Review: White Lines

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: White LinesWhite Lines by Jennifer Banash
Published by Putnam Juvenile on April 4, 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars

A gritty, atmospheric coming of age tale set in 1980s New York City.

Seventeen-year-old Cat is living every teenager’s dream: she has her own apartment on the Lower East Side and at night she’s club kid royalty, guarding the velvet rope at some of the hottest clubs in the city. The night with its crazy, frenetic, high-inducing energy—the pulsing beat of the music, the radiant, joyful people and those seductive white lines that can ease all pain—is when Cat truly lives. But her daytime, when real life occurs, is more nightmare than dream. Having spent years suffering her mother’s emotional and physical abuse, and abandoned by her father, Cat is terrified and alone—unable to connect to anyone or anything. But when someone comes along who makes her want to truly live, she’ll need to summon the courage to confront her demons and take control of a life already spinning dangerously out of control.

Both poignant and raw, White Lines is a gripping tale and the reader won’t want to look away.

First Sentence: “I reach one hand out from beneath the warm dark of the quilt and turn off the alarm, the shrillness breaking the early morning silence.”

Review:
The funny thing about expectations is how often they’re wrong. I really did not expect to like this book, because I hate reading about spoiled rich kids acting out for attention, and the reviews I’d seen had been largely middling. Actually, an unsolicited review copy arrived on the very day I decided this book wasn’t for me, because the universe has a sense of humor. Anyway, I actually ended up really enjoying White Lines, which won me over for the strong voice and gritty feel.

On the surface, White Lines is every bit the heir to novels like Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, and it’s even set in roughly that era. There’s the same pompous sense of style, the flair and snobbery and focus on what people are wearing. Money, drugs and alcohol flow with abundance. Parents flit through only to provide money and housing to their children, too busy with their high society lifestyles to actually parent. Immediate gratification is the main goal of these kids’ lives, with questions of the future put off as something to deal with at some later date, as though the problems will melt away.

If what you want from White Lines is a depiction of the seedy club scene of the 1980s, then you will not be disappointed. Cat parties every night, and does a lot of drugs, though primarily cocaine as the title implies. Though she remains somewhat of an innocent in certain areas, she sees a lot and hears about even more. Her job as a promoter brings her into contact with a lot of shady people, most especially the owner of the club where she works, a man in his 40s who obviously has interest in her.

All of that is quite well done and solidly atmospheric, but it’s not what sucked me into White Lines like Cat sucked cocaine up her nose. What kept White Lines from feeling tawdry and like a historical fiction version of Gossip Girl was Cat. Obviously, Cat is fucked up, raised primarily by her physically abusive mother, who constantly berated and hit her for not being the perfect little daughter. Cat’s father ignored the situation, and eventually divorced her mother for a younger, hotter, more exotic woman, setting Cat up in a downtown apartment by herself.

While Cat struggles with a lot of emotional problems as a result of the physical abuse (fear of being touched), mental abuse (self-doubt), and neglect (feelings of being unwanted), she remains surprisingly self-aware. She knows she’s doing stupid things and acting out, but doesn’t want to stop. Though she suffers from depression and anger, she doesn’t whine. Her primary emotion is rage and not self-pity, which is the thing I cannot stand from characters given every opportunity in life who choose to flush their futures down the toilet. Since I appreciated Cat’s willingness to take her life at face value, even if she’s not handling it well, I really rooted for her to come to some resolution and not to OD before she can grow up and find people who care about her.

The ending, however, came off a bit too rushed. It reads almost like an epilogue, though it’s not labeled as such, jumping into the future and detailing what became of everyone in the short term. This skips a lot of details and character growth that would really have added to the emotional impact of the story. The sudden conclusion left me vaguely unsatisfied and unconvinced.

White Lines is a hard-hitting story of the dark, drug-laced 1980s club scene in New York City, and will appeal to readers who enjoy the works of Bret Easton Ellis or have an interest in that era. It’s a very dark, upsetting story, but a worthwhile one. I will be curious to see what Banash tackles next.

Favorite Quote:

“When you’re focused on survival, there’s no way to plan for or even think about the future. It hangs there in the distance, as abstract as a Mondrian painting, shimmering just out of reach.”

