Monday, December 4, 2017

DNF Review: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares (Krystal Sutherland)

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Title: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Series: standalone
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons BYR
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Told: Third Person (Esther), Past Tense
Content Rating: Older Teen (strong language, underage drinking, innuendo, violence, abuse, attempted suicide, parental neglect, body parts, disturbing serial crimes...)
Format Read: ARC (trade)
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Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Take Esther’s father, for instance: He’s an agoraphobe who hasn’t left the basement in six years. Then there’s her twin brother, Eugene, whose fear of the dark goes far beyond the things that go bump in the night. And her mother, Rosemary, is absolutely terrified of bad luck.

As for Esther, she’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, crowds—anything that might trigger a phobia is off-limits and is meticulously recorded in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. 

Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter leaves her stranded at a bus stop and swindled out of her phone, all her cash, a Fruit Roll-Up she’d been saving, and her list—not to mention her dignity. But the theft is also the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.

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I did not finish this book. I stopped at Chapter 27 (Page 240 of 348).

I tried to finish this book. I really did. For over 2 months I tried again and again, setting it aside for a week or two and then picking it back up to try once more. But with every try the story further depressed and eventually disturbed me until I simply couldn't continue.

This isn't to say the book is bad - on the contrary. It's an engaging story with an original plot, a snarky and unique voice, and an air of The Addams Family, and for those who enjoy grittier realistic fiction with a touch of the macabre I would highly recommend it. But for an easily depressed soul such as myself who really can't handle contemporary fiction without a soppy romance focus, this story was just too real for me - with its colorful, catty cover and interesting summary I was fooled into believing I could handle any heavier content, and was sorely mistaken. The book has a serious dark side in the spiraling phobias of Esther's family, as well as Jonah's abusive situation, and to deal with it the understandably rather unstable teens drink and act out to excess. (There is also quite a lot of strong language, which always puts me off.) Just one of these things, possibly two, and I might have been able to soldier through, but all of it together left me ever more melancholy with every chapter until in a declaration of self-kindness after the disturbing Chapter 26 I finally allowed myself to let the book go unfinished.

I did lightly skim the remaining 100 or so pages and am glad to say the story does have a redemptive conclusion. But it came in the wake of even more unsettling content, and I am relieved I did not subject myself to it fully.

Conclusion: If you love darker realistic fiction with playful premises, do not pass this up. But if like me you require your contemporary reads to possess a large amount of fluff and good feels, don't let the flowery purple cover fool you - there's sadly little of either to be had in this book.

For Fans Of: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (my review)

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