YA Book Review: Look by Zan Romanoff
Look by Zan Romanoff
Overview: Lulu is kinda famous on Flash, the hot new social media app created by a Riggs brother. Yes, it's partially because she used to date Owen whose dad is a famous rockstar, and the notoriety hasn't been the smoothest sailing, but Lulu is well aware that the world is watching her. On the outside, her life at an elite, private high school, living in beautiful LA houses, and going to the hottest parties looks like the ultimate dream. On the inside, Lulu is wondering why she does any of it anymore. Then she meets Cass at a party and forms an instant connection. Cass just doesn't care like everyone else around her. When they leave the party and end up at the Hotel, neither of them notice a major shift that will alter their paths for better or worse. Overall: 5
I should've known this was going to be amazing when I saw all my favorite authors blurbing it.
Characters: 5 All of the characters in this book are extraordinary complex, which I love. They have flaws and fears and misconceptions, and seeing them work through that is one of the most rewarding parts of the book.
Lulu is the main character and the center of all the attention. There's a running debate in the book over how much she really wants that. She has a lot of identity questions that creates a push and pull inside her. She and Owen broke up a few months ago, but she still hasn't quite let him go. He wasn't horrible; there was nothing wrong with him. They just weren't right for each other. Why does it hurt so much when he shows up at a party with a new girl?
To complicate it further, their breakup happened when a Flash meant just for Owen got sent to all 5,000 of Lulu's followers. Everyone's seen her kissing Sloane, and everyone has their own estimations of what that means. Some people want to label her sexuality, some just use it as confirmation that she'd do anything for attention. While having her private moment, one that was supposed to go to only one person and then disappear, achieved on the internet is bad enough. It's made worse by the face that she doesn't know what it means to her to kiss Sloane and enjoy it. Over the course of the book, Lulu really interrogates her own identity and tries to figure out what feels right to her. While labels don't work for her at first, she does decide bi is probably the best fit. I really loved this arch in the story and her evolving relationships with Sloane, Owen, and Cass. I don't feel like we have enough bi/pan rep in YA, so I was thrilled to see it here. Also, the fact that she doesn't start page one fully confident in her sexuality is so great to see. I think so many of books have characters who know exactly who they are from the start, but that's not a lot of people's experience. I'm glad that we got to see this other side here and also reinforce the idea that it's okay to not give yourself a label immediately or at all.
The other major point that Lulu deals with throughout the book is fame and image and privacy. While it's a relatively minor detail, I thought it was really interesting that the video of her and Sloane got circulated so heavily because a fansite for Owen's dad archived all of her flashes looking for clues of their idol. While it's not dwelled on much, it's pretty incredible how horribly girlfriends of celebrities and musicians are treated in real life. Many are run off of social media all together. It's interesting to think about through Lulu's lived prospective. She also struggles with how much of herself she wants to give. She Flashes almost every part of her life. She makes her life look a very specific way, and she has a great conversation with Bea about how, as her life deteriorates further, she feels more compelled to keep pushing her image. It's like a safety blanket that she'll have her perfect self to look back on. I really love that at the end of the book her eye shifts to wanting to show the places she was, the little moments that define her in an unfiltered way. The importance of the mundane. And how she decides that she doesn't want to contribute to a platform that could take her work at any moment.
She's surrounded by lots of friends who shape her world and her choices throughout the book. Most impactful is Cass. From the start, you can see the fireworks between them. Cass is everything Lulu's not. She's unconcerned with her image or aesthetic or making sure everything's cohesive. She has pink bath towels and wears her brother's flannels. She only got Flash to talk to Lulu, and she's not dazzled by the private school world that she's recently moved into. Cass is intrigued that Lulu is so much more than what she wants people to see. Cass shows Lulu that there's an alternative to the way she's always thought and the games she's always played. There's always the option to just... not. I love how their relationship is never totally defined. It's another area that doesn't have to be weighed down by labels. And it's not any less impactful for it.
Then there's Ryan Riggs who gets introduced to the fold by Cass. He owns The Hotel, that he's developing and bringing back to life for his family's legacy project, that Cass finds as a second home. She's friends with Ryan, but only friends. Ryan doesn't handle that very well. Throughout the book, Lulu gets her fair share of bad vibes, but he also seems lost and misguided. He's a Riggs, so he's always forgiven easily. Ryan's character demonstrates the intense level of harm that can be done by someone who's never been told no. Because he's a white man who's come from extreme privilege, all his messes are cleaned up for him, and he cannot cope with the idea that he might not get what he wants in the end. While everything he does seems irredeemably horrible, you also see that he's just operating under the rules he was taught. That are still being taught. It's the sinister undertow of the book.
Then there's Owen and Bea who have been with Lulu from the start. Lulu drifts away from them throughout the book, but they're also examples of true friendship. There are fights, disagreements, and long spans of time without talking, but that doesn't mean that they stop caring about each other. It was a really great, realistic set of friendship portrayals. I also loved her evolving relationship with Owen. He never shames her or sees her differently for what happened, and he always wants to make sure she's okay. For all the super complex relationships, both major and minor, I loved that the pervasive theme was that you don't have to be a specific thing to each other or stay that same thing forever to be important parts of your lives.
Plot: 5 I could not put the book down. There are so many different avenues that are explored. For not being a thriller, there's a strong, pressing nature through the book and a truly unsettled feeling that makes you want to keep turning the pages. It's fast paced but takes time to get really deep in the vulnerable moments. It never flinches away from a scene. It has the perfect mix of major twists and soft, quiet, random moments. Every plot point hits the right note, and I couldn't have asked for a better resolution.
Writing: 5 There are so many cool elements woven into the book that I don't know where to start. Her building of characterization is flawless, and the book is the epitome of show not tell. It's told in third person limited, which is rare in YA, but worked here. You still feel completely embedded in Lulu's world, but it adds a heightened sense of atmosphere.
Atmosphere is probably what you'll notice most right off the bat. There's a whole world that you're transported into that feels slightly removed from your own, and Zan lays out the rules seamlessly. Everywhere Lulu goes, the setting comes to life and interacts with the plot to pull certain themes to the forefront. You get the vibe of both of her parent's houses, of Cass's house, of every party, and more than anything, The Hotel. It's constantly changing and unsettled, much like Lulu's life. Every step in its development breaks a little more of the magic and correlates with a new plot point.
It's amazing how there is so much going on but it all fits perfectly into one another. You're experiencing it all, and you only notice how many threads were involved when you sit back and think about everything you experienced. This is a truly masterfully done book.
Keep watching this space because on Saturday, I'm going to be chatting with Zan about Look! It's slightly longer than usual, and I think you're going to love it.
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