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Book Review - Crush

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My high school's library is a mixed bag...for every Galapagos or Periwinkle Assault I find, there are twice as many Crabbe, Walking Naked or Liberty Circle. The library tries to carry mostly the clichéd and overpopulated genres of books, these being cheesy sports books, books where someone overcomes a challenge caused by being a moron, or books where depressing things happen. But people are reading them, people keep writing them, and the market is so large that they'll always be here.
And then, there are Orca Books.
Orca Publishing is a predominantly Canadian book publisher that puts out these slim novellas, each one usually no more than 120 pages. Orca Soundings is their line marketted at high school students who either speak english as a second language, or are complete knuckleheads who would rather die than read a paragraph consisting of more than three sentences. I tried reading several of the books in early 2010. Spoiler alert - they all contain varying degrees of suck. They're written by middle-aged adults who think they know teenagers, and are about a cocktail of problems happening to one person, usually these being things no modern teenager cares about. I think the worst example is one book featuring a massive dilemna around whether or not this white guy could date an Aboriginal girl. I think it was about overcoming racism, but if someone writes a book about everybody acting like dicks over an interracial couple and markets it to a generation that could give less of a crap of their loved one's skin colour, we know where the real racist is.
In fact, I gave in and decided to write my own Orca book, hoping it would be a lot less depressing than anything else. I haven't submitted it yet, and it's about an RV escapade called Round Trip. When I was getting ready to write Round Trip, I decided to go through Orca's complete title list to see if there was anything that would appeal to my interests, so I could read it and understand the novella format Orca was looking for. I found one called Crush, apparently a coming-out-of-the-closet story about a girl in New York. My first reaction was something like "Daaaamn, this some crazy lesbian story!", but after reading, I realized it was as bad as everything else I'd looked at. But, under certain circumstances, it was somehow even worse.
In fact, I could get the point of my article across in just this:
Attention straight people:
Stop writing books about gay people.
You are terrible at it.
...But I feel I must dive into detail to reinforce my point.
Crush, written by Connie Mac, is out with good intentions, but manages to crash and burn so many times it's not even funny. Ms. Mac has never seen an actual lesbian in real life, and assumes what she knows from TV or word of mouth will do. By the end of the book, I begin to realize this is the same way she has gained her perceptions of hippies, New York City, Spanish people, and teenagers.
Books like these require research and talking to the sort of people you're writing about. Why, did you know it took several days of researching Interpol, Thai prostitution and British airlines of 1984 just for me to write one chapter of Crystalline? You want to be deadly accurate in your writing, and be able to get fully into your protagonist's mind, personality and tastes. You are not them with minor design changes. Most amateur writers whose work I've seen simply interject themselves into the main character if they write a first-person story. You shouldn't do that.
I opened an Orca book about a boy, and the things mentioned the most about him were that he likes girls, has genitals on the outside and owns a car. It was written by a lady in her mid-forties. The best example of an older woman writing a boy was Cynthia D. Grant's Summer Home. The 12-year-old character Max Poole was so realistic and relatable that it's astounding. Unfortunately, Summer Home has been out of print since 1983, and all Grant writes now are teenage girl books.
Enough of this! On with Crush.

Cop out! This never happens!
Chapter One
Abruptly, the main character - Hope - is in an airport, has lots of luggage and a dog that won't shut the hell up. Hope tells us her parents are going to Thailand to build a school, while they dump her off in New York City with her cocaine-addicted sister Joy. Hope is also only seventeen, and this is mentioned about three times. Mac, are you reminding yourself?
They try to give Hope an umbrella, and the conversation turns into an awkward sequence of shaking their heads upon hearing Joy and her boyfriend's name. Then her father checks his watch, and the rest of the page goes on about what an idiot he is with electronics, including when he knocked $14,000 of solar panels off the roof, and before anyone can be mad about it, he falls off too and breaks his leg in three places. Then, the whole next page explains what Hope's parents are wearing, and how they kiss. What is going on here?
They have a hippie prayer circle right in the airport, wishing Hope well. The dog won't shut up. Casual references to Hope's father having a drinking problem are tossed in. And then the rest of the chapter is about how much Hope's hippie parents love each other, how hippie-tastic they all are, and some more about her father's drinking problem.
Not only are we getting a lot of exposition we don't really need - like, who cares if her father is a drunk since this is the only time he appears in person - but it keeps going on and on about how awesome this heterosexual couple is...in a book about gays. Is it rather supposed to be about love? I don't know, since this chapter made me hate hippies so much, Bob Dylan is impressed.
Chapter Two
Now Hope is stuck on a flight with two really loud babies, and apparently you shouldn't sit for long periods of time or you'll get blood clots and die. Thanks, Hope.
