Hello and happy Friday. I promised you a rant, so here you have it. I don’t know if you know Katie Wismer, a BookTuber. Her channel is called KatesBookDate. I found out about her novel, The Anti-Virginity Pact, through her channel and I was obviously drawn to it. Sadly, yes, it was a huge disappointment and I’m here to tell you why. I requested this book via NetGalley and I thought I had no chance to get it, so I’m thankful to them, the publisher, and the author.
I read this book between May 21st and May 26th, 2020, and gave it one star. Before the actual novel starts, there is a page with content warnings, and I appreciated that. I hadn’t seen that in a book before. That being said, it’s pretty much the only thing I can say I liked about the book. If you’re curious, this is what the author listed as content warnings: bullying, religion, sexual assault, animal abuse, substance abuse, anxiety, and trauma. That’s the exact list, but there’s more I’ll discuss later. Personally, I don’t like reading about three of the items listed (I’ll let you guess which), so I knew the book and I weren’t off to a great start. That doesn’t mean I was predisposed, but the title does make you wonder, doesn’t it?
When I give a book one star it is because I have found something structurally wrong with it, and since this is the case, I won’t go super deep into minor details. I want to say, however, that the writing style was not for me. I hate sentence fragments and this had a lot of them, especially towards the beginning. I also didn’t like how everything had an explanation like the author was telling us that she hadn’t left any plotholes, that her story was developing exactly how she had planned and that everything made sense. That is not life, and I’m no writer, but I don’t think that’s what writing is about, either.
The whole book is dark, because, well, duh. I mean, judging solely by the title and the list of content warnings you’d assume that’s going to be the tone, but besides that, it was all pseudo-deep and I don’t like that. I like simple language and I think that it can have as much effect as big words and metaphors and hyperbole can. Also, the main character is supposed to be eighteen years old, but she sounds way older. I am twenty-six and I don’t even sound like that. At times, reading this felt like I was back at university in my American Literature of the 20’s class in which everyone would say the biggest words they knew to try and impress the teacher. Well, reading this I was not impressed, I was annoyed.
Now let’s talk about the structural issues that I found. The title is pretty self-explanatory, right? The main character writes and signs this pact with her best friend that by the end of their senior year they’ll lose their virginity (not to one another, although that would’ve made the book way more interesting) and obviously everything goes to shit. There is no way to read this book without thinking about one’s own views, experiences, and lack thereof, is it? From a somewhat young age, I stopped considering having sex for the first time as “losing my virginity.” I rarely talk about the concept of virginity. To me, having sex was something that would happen if/when I was ready and with a person I trusted. Again, these are my views and this is my experience, but I think that for someone young, who has questions, who doesn’t have a clear idea, a book like this might be misleading.
I did not go to school in the United States. I went to a Catholic school for women in Colombia. Did this shape my whole view of sex? Probably. I never felt pressured to have sex because it was part of the things I was supposed to do in high school. I did talk about it with my friends, but in general, not about when we would each have sex for the first time. I know there’s a pressure and I know that there are cultural differences, but those might have prevented me from clicking more with the story.
Like I mentioned, the plot of the book is, this girl signs a pact that states she and her best friend will lose their virginity before graduating high school and everything that can go wrong goes wrong. My question reading this book was, what was the purpose? What did the author want to accomplish by writing this? It wasn’t really helpful for young readers that might struggle with the pressure others put on their sex lives or the choices they want to make. It wasn’t really sex-positive. I think it was more of a cautionary tale against having sex while you’re a teenager…which, seriously? Don’t have sex because you’ll get pregnant and die? I mean, I guess that is a valid purpose, but had I known it was, I wouldn’t have requested this book.
I had serious issues with Meredith, the main character. I know that I’ve said the story was not relatable to me, but Meredith read exactly like people I know and don’t like. She was the kind of person who would look down on everyone and think she was better than them whole simultaneously being jealous of them and wanting to be like them. I’m not saying the other people at school weren’t shitty as well, but that didn’t excuse her attitude.
