Not Your #Lovestory by Sonia Hartl
Overview: Macy never wanted to go viral. Sure, she wanted one of her videos to hit a million views on her YouTube channel where she shares movie reviews. Her plan is to use her ad money to get out of her tiny town and make it to Chicago. Instead, when she has a sort of meet cute with a boy at a baseball game that gets turned into a viral Twitter thread, all the trolls find her channel, and everyone is looking for updates on her nonexistent relationship with #baseballbabe. What looks like a chance to finally reach her channel goals quickly turns into an invasion of privacy that threatens everything she's built offline. Overall: 3
Characters: 3 I liked all of the characters involved. Macy is bright and fun. She's a great main character to follow. Paxton, her co-worker she has a crush on, is sweet and reserved. She has a couple friends and co-workers that help to build out the world. Eric, the boy from the baseball game, and Jessica, the middle aged woman who made the Twitter thread, are both cartoonishly evil in their hunger for internet fame. I did like that Hartl included Macy's mom and grandma heavily in the story, along with her grandmother's sewing group. They're a major part of Macy's life, and I always appreciate it when parents aren't ignored or written out. While all of these characters were fine, none of them felt particularly grounded. Sometimes, I felt like, if you looked too deep, they'd all have holes like Swiss cheese. You can tell Paxton is supposed to be the perfect boyfriend, and he has a tragic backstory that just felt overdone. I wish Elise and Midnight had gotten more time on the page because I honestly cared about them most. I had no problems with Macey, but I always felt like I couldn't quite get past the surface with her. They all existed to play their roll instead of becoming fully realized individuals.
Plot: 3 The main plot basically follows Macy from the meet cute at the game until the whole viral fame issue explodes and sours, and she has to figure out how to pick up the pieces. While I was originally fascinated by the idea of it, I wasn't a fan of the execution. The idea wasn't really expanded enough to carry the entire novel. The actual scenes, beyond the ones at the baseball game, where she grapples with what's happening on the internet don't feel fully baked. They're rushed to get back to her subplot with Paxton. I did like the scenes of her working and hanging out with her friends more, but those started to get repetitive too. There was no real tension in her relationship with Paxton, and I think that comes from him just being too perfectly drawn. The entire town wants them together from the start. I wanted more tension, plot twists, and new moments that actually contributed to some development. It seems like each character having such a defined roll and archetype really flattened the plot by making the good and bad guys and the resolution too obvious.
*Spoiler to the end of this section*
I also really didn't like the conclusion Macy came to with her channel. Before the baseball game, it sounded like she was making really interesting, thoughtful movie reviews and cosplaying as the characters (which sounds awesome), and she'd built up a small, but not insignificant, following from that. She decides to compromise the integrity of her channel to play into the #baseballbabe stuff, but when she deletes everything she posted about that, she also gets rid of all her movie reviews and shuts her whole channel down to share her movie reviews on a new, private Instagram. She also suddenly shifts her dreams to somehow owning a movie store at some point. It just didn't feel like a satisfying ending. A pushy, rude, awful guy from a random chance encounter makes her lose everything she'd built over the past couple years. And it seemed like the final message was that it was fine because she had Paxton and that's what matters. It didn't seem inline with the message that the rest of the book was trying to convey. One book I read earlier this year, Look, has a similar negative viral moment leading Lulu to reassess her relationship with the social media, but in that book, she stops posting for other people's approval and starts posting what's honest to herself. I wish that had been the case here.
Writing: 3 I wish there had been more time spent on fully developing the characters and the plot. I also wish there had been more research done on what it means to be a small YouTuber and what it's like to go viral. None of the experiences felt lived in and there were a lot of flaws that really bugged me about how the internet was portrayed here. It's hard to write what I call "high concept" contemporary that revolves around the internet or some extraordinary career that most people don't get to have lived experience with.
On a basic level, there were a lot of Twitter threads and all the comments had weird, random words hashtagged. There were hashtags in almost every Tweet in the book. This annoyed me because, in my experience, unless you're trying to promo something or you're jumping on a tag that's already trending, #'s in each post aren't really used like they are on Instagram. It just felt a bit out of touch me. (I wondered if I was off about this, but I saw other Goodreads reviewers pointing it out, and I do spend hours on Twitter a day).
On the YouTube front, I started a channel last month, and while I don't know what being a successful YouTuber is really like, I'm very familiar with how much work generally goes into it. From how it's framed in the book, it seems like Macy just pulls out her phone, talks for a while, and clicks upload. There's no mention of how much time really goes into editing, choosing a thumbnail, figuring out lighting and what you're going to say, and writing titles/tags/description boxes. You don't have to dwell on these intricacies, but mention them. Have her completing some of these tasks during scenes. It's necessary to get an authentic feel, and it honestly would've made the book cooler. I read internet creator/famous character stories to get little glimpses into that world, and it felt like Hartl didn't understand that enough to pull it off. I get that it can be hard to know all the intricacies, but if you regularly watch YouTube, especially in vlogs, you can start to piece together what goes into editing and actually producing a video. Also, Macy believes that it will be AdSense money that will get her out of town when, in reality, it's generally collaborations and sponsorships that allows full time YouTubers to support themselves. I also found it strange that it seemed like Macy didn't really have a social media presence to support R3ntal World. Her level of growth seems strange without it.
I know that this probably sounds like I'm harping on things that are insignificant, but Macy's entire character is built around her channel. I also think if you're going to write a book that's main interest points are YouTube and internet culture, you should do enough research that it really feels like you've soaked up and understood the world. That's what I loved about Look and even Loveless's fan fiction references. Those books have an effortless understanding of what it means to exist as a teen on the internet. This just felt clunky and not fully realized.
It's so important to have a genuine understanding of how teens use the internet if you're going to write it in YA. As a teen, I can say with authority that we basically live our whole lives on the internet (especially with the pandemic). We can spot weird flaws and inconsistencies easily, and from what I've seen from other teen bloggers, no one is connecting with how it's written here.
Also, before I wrap this up, I did want to write a little disclaimer about some of the content. When I was about halfway done, I was reading the back of the book and noticed the 14+ and found it weird because it really felt like a book that I would call 12+ and give to a kid transitioning between YA and middle grade. Towards the end, I figured it out. There are some pretty detailed, explicit sex moments that felt a little strong for the level of the rest of the book. There's nothing wrong with sex in YA, and I usually don't even mention it, but the detail in this book really came out of left field for me, and I figured I'd just put that out there so that you can evaluate your own comfort level before picking it up or passing it on to a younger kid. I was discussing it with a friend who also got an ARC and also doesn't have a problem with sex in YA, but we both found it overly graphic and off-putting. It was one of the reasons she decided to DNF it.
I was super disappointed after this book, especially reflecting back on it. I loved, loved, loved her debut, and this book had an even better synopsis, but unfortunately, it had none of the charms, humor, or thoughtfulness of the first book. I guess I just keep wondering what's happening.
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