Hope goes to the lady with the babies - Maira - and offers to help take care of them. The babies fall asleep after she does this, and then the pilot comes onto the intercom and speaks loudly, waking the babies up. What was the point of this sequence? Either way, Hope is given the babies and cradles them up and down the plane aisle, and because of her magic Mary Sue powers, they go to sleep. Hope relays to Maira the story of her parents' Thailand trip and wedding anniversary, and apparently it is so beautiful Maira cries in joy. Hope proceeds to wonder about Maira's husband so many times, it murders foreshadowing and his whole family.
Maira is a pretty nice lady, and it turns out she lives ten blocks away from Joy's place. She arranges for Hope to come by and babysit, and suddenly they realize Hope's stupid dog has been drugged by someone, maybe because it was loud and stupid. Upon getting into the airport, Hope is freaking out about finding a vet, and Joy tells her to shut up.
Apparently she sold the car her father bought her and is radiating with vibes of superbitch. In an abrupt paragraph, we learn the vet looked like Dr. Light and he saved the dog, but now Hope needs to work off the money. Couldn't it just be added in that Hope wants to get a job in New York? Do we really need an escapade about a sick dog?
Chapter Three
Calm down, Fauna. Try to channel Ryoji Kaji here...keep your cool. It's just a book. It's a book that plays out like it was written by a twelve year old, but actually got published and made money...keep it together now.
Bruce, Joy's hungover and depressed boyfriend, tries to make breakfast but that goes to hell. Joy screams at him for two pages. Hope goes to the park and describes how nice it is for a whole page. Then, we find out in a flashback that Hope was supposed to stay at their hippie den for the summer, until she went and had sex with a 24-year-old hippie worker who turned out to be married, and it's mentioned offhand that Hope has had intercourse twice before since she was fifteen. Wow. This book just got really nasty. I didn't notice this bit the first time I read it.
In order to keep their youngest daughter from being a further screw-up, they send her to the full-blown screw-up two thousand miles away. That's just rich.
Hope finds a stupider lost dog named Clocker in the park, and calls the owner to leave her number, and we learn the owner is someone named Nat who says stupid things like "Rock on, crouton." Hope returns home with Clocker, only to have it knock over a glass vase in Joy's living room. Joy flips into a new dimension of bitch and runs off to go have lunch with someone named Cecily. Hope notices how Bruce is a sad sack of crap, and offers to take him for ice cream. Just...poor Bruce.
Chapter Four
Since the apartment has no rooted phone, Hope goes out and calls Clocker's owner with the address to Joy's apartment, and an hour later, his owner shows up. She's Nat, the tough rollerskater with blonde dreadlocks, and she keeps reminding me of Boomer from the BK Kids Club. She takes a moment to admire the scenery of Joy's hipster apartment, which evolves into a "joke" that I find so rude and offhand I need to reprint it...
"Let me guess. Late twenties, wishes she was living in Manhattan. Probably a little..." She puts a finger to her nose and sniffs.
"Bang on."
"Can spot 'em a mile away."
AHAHAHA, YOU'RE SO FUNNY, CARRIE MAC! I sure love it when people make awkward jokes about one of the scariest drugs ever created! Let's pretend it didn't have 1980's America so hopped on it or so terrified of it that everyone was on the verge of hysteria, and that it didn't prematurely kill my favourite actor of all time!
Then, Nat shakes Hope's hand, but won't let go for a moment and gazes at her oddly before leaving. Seriously though, screw you, Carrie Mac. I need to take a break now, or I'm going to spend the rest of the night sobbing while cradling a DVD of The Blues Brothers.
Chapter Five
Suddenly it's six days later, between doing chores for Joy because of the broken vase (since this is apparently Ouran School Host Club now) and working at the veterinarian's place, she is called over to Maira's house to be a nanny for some weeks. Maira is a publishing company editor, and Hope gets excited because she'll meet "the guy she'd been so upset about on the plane" DUN DUN DUNNNNNN.
When Hope gets there, she find Maira's house to be insanely fancy, with a big garden and a pretty exterior. What the hell part of New York has high-end houses ten blocks away from dirtbag hipster apartments?
Maira is making lamb chops for dinner, and Hope is suddenly a vegetarian but doesn't say anything. Maira's "partner", Larissa, comes down and picks up their twin sons. Anyway, the women are married and they kiss in front of Hope, and Hope's brain detonates.
'Lesbians. Okay. Not a big deal. There were a couple of dykes who lived at the farm for a while.'
This is the first time Mac decides to use an entirely inappropriate word in an otherwise normal scene. Kids, the word "dyke" is on the same offensive level as "faggot". Plug in "faggots" into the above sentence; does it sound nice? It sure as hell doesn't, and Mac throws in the word "queer" to describe the occasional commune worker. Hope says in her head that she "has no problem with diversity", but feels confused and queasy the whole time. That's like saying "I'm not homophobic or anything, but these fags are creeping me out."
