Loner by Teddy Wayne

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David Federman is a new freshman at Harvard and Loner is the story of his first semester. Despite David overdoing his SAT vocab words, Wayne’s writing is readable enough to convey the wide-eyed hopefulness of the first few days of college with scenes of dorm ice breakers and syllabus hand-outs. It seems like a standard autumnal coming-of-age story, but the story turns upside down as we get to know David a little better.

David is an awkward, mumbly, obnoxiously bright teenager who hopes to leave his lonely high school days behind him. He begins his college experience with dreams of admiration and success, and he becomes infatuated with Veronica Wells, a fellow freshman who lives in his building. She’s from a wealthy Manhattan background, the daughter of a father who works in finance and a socialite mother. She is effortless and cool and David considers her the key to his college glory.

The novel continues with David telling the story of his first semester like a letter to Veronica, referring to her as “you.” I thought this was a little too similar to Caroline Kepnes’s recent novel You, but Loner is a bit more realistic. (It is worth noting that David is just as much of a creepy, entitled dweeb as the narrator of You.)

David dates Veronica’s roommate, the adorable and sweet Sara, to get closer to the object of his obsession. There are a few scenes where David takes advantage of Sara to get sexual experience; his reasoning is that he wants to know what he is doing once he wins over Veronica, and it’s not only creepy but chilling how David sees nothing wrong with his behavior. This novel is not for people who need to like a main character, because David Federman is one of the most despicable characters I’ve read. At first he seems like a slightly arrogant nerd whose insecurity makes him a little bit of a jerk, but as the story progresses it’s clear that he completely lacks empathy for others.

Wayne created an entertaining and deeply upsetting character with David Federman and Loner is a page-turning story. It’s equally funny and disturbing, nostalgically collegiate and contemporary in its reflection of current issues. I highly recommend it for people who like unreliable narrators.

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You by Caroline Kepnes

You
I picked up You by Caroline Kepnes because it has one of those plots I find immediately intriguing. After hearing one or two bloggers talking about it, I wanted to read it right away.

The novel is told from the point of view of a stalker as he becomes unhinged over a girl, told as if he were talking directly to his victim, which is where the title You comes in. The narrator, Joe, is a nondescript twenty-something man with an inferiority complex because he didn’t go to college. Aside from the stalking and murderous impulses, he’s sympathetic. At times more sympathetic than the girl he is stalking: Beck, an ivy league educated MFA candidate who is insufferably narcissistic.

In this way You flips the concept of ‘likability’ on its side by giving the stalker full reign over the narrative. Of course Joe narrates his life and crimes as if he were a good guy, but you can’t help but agree with him about certain things, like how obnoxious New York hipsters are, or how irritating #hashtags can be. His running commentary shines a light on how deeply sad he is, and you kind of want him to give up the stalking and go to community college. You understand why he hates New York hipsters from Ivy league colleges because he was raised in the city with an abusive family and no educational prospects. As well read as he is, he’ll never fit into the world Beck comes from. But every time the reader comes close to sympathizing with him, he does something truly messed up, which makes the novel both uncomfortable and darkly entertaining.

It has the addictive Gone Girl effect – except You doesn’t really have any twists. Everything you think would happen in a novel about a murderous stalker happens, and the end doesn’t feel so much like a twist than a final breath of air before a fall.

Unfortunately, the writing style was either bad or just age-group anachronistic. It reads like a John Green novel if a John Green novel had murder and very explicit sex scenes in every other chapter. I have no trouble with adult subjects in YA novels – but parts of this novel were truly explicit, not something I’d feel comfortable recommending to a kid to read. In You all the sex reads strange because of how juvenile the writing is. Kepnes was trying to write a novel that is pointedly about millennials, so that’s part of it, but I think a lot of it was just bad writing. The reading experience is quite fun, though. Fast-paced, addicting, all the stuff you want a thriller to be. I spent hours last weekend reading it because I didn’t want to put it down.

This novel is junk food. I recommend it to anyone looking for something quick and satisfying and not polite/boring: travel reading for those who hate romances, perhaps? Older high schoolers or younger college students looking for something edgier than the average YA novel but without too much needless literary substance will love this, too. It’s not Gone Girl (they’re never Gone Girl), but it’ll do. I’m looking forward to the sequel Hidden Bodies, which comes out in 2016. I can see this turning into a Dexter-esque series with the added sociopathy of millennial angst. Which is as much a reason to read You as any. (Or a reason to never read it. Your call.)