Reviewer’s note: This book was so bad I had an easier time writing “The Good” than “The Bad.” Why? ‘Cause I had no idea where to start. There was so much, and I kept thinking, that’s it, I’m finally done and I’d remember some other flaw.
This would’ve ended up in A Disappointment of DNFs, but by the time I realized it was never getting good, I was in so deep I just had to read to the end so I could give it the drag it deserves.
Please note that this review contains spoilers and one dirty word.
★☆☆☆☆ (I didn’t like it.)
“Diversity isn’t a substitute for story and style.”
I’ve heard this around, but I was like, “nobody’s saying that!”
Well… Sorry, but somebody at Harmony Ink Press is saying that. I picked up this book because I kept seeing it rec’d for asexuality! lesbians! asexual lesbians! an interracial lesbian asexual romance!
As an asexual lesbian, I was pretty excited about this because I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about an asexual lesbian that I didn’t write.
(Edit: I take it back. I didn’t realize that Afterworlds is, apparently, ace spec f/f.)
…and then! it got that gorgeous cover, and the blurb on the back (well, on Goodreads) mentioned some of my all time favorite tropes: shared dreamscapes and imaginary or fantastical people coming into the real world, like a reverse portal fantasy. (Some day, we’ll sit down and I’ll tell you how much I love multiverse stories.)
So I was pretty excited about this book. Not, like, “it can never live up to how good I imagine it” excited (like how I feel about book to film adaptations), but, you know, a little hype. #hereforthis, and all that.
Then I, you know, actually started reading.
Let’s start on a technical level: this book needed to be edited at least three more times. It felt like an early draft, and there were some weird usage errors that felt like the author was trying to show off… and failing. Like the time when she wrote “There had to be a catch-22” when she meant “there had to be a catch.”
I also screencapped “crocheted quilt,” but I let it slide, because there is such a thing but I’m pretty sure the author was talking about a granny square afghan. (As a quilter and crocheter, this annoyed the snot out of me.)
Unfortunately, the story structure suffered from the same lack of care and craft.
Ashlinn exits the dreamworld, apparently for the first time, to rescue Victoria from a possible suicide attempt. (She takes pills so she can sleep and visit Ashlinn in the dreamworld.) There were so many things wrong with this scene: (In no particular order.)
- If you’re getting rid of pills someone is using to self-harm or possibly die by suicide, do not just throw them in the trash. Flush them.
- Victoria is never encouraged to seek therapy. She took the sleeping pills so she could see Ashlinn, so it’s cool? She was willing to risk death in order to see her girlfriend. We called that out when Bella was cliff diving (or whatever? sorry, I never actually read past Twilight) and I’m calling it out here.
- Why has Ashlinn chosen Victoria? It’s clear from her reactions to the real/waking world that she has never been here. If she’s an immortal, ageless creature, why now? Why Victoria?
- How does she travel between worlds? Like I said earlier, I love portal fantasies, but there has to be a mechanism, a doorway – and a good portal fantasy has a price to pay for going back and forth. Ashlinn has this power, which she has apparently never used before, but it is never explained.
That’s just one scene. The problem of Ashlinn’s ability to travel between the dream- and waking- worlds is never addressed, except when they suddenly – very suddenly – realize, oops!, without Ashlinn to make good dreams, everyone is just having nightmares! We can infer from that that Ashlinn has never done this before, but why not? What’s so special about Victoria? Is she the first other asexual lesbian to ever exist?
Speaking of asexuality… I wanted a story, not a textbook. Is this story for aces? ‘Cause it didn’t feel like it. It felt like Asexuality 101, complete with the antagonist, Semira, and the supposed best friend, whose name I have forgotten, making anti-ace comments just so Ashlinn or Victoria could correct them.
What was even up with the bestie, anyway? She was supposed to be this SJW-type, but she had never heard of asexuality and kept making very early ‘00s anti-ace comments, like comparing asexuality to plants and saying “well, you don’t know until you’ve tried.” If she’s so woke, wouldn’t she know?
… seriously, tho, as an ace person? I don’t really love reading books filled with microaggressions.
Something else about me: I’ve been half an orphan for half my life. My dad died when I was just a little younger than Victoria is when her dad’s in the car crash with her brother, Rhys. (Was it Rhys? I can’t remember. That’s how little I cared.) Victoria’s father died on impact, but her brother survived. He’s in a coma, and he’s never getting better. When she first meets Ashlinn, Ashlinn’s heard about her – from Rhys. (I’m just gonna keep calling him that.) Since he’s in a coma, he’s trapped in dreamland, so Ashlinn visits him a lot.
At the end, Ashlinn’s conundrum – stay in the human world with her girlfriend, or go back and keep up her duty as the giver of good dreams – is resolved when Rhys chooses to die and become the new “sandman,” bringer of good dreams. So he’ll be dead, but he can still visit Victoria in dreams!
Wow? Okay, honestly? It’s four-letter word time: Fuck you.
I used to dream about my dad coming back from the dead, but you know what? That can never happen, because he’s dead. This was a sappy, cheap, sentimental ending. It was an insult to readers, like me, who have lost family members.
Oh, oh, and: We’re left with Ashlinn in the real world and we never even get to delve into the fun stuff of crafting an identity and a future for her as a human. She has no Social Security number, no high school diploma, nothing. How will she live in the waking world? What if she and Victoria break up someday? Like I said, “fantasy person in mundane world” is one of my favorite tropes and it was completely skipped over! That’s more of a “my personal opinion” thing than a legitimate criticism.
Honestly, this book was so poorly edited that I’m put off Harmony Ink Press. I admire their mission, but I can’t help but feel that underdeveloped, shoddily written, poorly edited stories like this just reinforce the idea that diversity isn’t quality. Oops?
Judging a Book by Its Cover
The cover is the best thing about this book. It is beautiful.
… but, as a selling point, it doesn’t tell me anything about the story.
I recommended this to a friend who loves ballet, like “asexual lesbian ballet dancer romance!!!” and then the sorta suicide happened and I was like “just so you know… I’m not withdrawing my recommendation, just giving you a heads-up” and then I finished it and I was like “nvm, I am withdrawing my rec.” He asked me why, like, did something happen?
“No. It was just bad.”
If you want a nice YA lesbian romance, try Not Your Sidekick instead.