22 responses to “Review: White Lines”

  1. My kind of story! Love realistic fiction. Thanks for the review.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I am so interested to read this and I’m really glad you liked it! It actually sounds a little bit like one of my favorite authors, Francesca Lia Block, who writes a lot about gritty 80s club life (although she does it in a very pretty/magical realism way). I looked on your goodreads and I saw that you HATED FLB’s first book Weetzie Bat, so I’m guessing this is not TOO similar. Although some of FLB’s other books, like The Hanged Man, are darker, deeper and grittier than WB, if you ever want to give her another try!

    Oh, and I hate Bret Easton Ellis too!

    • Christina says:

      I really hated Weetzie Bat. Bekka’s got me convinced to try some of her other stuff someday, but I still give her the side-eye.

      I like magical realism, but her writing did not jive with me. Also, it pissed me off that it’s the length of a beginning reader book.

    • Stephanie says:

      Ha ha, see, I liked the length! I’m a super slow reader and I’ve read WB like 6 times! Also her books made me fall in love with Los Angeles… HOWEVER, I read her for the first time in middle school, so if I’d first approached them as an adult I might have had a different reaction. I’d try The Hanged Man, which I think is her strongest writing, and if you don’t like that one then you probably won’t like any of them! Hanged Man sounds more similar to White Lines too–deals with crazy parties, drug use, and abuse (sexual not physical though).

    • Christina says:

      Oh, see, I just felt cheated, like it was written in 20 minutes, especially since it felt like someone’s drug trip vision. Hmm, I’ll probably get out of the Weetzie Bat series. Wasteland was one recommended, I think.

  3. Molli Moran says:

    Hmm, I’m getting more psyched for this one, especially because you mentioned that Cat is very self-aware. Whenever I wrote a character who had self-destructive tendencies, I always tried to make them the same way. I feel like they’re at least somewhat understandable and sympathetic that way. I initially had no interest in reading this, but I’ve read another good review, plus yours, so I’m starting to find myself curious about this book!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

    • Christina says:

      Sometimes I do think people don’t realize their behavior is self-destructive, but I feel like most of the time you know but can’t stop it. I know I’m like that when I get angry. Even though I know blowing up at someone isn’t the best way to handle it, it’s like a car crash and I can’t stop myself.

  4. Kayla Beck says:

    This isn’t something for me, but, as always, I enjoyed reading your review. Thought I’d say so instead of just lurking as usual. 🙂

  5. Amy says:

    I love how gritty this book sounds and being an 80’s child I am loving that it’s set in the 80’s. This sounds like a book I would really enjoy. Cat seems like a very interesting character. Fab review babe!

  6. I have been trying to decide if this book is for me. I keep thinking that it is, but then I read “meh” reviews. But after reading your review, I definitely want to now!!!

  7. I’ve read one other review of this one and after I read it, I decided that it sounds like something I’d probably like because of the raw grittiness of it, which I’m surprised to say that I tend to actually enjoy. Your review just solidifies what I already think – that I’d enjoy this one. Loved these thoughts, enjoyed reading them! Hope I can get around to this one soon.

    • Christina says:

      Gritty fiction, when it’s realistic, has turned out to be my favorite genre lately, even though I used to avoid it like the plague. Hope you enjoy it as much as you expect to!

  8. This is in my tbr pile *eyes swaying tower of books* and after reading your review I am going to go dig it out and read it sooner rather then later. I love that it is raw and gritty..i was a teen in the 80’s and married in 88.

    • Christina says:

      Oh wow, you were actually a teen in the 80s, though probably not remotely the same kind of teen. Still, the blast from the past might be so much fun. You should read Eleanor & Park too. 🙂

  9. thebookwurrm says:

    Dude, you are so evil. Every review I read from you makes me want to read the book. Now I generally avoid these kinds of books but if it wanders my way and the mood is right, I will try it cuz you said it’s good.

  10. jban says:

    Thanks so much for the extremely well written and perceptive review! I loved reading it. If you’re ever interested in doing a giveaway or interview, etc, please contact me at jbanash@bwscampus.com–I’d be glad to provide signed copies. And thanks so much again–this book was a conscious homage to works such as Less than Zero and The Catcher in the Rye, and I’m thrilled you picked up on that 🙂

    • Christina says:

      Aww, thanks! That’s very sweet. Thank college for being able to pick up on those elements, because I certainly wouldn’t have read Less Than Zero on my own, nor did I like it much. However, your take on it worked much better for me. The characterization sold it.

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