her. Her voice is not as distinct and she feels more like a mesh of different YA girl main characters taken from all sorts of books, with nothing that sets her apart from any of those people. She's got nothing on Mia from Princess Diaries or even Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars (both books that belong to the same genre). She doesn't even sound like a real person. Yet, Heart is the least of the problems regarding the characters of this book. Ryan is surprisingly gay (omg i am SO surprised) but is not a stereotype yet his presence in the book and his being gay was entirely superfluous except serving as some kind of PSA to the readers that you shouldn't assume that all gay people fit into stereotypes. There is so much mention of that between Ryan and Heart that it has become too preachy and condescending. Stereotypes exist for a reason and there is nothing wrong about being a stereotype until you become a caricature of that. In this case, Ryan becomes a caricature of a gay man who does not fit into a stereotype.
Troy spends the whole book pining for his ex-girlfriend Amy, in which it becomes obvious that he only asked out Heart to make his ex jealous. In the course of the book, he has only been sober for about 3 pages and spends the rest drunk and doing assholey things. Heart's brother Phil's friends are portrayed to be jocks and cheerleaders who discuss what Heart dismisses as the most trivial things - things that she is not used to talking about. They do not appear to be very smart, and you will start to question why they were dumbed down this much. Tara, Phil's girlfriend, exists as one of those "not like those other cheerleaders" kind of girls as she shows kindness to Heart, and is interested about other things other than nailpolish. Yet she drops the R-word and there does not seem to be any reason for such word to be uttered, unless the author wanted her to be relatable to other teenagers? Even so, it is still relatable even if she does not use such word, so in any case, that should've been just omitted. Tara stays with Phil even though it is plenty obvious that they have a very unhealthy relationship with one another, given the fact that Tara herself admits that Phil is an asshole most of the time - but she loves him and stays because he has a soft side and dreams of becoming a teacher? Really? A woman never exists to take care of her boyfriend, and there doesn't seem to be any redeeming qualities about Phil (but more on that later). Heart's friends are caricatures - caricatures of people who exist to be hipsters, losers, geeks, but there is nothing substantial about them and I don't see what is so great about them.
Now on to the most problematic thing I've ever read, EVER, because this just left me offended and disgusted.
The perpetuation of rape culture.
Two characters are involved in this act, and sadly they are supposed to be the good guys.
Phil, Heart's brother, is the most assholey person I've ever encountered in YA, and there is nothing about him that shows any sign of being a brother to Heart. Phil is described as Heart as her stupid brother who annoys her, but is also the sweet guy who plays Jeopardy with her. Sounds like the typical big brother. Yet, the fact that Phil forces Heart to go out with his best friend knowing he is unstable from his break up shows how bad a big brother Phil is. Big brothers are supposed to be protective, caring, sometimes annoying, but still ultimately good, at least to their little sisters. But there is one scene where Phil's douchebagness becomes clearest of all. In one scene, a drunken Troy forcibly kisses Heart, to which her first reaction would be to go and tell her brother:
Heart: Phil, I can't do this anymore. Troy just kissed me. I want to go home.
Phil: He did? (laughs) That's awesome!
Heart: It was not awesome! In what world is that awesome?
Phil: In the world where it means he's getting over Amy.
What kind of brother cares more about his best friend's moving on process rather than oh, his little sister being sexually assaulted by said best friend?
Phil: You are completely overreacting. It was just a kiss.
Heart: But I didn't want him to do it.
Phil: Don't be such a baby.
Heart: I'm not being a baby! I'm saying I want to go home.
Phil: Stop freaking out. You're going to ruin prom.
Phil: Heart. It was a kiss. Deal.
Heart: Don't you even care what I want? I'm your sister.
Phil: Yeah, and Troy's my friend. He wouldn't hurt anyone. He probably thought you wanted it.
he probably thought you wanted it !!!!!
When has it ever been acceptable to kiss someone because "you thought the person wanted it"? Heart clearly did not want Troy to kiss her; she has expressed it plenty of times! This is sexual assault, and how Phil reacts is just so unreal. I expected there to be a fight, some punching, a black eye here or there, or even a few broken bones. That would've been way better than this.
