This is the complete review as it appears <a href=[...]>at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV</a>. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here. Graphic and children's novels reviewed on the blog will generally have some images from the book's interior, which are not reproduced here.
Note that I don't really do stars. To me a novel is either worth reading or it isn't. I can't rate a novel three-fifths worth reading! The only reason I've relented and started putting stars up there is to credit the good ones, which were being unfairly uncredited. So, all you'll ever see from me is a five-star or a one-star (since no stars isn't a rating, unfortunately).
I rated this novel WARTY!
WARNING! MAY CONTAIN UNHIDDEN SPOILERS! PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
For about 90% of this novel I was convinced I would rate it positively, but that last ten percent or so killed it for me. The ending was not only unbelievable given what we'd been told of the main two characters, it was just ridiculous.
Some people have compared this novel with the work of John Green, who I can't stand, so I am glad I didn't read any of that before I picked this up otherwise I would never have read it. This novel succeeds where the absurdly pretentious and laughably ethereal Green fails so catastrophically. Despite how bad this was in some critical parts, it still made Green's writing look like a series of bumper stickers, but in the end, the good writing wasn't nearly enough to make up for the poor plotting.
This novel began its life titled Severed Heads, Broken Hearts. I guess that's what happens when Big Publishing™ gets its grasping fingers on your title, because the original summed it up perfectly: there actually is a severed head and a (metaphorical) broken heart, but the real severing and breaking all takes place on the plot. I think a lot of people might presume that the new title refers to the main female character showing up in the main male character's life, but the beginning of the title is really where this novel ends.
I normally detest first person PoV novels, but this one was so well-written generally speaking, and so un-pretentious (aside from a paragraph here and there) that for the most part, I didn't even notice the 1PoV, much less become annoyed by it, so kudos and thanks to the author for that.
Ezra Faulkner and his best friend Toby Ellicot are on a roller-coaster ride at Disneyland when the guy in front of them stands up right before a low overhang, resulting in his head (sans his body) ending up in Toby's startled hands. The result of this - of the infamy that will not leave Toby alone - is a major cause in the two best friends drifting apart between the ages of twelve and seventeen, when another major event - this time affecting only Ezra, brings them back together.
In the intervening five years, Ezra has progressed (if you want to think of it that way) to become a jock (after a fashion) and a really popular guy, hanging out with other jocks and getting whatever dates he wants. He's dating cheerleader Charlotte, until he discovers her in flagrante de-dick-do with some random guy in a bedroom at a party. How Ezra can even give her the time of day after this is a mystery, but despite what she has done to him and the despicable way she had treated him when they had been dating, he never turns his back on her - although he is smart enough not to be seduced by her again, so I guess he isn't completely dumb.
Because he leaves the party early as a result of Charlotte's appalling betrayal of him, Ezra ends-up being in his car when a big Jeep SUV, which ran a stop sign, slams into him - although how the stop sign is relevant is a mystery. Ezra's knee is shattered, effectively terminating his budding tennis career, which he wasn't sure he really wanted anyway, but it means that he's now out of the rut he was in, and feeling at a loose end - if not several of them.
It's not only the rut, though. Ezra is out of things altogether for the entire summer, and he feels like an outsider when he returns to school. His old friends don't seem to want to exclude him because of his injury, but he feels excluded nonetheless, and since he's signed up for the debate team, he finds himself hanging with the artsy, nerdy crowd, which includes his old friend Toby. who adopts him without any problem during an hilarious scene at the school's pep rally.
As soon as we see mention of Cassidy Thorpe, the new, quirky girl in school, it's obvious that she's going to be Ezra's love interest, and it soon becomes obvious what her 'dark secret' is - its not dark, just obvious. The fact that there's no mention whatsoever of the name of the guy driving that jeep SUV ought to clue you in to what the nature of this secret is.
This was what was the least realistic and least believable for me and what began to sour the story. It makes no sense at all that Ezra wouldn't realize who Cassidy might be or how she might connect to his past, and it makes no sense that someone as smart as she supposedly is wouldn't put two and two together, so the big break-up at the end was disingenuous and way too forced for my taste.