Then she's confused over whether or not Maira and Larissa "look" like lesbians, because she's never seen any before, and the ones at the farm "just looked like each other: miserable, each with a long, dirty braid and a big butt." What are you implying, Mac?
Wait, what? Now they're letting her drink wine! Hope is seventeen, and they're letting her drink because she's had hippie wine before. Okay...so, she mentions her living conditions with Joy, and Maira and Larissa offer to let Hope stay with them, and instead of giving them an overjoyed yes, she says no, then mentions she can't eat meat long after dinner has begun. Larissa notes Hope is getting awkward as hell, and asks "Is it because we're queer?" Hope starts crying and says it's because she's homesick, then keeps crying because her parents actually come to mind.
The lesbians persuade Hope to stay in one of the guest rooms, and on the way back from getting her stuff from Joy's apartment, they run into Nat, and Hope gets really nervous. Larissa later mentions Nat is a common fixture throughout Brooklyn, and Hope somehow comes to the conclusion that she has a crush on Nat.
First off...it's been six days since the first time and only time you even saw her, and being nervous around someone is hardly evidence of infatuation. Secondly, Maira and Larissa are ten times more likeable than Hope. A gay duo of editor and lawyer, with twin sons and a huge house, and warm, admirable personalities? They give me a comforting feeling, and they remind me of Sailors Neptune and Uranus respectively. They need their own book...but it can't be written by Carrie Mac.
Chapter Six
Four days later Hope is working in three different places, and the lesbians offer to take her to the beach because they're cool, but Hope turns it down so she can have a day to herself. Then the veterinarian hands a phone off to her, featuring a screaming Joy.
Joy claims Hope never left a note explaining she was going to live with awesome lesbians, but the note's over there damn you, and Joy claims she told their parents Hope ran away and now they're coming home. Hope explodes, and it turns out Joy was "kidding". Hope goes to the park with her dog, loses it, and hyperventilates until Nat shows up with their dogs. Nat speaks Spanish, and Hope offhandedly thinks of her muscles as "yummy". It goes on... "Nat drags a finger along her muddy calf and I just about swoon. This is nuts. Completely nuts! Since when did I become queer?"
You slept with three dudes, right? You liked them all at some point, right? Then you're bisexual, you stupid kid. Stop abusing the word "queer". Real gay people don't call themselves that all the time.
They walk to Maira's house to hose the mud off the dogs, while Nat points out the landmarks of Brooklyn. Hope's dog hides under the porch, so the girls crawl in and try to fish her out. Nat is clearly coming onto Hope, but goes home to shower. Apparently she's "as dykey as it gets", and victoriously bikes away. Hope wonders if she could kiss a girl, while using the word "queer" three times in a paragraph.
Man, if you took this, flipped the genders and replaced all the names with Kingdom Hearts characters, and then put this on Fanfiction.net, people would tear it apart while declaring it the worst, most clichéd thing they'd ever seen.
Chapter Seven
Hope camps out in her room for the rest of the evening, contemplating if she could handle being a lesbian without imploding. Eventually she concludes that she should have kissed Nat under the porch. She attempts to sleep, but instead goes downstairs and dances around. She then helps Larissa figure out the new coffee maker, because Carrie Mac's ideal couple involves one of the people involved being a complete dumbass with technology.
And, the reason Maira was so emotional about Hope's parents on the plane was because her parents were breaking up after forty-two years, and it was close to her twelth anniversary with Larissa. Maira has a heated debate on the phone and manages to get yogurt and hug Larissa without stopping. These are some badass lesbians.
Hope finally winds up admitting to Larissa that Nat came onto her, and the fact that her brain is having diarrhea about it, which brings this honest advice from Larissa:
"Someone coming on to you doesn't make you gay," Larissa laughs. "It's how you react that matters."
Then Hope brings up that she wanted to kiss her, and starts crying, blaming this change of sexuality on her "lesbian environs". All right, gay people being around you doesn't make you gay. Secondly, all throughout this book, Hope has clearly expressed attraction to males, and she would be bisexual. This book is like something a writer would make for her gay daughter in an attempt to show she "understands" her. It's so offensively vile that I could pass out.
Chapter Eight
Hope goes out for a walk, then goes home, and goes back out for a walk with Maira's kids. As she wonders whether or not she wants Nat to reappear, she contemplates asking Bruce if he has any young male friends. Aside from my "SEE, SEE, YOU'RE BISEXUAL" rant, what the hell happened to Bruce? We see him in the first few chapters as a sad beaten dog, and then Hope was supposed to take him out, and then he disappears.
