Everything Leads to You

Everything Leads to You main

Everything Leads to You
Nina LaCour3 Stars

Spoiler Rating: High

Finest Katie,

I read Nina LaCour’s Hold Still shortly after my friend Jeff died, and the book utterly wrecked me. So of course when I learned that LaCour had written a YA lesbian romance, I . . . well, okay. I let it sit in my TBR list for two years.

But now I’ve read it, and returned to tell you that you’d probably enjoy it more than I did.

W-Synopsis

The plot, in brief: our narrator Emi (a talented young production designer in Hollywood) and her best friend Charlotte discover that recently-deceased movie icon Clyde Jones has a secret (orphan) granddaughter named Ava, whom he’s left an unknown (but presumably enormous) sum of money to. They hunt Ava down, reveal her grandfather’s identity, and point her to her awaiting bank account. They also point her to an audition for a new movie Emi and Charlotte are working on.

So Ava ends up learning about her (deceased) family, becomes filthy rich, and lands the lead role in what’s expected to be a fairly big movie. She also—of course—gets the girl: Emi.

W-Characters

Emi — an eighteen-year-old infected with Hollywood’s movie-sickness.

Ava — an eighteen-year-old with a troubled and mysterious past. She ran away from her cold, lesbian-hating adoptive mother, Tracey, and is now trying to scrape together a new life for herself in Los Angeles.

Charlotte — Emi’s best friend and occasional co-worker. She’s eighteen, but approaches every situation with a sensible, seasoned, professional air that makes her seem twice her age.

Clyde Jones — iconic star of Hollywood’s old Western movies. Recently deceased. Publicly known to be a bachelor, but secretly the father of Ava’s (long deceased) mother, Caroline.

W-Praise

A Slow-Growing, Lesbian Romance!

Need I say more? No. No, I don’t.

Actually, I will say more. It’s possible that Emi and/or Ava could be bisexual. Neither girl puts a label on her sexuality, and although both clearly state they like girls, both also admit to (rarely, potentially?) being attracted to a guy. So I’m tagging this book as both lesbian and bisexual, just to cover my bases.

A Biracial Narrator/Protagonist!

Emi’s race is barely remarked on, but what we did see made me so happy. Like so:

The book also briefly highlights how Emi’s (upper-middle class) family’s experience of and approach to their race compares to a homeless young black man’s experience and approach. I thought the comparison was both interesting and valuable, and wish the book devoted more than a couple pages to it.

Neat Details About Production Design!

Emi’s job entails designing movie sets: choosing the right furniture, rugs, plants, dishes, etc., then making the set look real. I loved watching Emi work, and seeing why she chose [these dishes] or [this wallpaper color] or [this couch] over the thousands of other [dishes/wallpaper color/couches] available.

For example: here, she’s spent seven weeks searching for just the right couch for a scene in which a teen character has sex for the first time (with a scumbag, the teen later realizes). She’s finally found the couch:

Love it.

Lesson: Life’s Not A Movie!

When Emi begins uncovering the truth of Ava’s grandparentage, she goes all Prodigy Production Designer and tries to craft a movie-style Tragedy-Turned-Triumph story for Ava. One of the first steps in her plan: introduce Ava to the fancy-pants hotel Marmont (which is thick with celebrities and celebrity-watchers).

But life—even Ava’s fairy-tale-esque life—isn’t a movie that Emi can manipulate.

Life is life, and it’s experienced in excruciating slowness and clarity, with no helpful foreshadowing of what lies ahead. People are not characters in movies, and their lives are beyond Emi’s creative control.

Hurray for narrators who learn interesting and important life lessons!

W-Criticism

However.

I Was Bored

Okay, so this could be a problem with me rather than the book. I’m a fantasy reader, not a contemporary-romance reader.

My complaints, in brief:

  • the writing style was emotionally distant,
  • Emi’s self-absorption and entitlement pissed me off,
  • the first hundred pages, in which Emi and Charlotte search for and locate Ava, bored me almost to tears,
  • the story’s told from Emi’s point of view, so Ava’s (more interesting) story is only superficially shared with the reader,
  • the movie they’re working on is the type I’d never watch: a quiet, contemporary piece about a lonely teen and a lonely adult who learn things about themselves through each other,
  • we spend a lot of time watching them work on this movie, and good lord I don’t care.