Meredith has anxiety and she takes medication for it. This is how her character was portrayed and I’m going to tread carefully because I don’t want to say something that invalidates anyone’s struggles or experiences. As a person who has been diagnosed with anxiety and as a person who has read and felt represented in other books, I don’t think that anxiety was being portrayed accurately. I say this, and again, I am talking from my experience, because the main character describes her anxiety as something that comes and goes. I think she confuses being anxious with having anxiety, which I guess is a mistake people who don’t have anxiety can make. I’m not assuming that the author does not have anxiety, but I think she did not portray it accurately.
Let me elaborate more on the inaccurate portrayal of anxiety. Meredith starts seeing this guy, Sam, and when she’s with him it’s like she’s cured or something. She even says things like “I should feel this way, but because he’s here I don’t.” Honey, that’s not how anxiety works. Yes, the person you’re into makes you feel nice and cute, but the thoughts that anxiety provokes are always there. Anxiety is a constant. Yes, there are triggers and yes, there are flares, and also, yes, there are ways to soothe it, but it does not come and go that way, at least not for me. The idea that a romantic interest can make anxiety go away or whatever is not new and even authors like Sophie Kinsella in Finding Audrey (which I adore) explore it in a very interesting way.
Another problem I had was the use of ableist language, with words like “crippling” or “you’d have to be blind not to see this.” This book will be published in 2020. The author can do so much better. I mean, those comments did nothing at all for the plot, so it could have been fine without them.
Meredith is a white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender woman. She belongs to a Christian middle-class family. She has been diagnosed with anxiety, but other than that and being an atheist in a family of believers, she really doesn’t have any problems, or does she? She mentions that she feels forced by her family to participate and believe and whatever. I am not a Christian or a Catholic. I do not practice any religion, but I think it is valid that some people feel restricted by their families because of their faith, especially since Meredith’s dad is a pastor. What I didn’t get is the fact that she was never vocal about this up until she was confronted by her parents about something else.
Remember when I said that Meredith and her best friend signed the pact? Well, the best friend, Harper, decides that she will have sex for the first time with…her teacher. No. I’m going to talk from the perspective of a person who had crushes on teachers at school and a teacher, okay? Look, it’s no secret that teenagers are hormonal and yes, developing a crush on a teacher is not uncommon or unheard of. What was honestly cringe-worthy was the way in which the whole “relationship” was portrayed. I’m using quotation marks because, and hear me out here, people have crushes on their teachers all the time, but most times they amount to nothing because they are pathetic and illegal.
Now, let me talk as a teacher. Teachers are used to being misrepresented, misunderstood, and all the “miss” anything you want, both in real life and in fiction. It makes sense in books in a way because many authors do not have the experience of teaching students within the age range of their characters, and so they rely on what they think or what they remember from their own high school experience. The teacher Harper wanted to sleep with? He was a guy in his mid-twenties, minding his own business, who probably was kind of attractive and tried his best not to gag every time a sixteen-year-old would try and “flirt” with him. He did not engage in whatever Harper thought she was doing, and yet the way Meredith depicted him was like this pathetic loser who rejected her best friend. They even say something along the lines of “he earns a crappy salary.” Yes, we do. That is a fact. He’s not a teenager who broke up with you via text message; he is an adult who doesn’t even consider being in a relationship with you because, among many other important reasons, he likes his job and wants to keep it.
Oh yes, the trigger warnings that were not listed. There are a few homophobic comments and a subplot regarding homophobia. Additionally, judging by the way the characters act when it comes to food, I could sense disordered eating. There is no specific mention of an eating disorder, but I noticed that the main character rarely ate, and when she did it was too little. There were also many mentions of her not being able to eat or leaving her food untouched.
That’s it for today’s rant. I am finishing this post as I listen to my boss giving us instructions for the end of the year and I can’t wait to hang up and play Sims. Do you have any book recommendations that accurately portray the topics I found problematic in this novel? Let me know in the comments below.
Love, Miss Camila