Another issue I took was with Ezra's exalted jock status. He was on the tennis team for goodness sakes! That doesn't mean that he was a nobody, but I found it hard to believe, given the tight focus in college and high school on football and basketball (and everything else be damned), that he would be the star jock we're expected to believe he is. I detest the mentality that these two sports are everything and nothing else matters in schools. It's primitive and pathetic, so kudos to Schneider for not going the most traveled path here and making him a football or basketball star, but it didn't seem realistic to me that he would have the status he'd had when he was 'merely' a tennis player - and the team wasn't doing that great anyway.
Nor did it make any sense that Ezra would not have one friend among the entire team that he would hang with or talk to on the phone! Nor did it make any sense that none of his jock friends would visit him in the hospital after his accident. Nor, given what we learn of him in school that year after the accident, did it make any sense that he would have a whole heck of a lot in common with those jocks to begin with. So, for me there were a lot of twisted issues here which spelled bad writing - at least in terms of plotting.
on the positive side, I really, really liked the way this was written with regard to the repartee between the main characters. It played out so easily. It was literate, witty, funny, and engaging. I felt tempted to give it five stars just for its Doctor Who references alone, but of course, that would be very naughty of me. Had I not run into issues like the ones outlined above (and more below), I would definitely have rated this positively. What tipped the balance irretrievably into the negative was the trashy and unbelievable ending.
I don't believe a novel has to have a happy ending, although I would argue it has to have some sort of resolution at the end, so it wasn't that this ended the way it did which bothered me per se; it was that it ended the way it did despite this ending not even remotely jiving with what we'd been told about the characters for ninety percent of the novel.
As exhibit one, let's take the two main female characters in Ezra's life: Charlotte the ex and Cassidy the next. I submit to you, members of the jury, that there was - for all practical purposes - no difference between the two despite Schneider's ham-fisted effort to try and starkly differentiate them for us. I submit that despite being encouraged to believe that Cassidy was streets ahead of Charlotte for being smart, and deep, and caring, she actually was worse than Charlotte.
At least with Charlotte, what you saw was what you got. Cassidy, on the other hand, we're expected to believe, could be so shallow and blind as to betray Ezra, treat him like dirt, keep him in the dark, refuse to talk to him about a critical issue, and be so dumb that she could see no way out of their supposed dilemma than to break up with him and avoid him like the proverbial plague.
What a bunch of coyote s***.
We're expected to believe that the reason she keeps him out of her home is because of her brother and conflict with her parents, yet she's already doing this long before she knows for sure who Ezra is. It makes no sense.
I could not credit that she would totally cut Ezra off without explanation, and with outright lies given everything we'd been told about her up to that point, and given their feelings for each other. No, That does not work. I can't believe she was so dumb she never figured out what had happened - and no, confusing Ezra with a tree doesn't get you out of that jail free.
I can't believe he was so dumb that he believed her lie. I can't believe he was so dumb that he didn't figure out what was going on. OTOH, he did continue to date Charlotte despite her treating him like dirt - at least until that fateful party, so maybe he really was as dumb as he looks. Talking of which, I can't believe the driver would get away with a hit and run like that either. Yeah, it can happen, but no, it's not really credible.
Oh, and Schneider really needs to look up coyotes in wikipedia or somewhere before she starts trying to pretend that they're five feet long (yeah, if you include the tail, but that's dishonest in the context of this novel). Coyotes are only about three feet long in the body, and two feet tall. In short, they're the same size as a standard poodle, give or take.
She kept harping on the coyotes for no good reason, and the reason she mistakenly thought was good was pure bulls***. Coyotes do not behave like the one she depicted. They're not serial killers and they do not randomly approach humans with canicide in mind. And where were Ezra and Cassidy? They were right there and neither one lifted a finger, so their sadness afterwards is nonsensical.
I can't recommend this novel - not unless you're just going to read the first ninety percent of it and skip the lame ending, and even then you'd have to contend with Le Stupide.