What kept me reading, then? The fact that it was a lesbian YA romance. Had it been a straight couple, I probably would have set it aside.

(Actually, I wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place.)

Emi’s Character Development

The story’s told in the first person perspective, from Emi’s point of view. Overall, the writing style (i.e., Emi’s inner monologue) is calm, clean, and reserved, leading me to assume that Emi is a calm-clean-reserved sort of person.

That is, until Emi describes herself (and her older brother Toby) thusly:

The energy-level bit threw me off. Calm-clean-reserved Emi had shown almost no energy, much less off-the-charts energy.

So I started paying closer attention to Emi’s behavior and narration, to see if that energy ever came through.

Did it? No.

I’m sorry, Emi, but you can’t just say “I have more energy than other people can handle” and then not follow through. As it stands, it looks like either you don’t know your own personality, or your author (who writes you with such a calm-clean-reserved voice) doesn’t. It’s impossible for me to bond with a narrator whose personality I never get a solid grasp of.

Whose Story Is This?

This book might’ve benefited from being told from both Emi and Ava’s perspectives.

Emi’s the narrator and protagonist (she learns important lessons about herself and life, and those lesson change her), but for most of the book, she has neither a real conflict nor an interesting goal.

It’s Ava who’s living the rags-to-riches story, with all its requisite complex emotions, internal conflict, internal and external changes. But we see almost none of those changes, and it’s unclear how (or if) she changes as a person as a result of her experiences.

I mean, sure, we see her trash her adoptive mom’s house while searching for her birth certificate; she cries while watching the movies that her deceased grandfather and deceased mother acted in; she has a brief, emotional confrontation with her adoptive mother (that doesn’t really resolve anything). But that’s about it.

It is so incredibly frustrating to be shackled to a rather boring character doing rather mundane things, while another character is enduring amazing struggles and major internal changes largely off-screen.

“But Liam,” you argue, “this book’s about how real life isn’t a fairy tale or a movie. If Ava—with her fairy-tale-esque metamorphosis from troubled homeless teen to happy wealthy starlet—were the narrator, that’d undermine the book’s message.”

Okay, fine. Maybe this is a flaw in me as a reader, and not a flaw in the book. And yes, it is neat to pair a “Life isn’t a movie” message with an Average Jane Narrator who’s watching from the sidelines while a Fairy-Tale Heroine’s life get turned upside down in Fairy-Tale Ways.

But I, personally, would rather get in on some of Fairy-Tale Heroine’s action—or, at the very least, have a more interesting Average Jane Narrator with genuinely interesting conflicts and goals of her own.

W-InClosing

The world obviously needs more lesbian YA novels, and this certainly isn’t the worst lesbian book I’ve read to date. But it just wasn’t quite enough—emotional enough, intriguing enough, engaging enough, romantic enough, powerful enough—for me.

My search for a five-star lesbian YA novel continues.

Hugs,

 Liam


30 thoughts on “Everything Leads to You

      1. I’m glad you loved it! That’s awesome. 😀

        I just went through and looked again at the other books I’ve rated 2.5 stars, and I really should bump up the rating to 3.

        I’m also listening to your review as I write this; loving it so far! You’re pointing out a lot of the book’s best aspects, for sure. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I think the points that you’ve made in terms of praise/criticism are all valid – the lesson that life’s not a movie is a powerful one. We can’t edit, cut out parts, choose what to focus on etc. The list goes on, but the message is the same – and it’s wonderful that the narrator was able to learn it. But it might have worked better with an immersive writing style, and a dual narrative to not bore readers. Understandably, in this story Emi is not the ‘main character’ and her role as a character is to illuminate Ava’s life. It reminds me of Nick Carraway, in a way – his voice as a narrator acts as the eyes through which we see Gatsby’s story unfold. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was mentally comparing it (quite unfavorably) to The Great Gatsby as I was reading it, myself.

      Nick observed a lot more about Gatsby’s life and downward spiral than Emi sees of Ava’s life and upward spiral; ELtY seemed more focused on Emi’s movie job than Ava’s story. I wanted more Ava, less movie! Oh, well.

