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Overcoming Death and Stereotypes ⇉ Review of What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Thursday, June 29, 2017
When I was in school, I would have friend groups for different situations. I met people in certain activities, and our interactions were limited to those situations. Or if we did go out and do something different, only people from that group attended. The older I get, however, the more I appreciate having a stable friend group that does life together.

The initial appeal of What to Say Next is that it breaks these "class lines" and puts a girl from the "in" crowd in the time and place as a boy from the "out" crowd. In the process, we're reminded of the unifying nature of our humanity. We don't have to be one or the other. As long as we put aside preconceived stereotypes, we can be just human.


WHAT I LIKED


It's the Small Details (that bring the characters to life)
In a fiction writing class I took in college, the professor told us that small details make a story more realistic. I was reminded of this early in What to Say Next because it is filled with small details about the characters from their mannerisms to beauty marks (like the cluster of freckles David notices on Kit) to their thoughts. Such details made them real to me and helped invest me in their lives.

Crossing Social Boundaries
High school is a microcosm of the "real world," and the social hierarchy is no different. Kit belongs to the "in" crowd (though she's not feeling very "in" right now) while David belongs to the "out" crowd. What's interesting is that Kit isn't very comfortable in her own skin while David is comfortable watching everyone from afar. Their worlds collide when . . . something happens to spark an unlikely friendship between them (see how I avoided spoilers by drawing from the synopsis below?).

I like how the story crosses social boundaries to examine how life could be if people set aside their differences to find common ground. Okay, this might not be the original intention of the author, but it's there and it's real. It makes the story real and relatable.

Also of note: Kit is of a diverse background, and it actually plays an important role in her life and how she perceives her identity. It's not mentioned and left forgotten like I've seen in other books. David has been diagnosed with Asperger's (and he has a problem with it being swallowed into the autism spectrum in the DSM-5, another little detail that brings his character to life).

Invests in the MCs' Stories
All of the above drew me into the MCs' lives. (This story is told in alternating perspectives between Kit and David.) Some parts were cheesy: like the party and what happens at the party, and like what happens in the last scene of the novel (I would've thought it'd take more time to get over what happened almost immediately before that).

However, Kit and David feel like real people, and they deal with very real-world problems. I'm sure many readers can relate to their feelings if not the problems they deal with.

Brings Together the Pieces
There's a big reveal at the end (because what's a contemporary novel without big reveals?). To be honest, I could deal without another piece of drama added to the mix, but to give author Julie Buxbaum credit, this one was well done. I like how it made a lot of inconspicuous events from earlier turn into foreshadowing. If you're into rereads, it'd be worth giving this one a shot after you've seen the big reveal, so you can see how Buxbaum builds up the big reveal.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


Some Loose Threads
There are some plotlines that don't get developed much or get an ending. For a time, they seemed important, but they get dropped after the plot twist is revealed towards the end.

The Content: Language & The Afterlife
I have a list of content in the table towards the bottom of this post, but I'll be addressing a couple in more detail here.

Language in particular comes up frequently in What Happens Next. Enough that I felt uncomfortable.

From various details in the novel, it seems that the author is more secular minded. For example, a conversation on life after death uses a paradigm in which science and religion are considered mutually exclusive, and the characters agree that there is no life after death. While I love how the story explores real world issues, I would think twice about recommending this book because of the values expressed.


FINAL THOUGHTS


What to Say Next has some of the most real characters I've seen in a contemporary novel, and it explores real world issues with which we can relate. Readers who enjoy a book with well-developed characters will enjoy this one. That said, I would caution readers to check out the content in the book before delving into it as some readers, especially more conservative readers, may not be comfortable with the content. (See content list in the table at the bottom of this post.)

★★★☆☆


Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?



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Publication Info
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Julie Buxbaum
  • Published by Harper Collins
  • On May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Frequent Language
  • Kissing, making out
  • Thoughts of female nudity (not explicit)
  • Death & Descriptions of a Car Accident
  • Aspergers / Autism Spectrum
  • Bullying
  • Fight scene (not entirely explicit; it's mentioned later that some students get sent to the hospital)
  • Mentions of an affair, divorce papers, and couple therapy
  • Underage drinking / house party
  • Questions on life after death. Science and religion are treated as mutually exclusive entities. Determines there is no life after death.

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