I try to be upbeat and positive on this blog, because I think there’s already enough negativity out there. On the other hand, sometimes I come across a book so infuriatingly disappointing, I just have to scream about it to the world. Or to my blog, anyway.
Bear in mind these are not bad books. I don’t finish bad books, so they never have the chance to disappoint me. These are books that seemed great when they started, but gradually (or swiftly) failed to live up to the hype. Insert generic ‘this is all personal opinion,’ etc, etc, ‘please do not skin me,’ and so on and so forth.
Spoilers ahead. Beware!
1: 1984 by George Orwell
I know, you’re all shocked. (The sarcasm is strong in this post.)
After finishing The Hunger Games, I craved more dystopia. After rattling through a few YA titles, I grabbed 1984, the big daddy of dystopia … and hated it.
The protagonist was loathsome, the story unbearably depressing, and the plot entirely, 100% predictable from just a couple of chapters in. Winston attempts to overthrow the government, discovers the rebellion is a trap, is kidnapped, tortured, and becomes a husk of a man. The entire story is really just window dressing for a thumping great political message, delivered with the subtlety of a brick through the window. I’ll stop, because I’ve ranted about it before.
Even more infuriating, 1984 has the gall to be a really, seriously important book. For all that the story is miserable, the book teaches a political message about totalitarianism and media bias that’s really worth learning. You have to finish it. Or at least watch the film made in the 1980’s which, while equally miserable, is at least over in an hour and half.
2: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
Gasp, a book I’ve never talked about before! Shock!
I read The White Darkness for my secondary school book club. It’s about a girl named Sym, who’s haunted by the ghost of Captain Titus Oates, hero of the Antarctic. When Sym’s adopted uncle believes he’s discovered an ancient civilisation buried beneath the ice, he takes Sym (and, of course, Titus) on an adventure to find it.
It sounds absolutely perfect. My problem with it? It’s not fantasy at all. By the end of the book, you learn Sym’s uncle is a total whacko, the civilisation isn’t real, and Titus is simply Sym’s imaginary friend. In fact, the end of the book implies that, by letting go of her fantasies, Sym has finally learned to grow up.
After expecting a fantasy story, I felt betrayed and patronised. This book inspired one of my personal pet peeves: ‘cop-out fantasy’. That is, books that advertise themselves as fantastical to draw readers in, but turn out to be realism (an unnervingly common ploy in teen fiction, at least it was in the early 2000s).
3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
One of the many books I read for my Gothic Literature class at uni, I wanted nothing more than to throw Wuthering Heights out the window. (I didn’t, because it was my mum’s fancy vintage copy, and because I lived by a main road, and didn’t want to cause a ten-car-pile-up in the middle of Winchester.)
Wuthering Heights: a story that begins with a ghostly child clawing at the window, calling, ‘Let me in, let me in!’ … and turns out to be an awful romance story about terrible people. Was the ghost real? Was it a dream? Who cares, have 300 pages of angst and death! I gather it was written to expose how awful and unhealthy many classic romantic stories are, but that doesn’t change the fact it could’ve been an epic ghost story.
I hated just about every character, and the plot moved at an agonising crawl. Considering how well I got on with the rest of our Gothic Literature texts, this one surprised me because I only very barely managed to finish the damn thing.
4: Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Of all the books I’m whinging about today, this one gets the gold star for Least Terrible. In fact, it barely made it onto the list, and I feel a bit mean including it. But alas, I am a heartless monster, and must complain a little.
Stolen is the story of Gemma, a sixteen-year-old girl and kidnap victim. Ty, a young man obsessed with her for years, steals Gemma away to the Australian Outback, where she can never escape. The first few chapters of this book are heart-stoppingly tense, some of the dialogue sending shivers down my spine, and implications that Gemma would eventually develop Stockholm Syndrome kept me reading all day.
The trouble is, the the plot wavers after the first chapter, and Ty changes rapidly from terrifying creep to poor, sad woobie. Gemma only seems to develop feeling for him in the very last pages, after she’s already escaped. What could’ve been an intense and haunting psychological thriller falls flat, seemingly too cowardly to make real the threats of Chapter One.
5: The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind
I loved The Sword of Truth series at first. Richard and Kahlan were great characters you could look up to, if a little unrealistic at times, the fantastical world was something I longed to step into, and the villains were so violently, gruesomely evil, that seeing justice dealt was satisfying as watching Joffrey Baratheon choke on that pie.
But, as the books went on, I realised they were a bit … samey. A new villain, Emporer Jagang, arose … and just sort of stuck around. Coming up on the seventh book in the series — The Pillars of Creation — I was already tired of the main characters being repeatedly kidnapped, of Richard’s evil relatives popping up (despite the fact he was meant to be the only surviving son of Lord Rahl), and Jagang still not being dead yet. Regardless, with every book, I hoped the series would get better again.
Aaaand then I read The Pillars of Creation, and my hope died. I have no idea who that book was written for. No newbie to the series would start at book seven, but no veteran could possibly stand the level of dramatic irony through this book. We follow the hopelessly clueless Jennsen, who spends the entire book thinking Richard is a villain. Even around the time she sleeps with fantasy Satan himself, she’s like ‘Yeah, this is definitely the good guy’.
After crawling through 300+ pages of her idiocy, Jennsen finally meets Richard at the end of the book, and within the space of a single page, is utterly converted. Facepalm? Facepalm.
6: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
I saved the worst (at least by my reckoning) for last. I often tout this book to my friends as The Worst Book I Ever Finished. Worse than 1984, although similar to it, in many ways.
Only Ever Yours is a dystopian novel in which women are forced to choose between three careers: to be castrated, and work as a teacher; to be a prostitute; or to become wives — breeding stock — for powerful men. Our protagonist, Frieda, is determined to become the latter. But, as graduation approaches, the girls in her class tear each other apart. And the best of them, Frieda’s friend Isabel, begins to rebel …
… unfortunately, her rebellion goes nowhere. Supposedly a work of feminism, this book had me loathing women, as every single female character was portrayed as petty, vapid, back-stabbing, and downright nasty. Hilariously, the only character I liked was a boy.
The story in unrelentingly grim, giving the barest sparks of hope that force you to keep reading. But those sparks are a lie. A lie, I tells you! The feminist message is ham-handed and backward, the characters are loathsome, and the plot manages to simultaneously tempt you with wonderful things that could happen, without ever actually allowing them to happen.
This is, in summary, a YA version of 1984 … but without that whole important political message. Y’know, 1984‘s only redeeming factor.
Phew. That got heated. I’m going to have a glass of water and a little lie down to save my blood pressure, and later, I’ll talk about the books I expected to hate, that surprised me with their greatness.
In the meantime, tell me what books have disappointed you! Or, if you love one of these books I’ve shredded, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong and also a horrible person.