Where do I even begin?
There are certain rules I make myself follow when it comes to ARCs that I receive for a review, or any other books in general:
- Don’t read too much about the book or author before reading it;
- Don’t read any reviews before writing down my own thoughts;
- Don’t hurry into rating the book you are not sure about; and
- It is okay to change your rating few days after when all the thoughts and feelings had time to sink in.
I was particularly excited about this novel, written by the famous Ann Brashares, author of the well-renowned «The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants». I must admit that I’ve never read the book, but I watched and loved all of the movies, starring my beloved Blake Lively and Alexis Bledel.
«The Whole Thing Together» might seem like a light contemporary read at first, but be aware of many difficult questions and subject the characters will go through as the story progresses.
Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.
Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.
The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.
The story follows seven characters, Emma, Mattie and Quinn whose parents, Lila and Robert divorced and not quite moved on from the mistakes and bitterness of the past, and their half siblings, who live in paralel world – Sasha and Ray – sharing older sisters but never meeting each other, until the summer when the card castle finally falls apart.
Why was I talking about my sacred rules?
Primarily, because I made a terrible mistake of reading few reviews on GoodReads that caught my eye before starting to write this review. For that reason, I decided just this once step away from my usual review lay out and talk to you about if I agree or disagree with other’s opinions on this book.
The first page of the book is actually a family tree, that provides you with enough information to understand the complex family, or in this case families, that will be introduced to you throughout the book. And it was in no way helpful. I must agree with quite a lot of popular opinions regarding the beginning of the story. It is very confusing to the extent where I wasn’t sure whose point of view I was reading; was it a girl or a boy? and constantly flipping back to the family tree page.
What surprised me was how many reviews spoke about sexism, body shaming and racism. Honestly, I noticed zero – on the contrary, I enjoyed how different everyone was, physically and personality wise. How the author mentioned different types of beauty – from “barbie” looking Mattie to a complete opposite Sasha, whose beauty were praised nonetheless, to “out of this world” Quinn whose personality was more than anyone’s appearance could ever outshine.
Was I blind to those references? Or do we see what we want to see by putting words out of the context?
Another thing I cannot make myself to agree with is the mentioning of references to dullness and stereotypical characters. When there is such an array of characters, it’s only fair to give them these certain personality traits that would distinguish them between each other, make them unique in their own way, even though all of them went through the same life experience together.
Yes, Emma was the more serious and college-orientated one, Mattie was the beauty of the family, while Quinn.. was Quinn, different from anyone and anything. Sasha was just finding herself, trying to be like her older sisters but also to learn her own ways of dealing with situation at hand, while Ray was the only boy who had to stay strong among everything.
But these were not their only traits, these weren’t only things that defined them! As the story progressed we learned more and more about each and everyone of them, as more and more of their qualities walked out into the open.
And I ask myself again: Did my mind add too much to the story? Did I make them complex in my head or were they complex to begin with?
Unfortunately, not all questions have an answer.
Another matter that I must point out is the relationship between Ray and Sasha. It was uncomfortable to read some passages and I can’t agree more with the most of the reviews on GoodReads page, it felt wrong and there is nothing I could do about it when even the characters struggles with the same feeling.
Thank you NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the ARC of this book, published on 25th of April 2017. It wasn’t my favourite read but I still recommend to give it a glimpse even just for a chance to form your own opinion and see if you can spot anything that might offend you or your beliefs. I must say that I had more fun reading the reviews and comparing them to my experience, over actually reading the book and that is why my rating is not high.
I give it 2.5 stars out of 5 (that I rounded to three star rating on GoodReads). I try to stay away from half ratings, but sometime there is no escape from “in-betweens”.
Let me know in the comments down below what you think of all of these so different opinions and your own thoughts on this book down below!