Friday, November 6, 2015

Tonight the Streets Are Ours But I'd Rather Netflix and Chill

Title: Tonight the Streets Are Ours
Author: Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: September 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

That's how seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley has always thought of herself. Caring for her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But lately she's grown resentful of everyone – including her needy best friend and her absent mom – taking her loyalty for granted.

Then Arden stumbles upon a website called Tonight the Streets Are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, who gives voice to feelings that Arden has never known how to express. He seems to get her in a way that no one else does, and he hasn't even met her.

Until Arden sets out on a road trip to find him.

During one crazy night out in New York City filled with parties, dancing, and music – the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does – Arden discovers that Peter isn't exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn't exactly who she thought she was, either.

Pancakes, Nebraska, Tonight the Streets Are Ours. What do these three things have in common? They're all FLAT. In a nutshell, Leila Sales' latest book did not meet my expectations.

What doesn't work for me:

There's not a character in this book that I care about, from "recklessly loyal" Arden to her actually-terrible best friend Lindsey to Peter the Internet sensation (who, in my opinion, is 1000% overrated from the start).

Our narrator Arden is especially frustrating to read. She seems to see herself as a saint, which is the strangest thing because we're seeing the world through her eyes, and even then it's pretty clear that what Arden considers to be her strength is really her biggest flaw. I mean, sure, sometimes it's hard for us to recognize our own shortcomings... but it's still exhausting to read a character who continually paints herself as a victim and refuses to acknowledge her part in things.

But I'm biased in that respect. I like stories with women who take responsibility for their lives, never mind if they're "likable" or whether or not they make good decisions – at least they're owning those decisions. I don't take well to characters who complain about their circumstances but don't take steps to change them... and for me, Arden fits smack dab in the middle of that category.

Sadly, the story development is lacking, too. The plot line itself is intriguing, but there are a lot of throwaway details – scenes, events, moments, characters – that make the story feel unfinished. Plot points are revealed much too conveniently, with lots of telling and not enough showing. Resolution comes easy ("I was wrong," "no, I was wrong," "no, trust me, it was my fault," "it was both our faults, now let's kiss and make up"), and key themes are written in a way that feels a little bit preachy and forced ("love isn't this simple thing that I always thought it was, it's actually this other simple thing!").

Leila Sales' writing style in this book is also just too clunky for my taste. It's told in the third person perspective, but shifts from past to present. Interesting stylistic techniques resonate much more with me when the story and characters are equally compelling, but since I didn't care for either, the writing style felt out of place and mismatched.

I just wasn't into this book. That being said, there are a few things I did appreciate about it.

What works for me:

The cover is beautiful. And when it comes to giving books a chance, that's half the battle, isn't it? The colors are gorgeous, the photo is classic (though it doesn't really represent the story), and the typography is so lovely. It's just a really pretty cover.

Leila Sales writes New York City perfectly. According to this map, I am a Real New Yorker, so you can trust me on this. It's fun to read and recognize and imagine these places and moments in New York City – the Cube at Astor Place and the homeless people and anarchopunks that do indeed sleep under and around it... the wild imaginative loft parties... the incredible window displays along 5th Avenue... the rambling late night walks on streets that are empty enough to feel like they're really yours... Leila Sales captures the city vibe extremely well and makes it feel as awful and as magical as it is in real life.

Tonight the Streets Are Ours is a contemporary read with some strong elements and an interesting premise, and I like that there are some unexpected twists in the story, but the plot is poorly developed, the writing is awkward, and the characters fall flat. Tonight the streets may be ours, but I think I'd rather Netflix and chill.

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