There are plenty of other instances where we witness how much of an asshole Phil is, but all his offenses are quickly erased, after what? When Tara drags Phil to say sorry to Heart for being such an asshole, suddenly it is all okay. Tara excuses Phil's assholeness as him being drunk, and they bond over their love for Phil because apparently there is a good side to him and he wants to be a teacher. A god forsaken teacher. Because having an ambition and being good at trivia automatically makes you a good person. Wow. There is nothing wrong with having an offensive character, but there is something wrong with making that character so unnaturally mean and unrealistic, and for that character be given the Get Out of Jail free card by simply existing.
Lastly, we must discuss Schroeder and how he adds up to this problem (more on this below). He is one of Heart's really close guy friends and it is apparent that he likes her from page 1. He calls her by weird organ nicknames and likes teasing her, sure indications of his infatuation. Theoretically he is supposed to be the good guy who cares a lot about Heart and has her best interests. But actually, Schroeder is a Nice Guy. (See our discussion post about this here)
We only see him as a jealous prick all throughout the book who wallows in the corner cursing Ryan and Troy and even Heart because she 'abandoned him'. He is conflicting, jumping from being so charming and nice to Heart (when he dances with her) then all suddenly mad and cold to her by ignoring her (when he refuses to take any pictures with her). He gets mad when Heart gives Ryan a friendly kiss, mad when Heart goes to the party at what's-his-name's house who apparently bullied him in middle school and just generally mad because Heart ditched him - all of which are NONE of his business. Though it is obvious to everyone that Schroeder likes Heart, he never actually tells her, at least not until Heart confronts him about it. He is obviously a Nice Guy, the type of guy who calls girls heartless just because they don't show interest in them - in this case he doesn't even get rejected because he never even tells her he likes her and just assumes that she knows, and therefore Heart should not go out with anyone else instead of him because that would hurt his feelings and would make her a psycho bitch. yayyy!
When Heart convinces Schroeder that there is nothing between her and Ryan this is what he says:
Schroeder: You just better hope you're right, cause if you're not...Way to call a girl heartless. When a guy likes a girl and the girl doesn't like him back, then the girl is automatically heartless. Wow. As if girls are not entitled to their own feelings. It's like you owe it to them to like them and there's automatically something evil and wrong with you if you don't because they are just. So. Nice!11 omg
Heart: Then what?
Schroeder: I guess that would make you kind of heartless, wouldn't it?
What makes Schroeder/Chase irredeemable as not just a love interest but as a character however, is not his Nice Guy-ness but because he is also in fact like Phil, someone who encourages rape culture. Let's go back to the scene after Heart gets kissed by Troy.
When she talks to her brother and ends up not being comforted at all, this is the way Schroeder cheers her up:
Schroeder: Do you know what it takes for a guy to actually try to kiss a girl?Heart: Believe me, that was totally effortless on his part. No thought involved.Schroeder: You don’t know that.Heart: I was there.Schroeder: I’m just saying, it’s not that easy. You’re really putting yourself out there as the guy.Heart: Do you go around kissing a lot of girls you’re not sure want to be kissed? I think that’s called first-degree sexual assault.Schroeder: Believe me, it’s hard to tell with some girls.This moment just made my jaw drop, not even in a good way. When the girl you like comes to you after being sexually assaulted by a pig, what must you do? To Schroeder, the right thing apparently is to defend the sexual assaulter's actions in order to indirectly defend himself and communicate his own feelings to Heart, thereby trying to guilt trip her and appearing as a selfish and exploiting asshole.
At this point, it made the most sense for Heart to be rid of all these boys who did nothing but make her night miserable, but since this book promises to be full of romance and 'fluff', there is no plausible way to end this book than have Heart finally get together with the 'right' man.
Again, there is nothing wrong with having problematic characters. But there is something wrong with glorifying and rewarding these characters.
In the end, we are unsure which of the two scenarios actually happened, but it does not bother me, as things mostly end up the same no matter what. Prom is over, everyone's happy, people who are supposed to be together finally get together, and lalalala things are A-okay!
Ask Again Later was one of my most anticipated YA books of 2014, but sadly the only thing that seems to be great about it is its marketing. The writing is flimsy and lacks coherence, the style is meh, the story itself is predictable. Overall, it was a light and 'cute' read, but was jampacked with offensive and disgusting characters and situations, that at the very most I can only describe the book as 'tolerable'.
If you'd like to read our Soupy Sundays discussion on Nice Guys, go here. We'll probably write a discussion post on rape culture soon.
Whew! If you've actually taken the time to read that LONG review, then wow. I'd love to know your thoughts. Let's discuss below! :)