Size Doesn’t Matter (139): Well, That Was Awkward; Honestly Ben

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.

Size Doesn’t Matter (139): Well, That Was Awkward; Honestly BenWell, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
Narrator: Simone Policano
Length: 6 hrs, 15 mins
Published by Listening Library on February 28, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can't breathe, can't walk, can't anything--and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J.

But it turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie's beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J.'s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She's had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best.

It's all good. Well, almost all. She's trying.

Funny and tender, Well, That Was Awkward goes deep into the heart of middle school, and finds that even with all the heartbreak, there can be explosions of hope and moments of perfect happiness.

I read the If We Kiss books a couple of years ago, and they were fairly cute, but I didn’t love them. My expectations were pretty low when I embarked on the audiobook of Well, That Was Awkward, but I have a complete inability to resist potentially shippy books. Well, That Was Awkward turned out to be the cutest little shippy middle grade comedy of errors.

At the start of Well, That Was Awkward, Gracie’s hormones suddenly kick on, and she finds herself unable to breathe properly around her friend A.J. But then A.J. turns out to like her best friend, Simone, and Gracie’s struggling with being supportive while being jealous that she didn’t get the guy. Gracie’s voice is so funny and real; I love her humor, and I also love all the ways in which she’s flawed and jealous. It’s also pretty cool that Gracie’s a class clown type, popular but also deeply uncomfortable with herself (which, I mean, who isn’t in middle school?).

The romance elements are adorable, and they’re so middle school. Sienna requires assistance from Gracie to text with A.J., and the couple can barely interact in person. Gracie ends up being the one to text with A.J. in a Cyrano twist View Spoiler ». Gracie and Emmett are a freaking cute ship, and I love what ridiculous nerds they are with their favorite lakes. I also love that Gracie doesn’t care that he’s much shorter, except that Riley said she’s not supposed to date any guys who are shorter. There are some sort of middle grade echoes of The Upside of Unrequited.

There’s also a strong family element to Well, That Was Awkward. Gracie’s sister died before she was born, and, though, as Riley said in a bitchy moment, it’s not Gracie’s tragedy, it does affect her. She plays the clown because she feels it’s her job to be happy all the time and keep her parents’ spirits up. I really love the way the family arc plays out; even loving families have misunderstandings and things to work on.

If you’re looking for a cute, funny middle grade with romance, look no further than Well, That Was Awkward!

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Size Doesn’t Matter (139): Well, That Was Awkward; Honestly BenHonestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg
Series: Openly Straight #2
Published by Arthur A. Levine on March 28, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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Goodreads
two-half-stars

In the companion to Openly Straight, Ben confronts pressure at school, repression at home, and his passion for two very different people in figuring out what it takes to be Honestly Ben.

Ben Carver is back to normal. He's working steadily in his classes at the Natick School. He just got elected captain of the baseball team. He's even won a full scholarship to college, if he can keep up his grades. All that foolishness with Rafe Goldberg the past semester is in the past.

Except . . .

There's Hannah, the gorgeous girl from the neighboring school, who attracts him and distracts him. There's his mother, whose quiet unhappiness Ben is noticing for the first time. School is harder, the pressure higher, the scholarship almost slipping away. And there's Rafe, funny, kind, dating someone else . . . and maybe the real normal that Ben needs.

My first experience with Bill Konigsberg was Openly Straight, which I read early last year. I completely loved it, and the open/unhappy ending left me with an urgent need for Honestly Ben where surely my shippy dreams would come true. Sadly, though, Honestly Ben wasn’t the book I was hoping for, more about the message than providing a satisfying conclusion to Rafe and Ben’s romance.

I’ve been wanting bisexual love triangle books for ages, and it’s a damn shame that when I finally get one I don’t want it. Here’s the thing: I’m all for love triangles, but not when I was already ON BOARD A SHIP. I ended up completely loathing Hannah, partially because just WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE and partially because she turns obnoxious and pushy right when she needs to so that Ben will realize he prefers Rafe. She’s less a character than a tool for driving home that Ben is straight (see Ben Date, see Ben get boners for boobs). You know from the start that this love triangle isn’t going her way, and, most likely, if you pick this book up, it’s because you loved Openly Straight and want to see Rafe and Ben couple up; it’s just so half-hearted and annoying. I slogged through the first half of the book waiting for this whole thing to end.

The book does pick up when he gets back together with Rafe, and I do still sort of ship them. It’s just that there are SO MANY MESSAGES, and I felt like this book was overtly teaching lessons. Sometimes I really liked Ben’s voice, because he is this sensitive, introverted jock, but sometimes he would pontificate on misogyny and privilege in this way that felt like being on twitter; it just didn’t feel authentic to him or natural to the narrative. If Ben were going to think on this stuff, I’d have loved to see him tie in historical facts or something. Those sections were boring and distracting.

I’m also of two minds about Ben’s insistence that he’s not bi but gay-for-Rafe, if he has to be labeled as something. On the one hand, sexuality is complicated, and we should accept people’s labels for themselves. On the other hand, he is a fictional character, and I find it a bit odd to choose to write a book about how uncomfortable Ben is with labels and how he doesn’t want to be in a box, while having him be completely comfortable constantly labeling himself straight. It just feels (as Rafe comments) that he’s just afraid to accept any other label because of all the toxic masculinity he got from his father. Bisexuality is acknowledged, and Ben’s not opposed to it and even admits that he doesn’t know how he’ll ID in the future, which is really cool. I guess, again, I wish it felt more like Ben’s ID fit what he stated rather than being fear-based.

Honestly Ben tackles a lot of important subjects, and it’s definitely a book that will make you think. As a novel, I find elements lacking in favor of the messages being imparted, and I found some of the messages a bit fuzzy and unclear. If what you primarily loved about Openly Straight was the characterization and romance, you may be frustrated.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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