Victim by Andrew Boryga: ARC review

Victim by Andrew Boryga 

Thank you to Doubleday for sending me this ARC for review purposes. All thoughts are my own.

Overview: Javier always wanted to be a writer without having much direction with it. He liked the easy praise in school but shied away from leaning into the critical comments that would help him level up on college assignments. More than writing, he seemed to just want to be famous. From a first encounter with a college councilor to the people he meets at college to an early success at the college newspaper, Javier starts to realize that there's a niche for him to leverage his background growing up in the Bronx into writing opportunities where his work was indisputable. To keep earning praise, Javier stretches the truth like taffy until it inevitably snaps. This book is the slow chug up the rollercoaster before the bottom drops out from under him and a reflection on his rise and fall. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 Javier is so interesting because I feel like so many of the antiheroes or "unlikeable" lead characters in the trend right now are white women, and this flips the script featuring a Puerto Rican man in this complex role. Javier does a lot wrong. He manipulates, twists the truth, intimidates, and mows people down in the name of getting more likes, clicks, and recognition for his work. And, even as he sort of repents for it throughout the book, he also doesn't seem super apologetic about it all as he narrates the book with the privilege of hindsight. At the same time, Javier is far from irredeemable. While what he did was wrong, the way he guides you through his twisted logic makes it easy to see how he just took the next opportunity in front of him. At the end of the day, it is our culture and society at large that created the bubble for him to capitalize on. While Javier does a lot of people wrong, he's still a compelling main character.

Unsurprisingly, the characters that fill out Javier's world mostly exist in the story to serve its narrative and progression. His mother has a lot of pride and works hard to continue giving him a good life through adulthood. His friend Gio takes a very different path that's ripe for Javier to capitalize on but always has a grounded head on his shoulders. His college girlfriend offers a fascinating foil, and the memory of his deceased father guides his approach to managing his freewheeling writing career.

Plot: 4 The book has a bit of a slow start, but it does pick up to be a fast read. I finished it in two days, and once I got past the first quarter, I didn't want to put it down. I think it suffers from being so linear instead of using strategic flashbacks to fill in background while letting us start in the meat of the story. The first few chapters going through his childhood offers important information, but it's a totally different read as it progresses. So give the book a little time to open up, because when it hits its stride, the slowly unfurling disaster from college onwards is well worth it. 

Writing: 4 The book teetered on a real edge for me with the voice. I feel like it did all ultimately come together, but it does play with some tropes that are tricky to fully pull off. One is that it seems to be modeled off of a very direct address memoire style. It's heavily acknowledged we're reading a book within a book, and most chapters and chapter breaks include second person address of the reader. I think that it does work and gives the book the slick vibe it's after, but there were moments where that wavered for me. The fast paced and outlandish series of cascading events, as well as the big picture societal questions it mines, makes up for any weaknesses in the writing itself though. 

As I was wrapping up the book, I thought that it would be an interesting paired read with Yellowface by R.F. Kuang as they approach questions of racism, culture, class and privilege, and social media (particularly in the context of publishing) from different angles. They both excel in being very meta while also being quite thoughtful. This is a book that is brutally honest from all angles and will definitely stick with me. 

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