Word Spelunking

Calli - Jessica Lee Anderson I was drawn to this book because its synopsis makes it sound so intense and palpable. Unfortunately, the book just didn't live up to the synopsis or my expectations. I expected more gut-wrenching drama, more teenage rebellion, more realism, just more more-ness. But what I got, was a relatable, yet somewhat boring, look into the mind of 15 year old Calli.This is not an issue book, although it covers a wide variety of issues (abuse, sexuality, bullying, body image), it does not preach to readers about what is right or what is wrong. And that's ok because it's not the issues that drive this book; it is the simple glimpse into the title character’s life that drives this book. A glimpse that is created by Calli herself through her first person, present tense narration.As the book begins, you find yourself dropped immediately in the middle of Calli’s life. This abrupt beginning makes things confusing at first because there is no back story or prologue that lead up to the events on the first page. As the novel progresses, Calli juxtaposes memories of the past with her present, but at times this only makes things more confusing and only creates more questions.I honestly liked Calli and found her relatable. Calli is not perfect, she is flawed. She doesn’t have a confident, sarcastic razor sharp wit to rely on. She doesn’t always know what to say and often ends up saying the wrong thing. She has her insecurities and self-doubts. She’s not the prettiest, skinniest, smartest, or kindest. But it is her lack of spectacularity that makes her relatable. On the inside, we are all really Calli’s.I think Anderson created a semi- layered characterization with Calli, but she fails to do so with her other characters. Calli’s moms, boyfriend, best friend, and foster sister do not seem like fully developed characters. Most of the time, they seem to serve no other purpose other than pushing Calli’s story along. At times, I found myself distracted while reading, simply because I was wondering why a certain character said this or would do that; and because these characters were underdeveloped, I was never really able to connect with them or feel invested in them.Calli’s foster sister Cherish is one character that definitely needed a fuller characterization, especially since she is the catalyst that prompts the ripple effect in Calli’s life. We are told that Cherish was abused and spent time in foster care, but we are never given any real insight into her character or given any reason as to why she would steal, kiss Calli’s boyfriend, or lie all the time. I wanted very much to sympathize with Cherish, as Calli seems to do, but I found myself constantly asking “Why should I?”.I wasn’t impressed by the voice of this novel; it simply did not sound like that of a 15 year old girl. Having been a 15 year old girl, and currently living in the same household as a 15 year old girl, I’m pretty familiar with how the mind of a 15 year old girl works, and Calli’s narration just didn’t sound genuine. Even at her angriest or saddest, Calli never really complained about Cherish, her moms, or her situation, not even in her own head, which is unrealistic. We all think things that we would never say out loud or admit to thinking, but we think them…especially teenagers, and Calli’s narration really lacked this honesty.This novel ends as abruptly has it began, but that’s ok. The abruptness not only works but is fitting at the end. This is not the story of Calli’s life from birth to death. It does not span years and lives. No, this is a glimpse into a brief, fleeting, yet significant time, in Calli’s long life. We don’t need to know all that will come after, because that’s not the point.I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. I honestly feel like this book would have worked better in third person or possibly as a novel in poetic form. I did like Calli and found her relatable. But I do think her character has the potential to be better, she just needs a bit more development.

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