I wanted to like The Savages so much more than I did.
And also Jason Chan cover art!
At dinner one night, fifteen-year-old Sasha Savage drops a bombshell on her parents: her new not-quite-a-boyfriend-but-more-than-a-friend-friend, Jack, is a vegetarian. Which, considering their family history—during the siege of Leningrad, Titus Savage's parents saved themselves from starving to death by preying on their neighbors—is a Very Big Deal. Food is life to the Savages: eating together, sharing their secret together, keeps the family together.
So, to Titus, Sasha's first boyfriend represents not just the loss of his little girl, but the possible destruction of THEIR ENTIRE WAY OF LIFE.
- As I said above, CANNIBALISM. In spite of the many YA IS SO DARK WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN-ers, there aren't all that many YA books that are joyfully, unrepentantly macabre. And this book very definitely falls into that category.
- There are moments of hilarity, mostly involving Jack, who is a supremely self-absorbed, narcissistic jackass.
- Whyman gets in some good digs at the militant ends of the animal rights debate while also providing a more reasonable perspective. (And by reasonable, I mean that some of the characters give voice to the crazy idea that one's diet is one's own personal business. Within reason, obvs.)
- It's repetitive. Titus' bald head is described as a 'dome' twice in the first fifteen pages, and then again a couple of other times, and Angelica's—I don't know if her name was a nod to Anjelica Huston, though it seems likely, no?—issues with money are not only mentioned, but fully explained over and over and over again.
- Lots of telling, not much showing: "appeared disappointed", "shrugged as if to suggest that she was none the wiser", etc.
- All of the characters speak in the same voice: stilted, and semi-formal—if it had just been the Savages, I'd have given it a pass because they're such an insular unit, but the secondary characters and other outsiders do, too.
- That mostly-consistent formality ("Grandpa, is Katya supposed to be in your care?") makes the occasional slang ("Now, Jack certainly isn't perfect, but he does manage to resist an urge to murder for the lols!") sound forced and dissonant.
- This ties into the tell/show issue, but it's a large enough issue that it deserves its own bullet point: Sasha is so profoundly aware of her own psychological make-up that it's pretty hard to believe. For example, this is the bit where she explains to her friends why she hasn't had the sex with Jack: 'Had I just given in and gone for it,' she said, 'then right now I wouldn't be feeling good about myself. Jack is my chance to prove that when it comes to my life I call all the shots. My dad has already marked him down as someone who could lead me astray. The last thing I want to do is make things difficult by acting like a sheep.' Actually, that's a great example of the ongoing formality, too.
Overall: Overall, it's very much style over substance, but the high interest storyline isn't enough to counteract the weak character development and the mediocre prose. Not a good fit for me, though fans will be happy to here that there's an upcoming sequel. Others might want to re-read The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs instead.
Book source: Purchased.