While she considers she may be "some kind of unoriginal queer wannabe", she sees Nat and begins to panic, assuming "This is no phase. This is real." Some girl with blue hair shows up, Nat hugs her, and Hope gets jealous. The blue haired girl leaves, and Nat and Hope try to talk, but Hope is awkward, calling herself a "social retard" in her head. Nat goes to take her for ice cream, and it turns out she owns a bike repair shop, which her super-Christian parents bought her to keep her away from them.
At the ice cream store, it becomes painfully obvious that Hope is interested in Nat, and this ends with them kissing, and Nat taking the time to cop a feel on Hope's ass. The Spanish boys working at the ice cream shop are so excited they forget how to speak english:
"C'mon. Why you get more action than us, huh?" Julio hollers. "What you got I don't?"
After the word "lesbo" is chucked in for measure, the chapter ends, with everyone going OH HEY HOPE YOU'RE GAY GAY GAY DESPITE SLEEPING WITH DUDES BEFORE :D.
Chapter Nine
I begin to lose a little respect for Maira and Larissa, as they are informed by their supposed Ultra Homo Communication Network before they get home from work that Hope is kissing girls...
" [...] And pretty soon all the dykes in Brooklyn will know how we corrupted some poor young slip from out west. Isn't that right?"
I wouldn't complain about the use of "dyke" here because they're supposed to be joking around, but Larissa is actually saying this to one of her infant sons in this scene. Overjoyed that they have indoctrinated another person into Gaytopia, the family watches a movie, and then Nat calls to invite hope to Coney Island the next day. There was also three pages of Hope describing how weird everything is in the most lackluster way possible.
"I ignore the carrots. This is all so weird, and cutting carrots is so normal, and somehow the two do not go together."
The only real way I could express my opinion about this book right now is if I were to go back into the library, open the book up to the middle, vomit in it, and put it back on the shelf.
Chapter Ten
By the time I reached the last chapter, I started to wonder if I had been overreacting in my response to the book. I went to reach for the book, and started to feel like I had a spike through my head. So, yeah...if a book makes me feel dread and actual bodily pain, it's bad.
The girls go to Coney Island while constantly holding hands, which freaks out a Chasidic woman. Then they have a beach trip for two pages and go to the boardwalk Freak Show. How romantic!
They then go back to Joy's apartment because her parents are going to call, and neither adult is there for plot convenience. In a flashback, Hope told Joy about Nat, and apparently Joy experimented in college and has no problem with the gaytastic situation at hand. Well, at least that out of the way, and we know she's not dead. She leaves them money to order pizza.
Carrie Mac uses the term "spooned out" to describe lying in a chair, which technically isn't even a term. Then, Hope's parents call, she tells them about Nat, and they're cool with her. Then Hope's father asks of this from Nat:
"Our Hope is more precious to us than anything, and she deserves to be loved by a brilliant, true heart and nothing less. Understand?"
What the hell? The girls have only been in contact with each other for four non-sequential days! Is this like the end of Ponyo, where two small children go through the "Love Test" before they get bonded together forever? It's nice that your glommy hippie parents care, but they sure phrase things creepily.
And now the book is done.

Moral of the Story: No matter how many older men you've slept with, as soon as you are near lesbians, your orientation will change, and you will be entitled to use the word "dyke" whenever you want.
I suppose it could have been worse...back in the day, most stories about gay people ended with them being pitiable creatures doomed by their very nature. Why, as recently as Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, the only gay member of the group was a handsome gay scientist who was disfigured to look like an orangutan with giant balls. It's 2010 now, for God's sake (or 2006, when Crush was written), and it's extremely evident after finishing this book that people shouldn't write about people they aren't. I cringe every time I hear about a white lady writing a story from the perspective of a slave teenager.
Carrie Mac seems entitled to writing anyway, and according to the profile on her site, she believes she is a magical creature fascinated by death and swimming pools. Looking at her past writing OH GOD WHY IS THAT SO LOUD I'm sorry, the navigational bar has sound effects whenever you hover over something, and I was wearing headphones. The meowing dinosaur was adorable, but the tape recorder one made me think I was going to die.
What I was trying to say was Charmed seems like a horrifying story. Read that summary and judge for yourself.
The changes I would make to Crush would be that Hope hadn't had sex with all those guys...she's be sort of naiive, have a history of awkward contact with boys, and never know why she wasn't drawn to them. Joy wouldn't be such an explosive bitch. The word "queer" would be replaced with "gay", and the word "dyke" would be replaced by "queer". There's some directional problems I would change, but I've screamed about those already. I bet Carrie Mac is actually a really nice person in real life, but damned if her books don't need proper research.
This book has done one good thing for me, though. It's convinced me that if it can get published, so can Round Trip. This week I'm sending it in to Orca, and we'll see if I can make it in. Until then, stop writing dramatic gay stories unless you are truly gay, and take it easy. 
Crush just got Bob Dyl-Owned!

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