Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: Flat-Out Love By Jessica Park

Title: Flat-Out Love
Author: Jessica Park
Genre: Young Adult, College

Goodreads rating: 4.08 out of 5.00 (12, 000+ ratings)
Goodreads link

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it. 
When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes. 
And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul. 
To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

Review by Chantelle

How to even begin to describe Flat-Out Love...

It is bizarre, quirky, and extremely geeky. 
It is surprising, mysterious, and completely left field. 
It is hot, sweet and incredibly endearing. 
It is a thoroughly enjoyable young adult fiction; 
realistic, yet completely far-fetched. 

Julie Seagle, a college freshman, moves in with the Watkins family when her college housing falls through. There is Roger and Erin - the work-oriented, academically driven parents; Finn, the philanthropic eldest son who is overseas, tanned and perfect; Matt, a geek with
 a t-shirt that says Nietzsche is my homeboy; and 13 year old Celeste, who talks like a senior english professor and who is inseparable from Flat Finn, a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Finn...

Did I mention this book was bizarre?

I also found this book extremely refreshing. Jessica Park writes in third person, which you rarely see in young-adult fiction nowadays due to the popularity of the dreaded first person narrative. However, what makes this book stand out, is that the dramas
 do not purely revolve around drinking, angst or a bad boy, but rather explore the family dynamic of modern society.

To do this, Park includes forms of communication such as status updates and emails... which I surprisingly loved! This is huge. 
You must understand, I usually cringe and wince though author's attempts at imitating "teen" chat and short hand text. Look, I do not consider myself a Grammar Nazi, and I do not patrol youtube just to correct people's spelling. However, when authors try to portray teenagers as plebs that type without vowels and rejoice whenever a number can unnecessarily replace part of a word - it escalates such that the reader is more concerned with deciphering the 'msg wrttn' rather than the story line. 

On the contrary, Park's 'facebook' messages (complete with correct spelling and grammar, HALLELUJAH) were enjoyable avenues of comedic relief. 
Matthew Watkins People in my age group, educational, and financial status don’t appreciate generalizations or profiling. 
Finn is God I have half a mind to tell you to fu of. 

Now onto the plot. 
If you look at the cover of this novel, it is neither appealing nor eye catching, and it makes absolutely no sense in relation to the mystery of Flat Finn . When I finished reading however, I got it, oh Jessica Park I got it! 

Maybe you’re missing something obvious... It had all been right there, but she hadn’t been able to see the big picture.
... And it is definitely obvious.
Once you know what it is. 

Click me to read spoilers

What's wonderful is that even if you figure out the mystery of Flat Finn early, you only gain a deeper understanding into Julie's character development because when she finally discovers the tragedy that Finn had passed away, she reasons
Maybe she had known for months now, and she just had not wanted to accept what the world had been screaming at her. Denial had made her blind and stupid.
By allowing the reader to prematurely comprehend that the unusual behaviour of the Watkins family was due to grief (before Julie explicitly acknowledges it), we go through the same process as Julie - Maybe we had known for chapters why Finn would never return from overseas, but we either still needed confirmation or were hopeful for another explanation, just like Julie was, and so we gain a deeper understanding and insight into Park's protagonist. 

Flat-Out Love is a deceptively intense read about family dysfunction, that ever elusive romance, vulnerability and the importance of acceptance - of personalities, of differences, of the past and of the future.

 After reading this novel, I went bungee jumping. If you've read it, you'll understand why...

Overall: 8/10
Plot: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Cover: 1/5