So I don’t normally review books. No particular reason for this, other than it never really occurred to me. However, with the release of the debut novel from my current publishing home, Endever Studios, on the horizon, I thought now was as good a time as ever to start.
Standard Spoiler Disclaimer: I’m not going to tiptoe around the plot for the sake of avoiding spoilers here. I won’t be disclosing anything in-depth, nor is this a synopsis of the book, but stop now if you want to be kept pristine for the first reading.
Additional Disclaimer: I have to declare an interest, as Andrew is the founder / owner of Endever Studios, my new publishing home. However, he knows what I think about his book, and my wife will tell you I’m not in the habit of being sensitive when it comes to these kinds of things. No pandering here.
Title: These Great Affects
Author: Andrew Toy
Publisher: Endever Publishing Studios
Publication Date: 20th October 2016
Certificate: 12 (mild language, mild sexual content)*
First up, a confession: When I started to read These Great Affects I did so from a position of disliking YA romance, and I am still not a fan. This is not to cast aspersions on either Andrew Toy or his novel: it’s just who I am and what I like. That being said …
These Great Affects is, in many ways, a pretty standard love story. Girl meets boy; girl falls in love; obstacles arise, are overcome, and the relationship is deepened. Except in this case, there’s a further obstacle in the course of true love, perhaps the only truly insurmountable obstacle: by the end of the first act the boy is dead.
This is no spoiler: it’s the twist that makes These Great Affects more than just another teen romance. Up until this point, Adelle Hitchens and Trill Vickers are, if I’m honest, fairly standard romcom types: she the daughter of a politician father and a trophy-wife mother, their family in the throes of an impending divorce, with all the baggage that comes with this set-up; he the wise-cracking cute guy who lives life on the edge and abides by his philosophy of Affects — crucial emotional moments in life that are to be experienced and savoured.
However, it’s Trill’s untimely death that really gives this story its edge, and shows off Toy’s gift for smart dialogue and dark humour. There’s a lot of obvious comedy arising from a situation where a teenage boy is unseen and unheard to anyone except the girl he falls for — the scenes in the psychiatrist’s office are laugh-out-loud — but Toy also manages to work into this scenario some pretty hefty reflections of the nature of loss and love, and the connection between them.
The tagline of the book is “A ‘loved’ story”, the idea being that the past tense of ‘love’ lasts longer than the present tense — and it’s these reflections on the nature of love, and the particular kind of love that blossoms between the two main characters, that really give the book its heart. In the course of reading I began to see the book as a meditation on bereavement and the grieving process: Trill and Adelle will never get their ‘happily ever after’, and the crux of the novel is Adelle coming to terms with this and finding a way to let go of Trill so she can be truly happy. Most of the secondary characters are undergoing a crisis in love: parents are divorcing or separated; teenagers are navigating the fine line between love and lust. Love, in These Great Affects, is something that everyone is struggling with.
But the point, I feel, is not that love is an object in and of itself — that we must get love to be whole and happy, which is, when you think about it, a pretty selfish philosophy, and one that is guaranteed to bring heartache to someone at some point — but rather that love is a catalyst for change, and it is the change that is important. After all, love can be cut short by all kinds of things — divorce, death, or simply varying affection — but when ‘love’ becomes ‘loved’ we are still here, and the only thing to do is to learn and grow.
Stylistically, Toy is a good writer and great with dialogue: some writers can make you trudge through ‘talky’ scenes, as characters disclose plot points and motivations with all the natural ease of a brick, but Toy manages to walk that line between exposition and characterisation. His characters talk like real people, with real internal thought-lives and sometimes a real struggle to express what they are thinking (perhaps this is what made it so easy for me to visualise this as a film). If you want a class on how to write dialogue, read this book.
Some of the set-pieces are brilliant: there’s a moonlight walk that’s straight out of a dream, the afore-mentioned psychiatrist’s visit, and a half-sweet half-cringeworthy funeral that manages to make you wince, chuckle and nod in sympathy. We’ve all been to those kinds of gatherings, where you’re not entirely sure what the rules are of what’s coming next, and Toy captures that nervous uncertainty perfectly.
The one thing I constantly tripped up on was Toy’s use of the third person present tense as the narrative voice throughout the book. This may be a thing, and I get his reasoning behind it — first person present has been done to death in teen fiction, and third person past can seem old fashioned and stuffy — but I just found myself tripping over it now and again. It created a distance between me as a reader and the characters, making it hard to fully invest, especially in the early scenes; but the strength of the characters overcame this (admittedly minor) quibble, and if it’s not a thing that bothers you then you’ll wonder what I’m talking about.
On the face of it Andrew Toy’s debut is a cute, sometimes soppy, sometimes goofy YA romance with a paranormal twist; but it is that twist, I think, that makes These Great Affects just a little bit more than the sum of its parts.
Reader’s Digest: Cute, thoughtful, smart.
Grade: 8.5/10 – merit
‘These Great Affects’ is published by Endever Publishing Studios, and is available in e-book and print-on-demand from 20th October.
* A note on my certification / ratings system. I’m going by the British system, which is:
- U – Universal: suitable for all ages
- PG – Parental Guidance: suitable for all ages, with parental guidance
- 12 – Suitable for viewers aged 12 and over; mild adult themes / sexuality / violence
- 15 – Suitable for viewers aged 15 and over; moderate adult themes / sexuality / violence
- 18 – Suitable for viewers aged 18 and over; strong adult themes / sexuality / violence
This isn’t a guide as to what I would let my own children watch / read, as I’m pretty conservative and I’d consider some 12 and 15 rated material inappropriate for my own children at those ages, but this is a good rough guide and my attempt to be impartial.