      Thank you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose that says a lot about us readers! Irrespective of the lack of events in her life, Emi is still a main character in this story, but we’re still much more interested in Ava’s fairy-tale-esque life.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review Liam! This sounds like an interesting book, like you I am more of a fantasy reader but I have been trying to pick up more contemporary books since I started blogging, and I completely agree there needs to be more lesbian YA books (I’ve only read one other. It was a fantasy but I was not a fan, I thought it was kind of boring and the main character was really flat which just put me off). Still I may have to add this one to my to-read list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😀

      You don’t know how relieved I am to hear I’m not the only person who has a hard time getting into contemporary novels. I was kind of feeling like a weirdo.

      I’d definitely recommend you give this book a read! And hey, even if you don’t like it more than I did, it’s still supportive of the lesbian YA movement, and it can certainly use the support. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s all right! 😀
        I’ve always preferred fantasy and I think trying to get started on a new genre is pretty hard, especially if your used to a specific one. It always takes me a little longer to actually get into the story when I read a contemporary book compared to a fantasy one.
        Oh definitely, and hopefully one day there’ll be more lesbian YA on the shelves 🙂 and more diverse books in general!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this is my first time reading one of your reviews/critiques. Excellent format! I love thorough and detailed reviews that justify the scores. I don’t always do that lol

    I can’t name many YA novels with a lesbian protagonist. 😡 There’s gotta be an amazing one out there! If you’re open to Adult Lit, I do have suggestions, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 🙂

      There are aggravatingly few lesbian or bi female protagonists out there, for sure, but it’s heartening to see that their number is increasing all the time.

      I don’t read too much adult lit (clings to YA), so I’d love to hear your suggestions! I really should try to branch out more, so recommendations would be awesome.

      Like

  4. I’ve only read one LGBTQ+ book. I KNOW. I don’t even know why. I generally just browse and pick up any book with a pretty cover (which this book definitely has)(please ignore my superficiality). So recommendations? Yes? I need to diversify my bookshelf.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaha, that’s not terribly surprising; there aren’t nearly as many out there as there should be, and they’re not as widely hyped as non-LGBTQ+ books. So I don’t blame you! And it’s impossible to pass up a pretty cover, isn’t it? 🙂

      Honestly, I can only think of one LGBTQ+ book that I’ve loved: Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat. But it should come with trigger warnings for slavery, abuse, and rape. Definitely not a lighthearted read.

      There are some LGBTQ+ books I’m super excited to read, though, including:

      Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

      The rest of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

      A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

      Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry

      Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

      The rest of my LGBTQIA+ reading list is here, if you’re curious. I just spent half an hour combing through my TBR and putting books onto that list—which means you’ve just reminded me of all the potentially great LGBTQ+ books I’ve not been reading. Maybe I should do a All LGBTQ+, All The Time reading marathon soon. I want to be able to wholeheartedly recommend more than just one book. So: thank you for the inspiration (and sorry I can’t be more help)! 🙂

      Like

  5. THIS. I completely agree with you 100%! This was a good book, but it just didn’t have that spark that transformed it from a good book to a great book, you know? Glad I’m not the only one who felt that way. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So when I read the summer anthology, Summer Days and Summer Nights, Nina LaCour’s short story was one of my least favorites. It also featured a F/F romance but the entire plot was very lackluster, unfortunately. So I probably will give this a skip. :/ However, I’m not writing LaCour off my list yet. I’m about to start You Know Me Well, which has LaCour and the great David Levithan as co-authors. It also should have some LGBTQ+ themes. I’m really looking forward to it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really disappointing–but I’ll be curious to hear what you think of You Know Me Well. Hopefully it lives up to your expectations!

      I’d also be interested to see what you think of LaCour’s Hold Still, if that’s a book you’d be interested in. It tore me to pieces (in a good way) when I read it years ago–but that was very shortly after a friend of mine had died, so I might’ve just been too close to the subject matter to read the book critically.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This was such a great, in-depth review, and I will forever be amazed at this, ahah. I have yet to read this book, and I added it to my TBR, I definitely agree that the bookish world needs more lesbian romances. I’m a huge contemporary reader, so I might enjoy it a bit more than you did. It’s too bad though that it wasn’t quite powerful enough for you. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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