Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: Very LeFreak [2010]

I saw a pre-pub copy of Very LeFreak at ALA Midwinter and thought the premise was interesting: A technology-addicted Columbia freshman finds relief from her hedonistic party-girl lifestyle at ESCAPE (Emergency Services for Computer-Addicted Persons Everywhere). I've never read anything written (or co-written--the cover gives a shout-out to Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) by Rachel Cohn, so I didn't have any preconceived notions, other than what I read in this SLJ article (thanks to Cassandra), which had me scratching my head. She waited until the book was finished to see what it would be like to cut herself off from technology? Nevertheless, I plunged in.

For the first half of the book, Very (aka Veronica) is Addicted to Technology (brand and product names and song titles dropped madly), which makes her treat most people, especially her sweet and caring roommate Jennifer (whom Very insists on calling Lavinia), like shit. She also maintains an obsessive and secret online relationship with a mysterious persona known only as "El Virus," whose disappearance from the online world serves as a catalyst to her breakdown and exile to ESCAPE. In the second half: therapy, self-awareness, love, redemption. There are several reasons for Very's technology obsession, primarily a globe-trotting childhood with her (now dead) pyromaniac mother, and Cohn doesn't shy away from tackling difficult issues such as intimacy and sexuality.

I had several problems with the way this book was written. Not the premise, because technology addiction is certainly a very current and realistic topic, especially for the demographic at which this book is aimed. I have lately been considering my own level of addiction (which is fairly high, but not yet smartphone-enabled) and whether or not I should take a periodic break. Nevertheless, the way Cohn handles it is not very subtle, involving Very coming to a series of realizations with her therapist that spell out the message in technicolor letters.
In therapy, Very had made the connection that perhaps her overdependence on technology had been her way of not dealing with other, deeper pains. It wasn't about the technology so much as it was about something to do, to stay busy all the time, and to not connect to what was really in her heart.
I feel like most readers are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions along this line, given the numerous illustrations of the way Very uses technology to avoid deeper interaction. This is not to say that Cohn paints a picture in which technology = bad, the discussion is certainly more nuanced.

In addition, I felt that the writing itself was often trying too hard to be hip, or cutesy, or edgy, and usually just ended up being over the top. For example, this character introduction:
Jean-Wayne's parents, a French-Canadian artist mother and Vancouver-based Chinese businessman father, were both Francophiles and cowboy movie aficionados; they'd met in a Montreal patisserie next door to a revival house cinema where they'd both been to see a matinee showing of Stagecoach, starring John Wayne. They'd named their hybrid boy in tribute to their hybrid passions.
Trying too hard. And the last sentence is unnecessary, since the reader could have gathered that from the previous information.

Yet somehow, despite not liking the writing style, or Very, or the fact that the action was agonizingly slow until Very made it to ESCAPE, I still ended up liking this book. Why? Because, like Very [spoiler alert!], I fell in love with Jennifer/Lavinia.1 I am a sucker for a sweet romance.

Grade: B-

Random Thoughts:

On the scale of books that deal with the topic of sexuality and bisexuality, I do rate this highly. While not explicitly about these things, the description of Very's introduction to sex, her self-labeling as a "slut," and her view of oral sex as "a way for the giver to maintain control over the receiver's pleasure while simultaneously allowing the receiver to feel satisfied and grateful, but not attached" all have a realistic and touching quality. For me this, not the technology mumbo-jumbo, was the real meat of the book.

It seems like I've been reading a ton of books lately that feature dead mothers (despite my great dislike of that trope), so I'm making that statistic an official part of my book reviews for 2010. At the end of the year, we'll see if I managed to read more books with living mothers than dead.

Youtube videos from user Very LeFreak ("Technology Detox with Rachel Cohn"). This seems to be connected to some sweepstakes that Random House is running.

Dead Mother: Y
Book Review Index

1This is exactly what happened when I read An Abundance of Katherines and just goes to show you that love interests, unsurprisingly, can be a lot more attractive than the main character.

1 comment:

Lee Wind said...

Great review - very thoughtful, honest and helpful!