Disclaimer: this is more of a rant than a review. You have been warned.
I had a lot of trouble coming up with an opening line for this review. I wanted it to be witty and hilarious and surprising and something so genius that you would want to keep reading. Because the book that I’m reviewing, Upside Down, is none of those things. So I don’t blame you at all if you stop reading here. I wish I’d stopped reading Upside Down after the first sentence.
Upside Down is a romance. A New Adult romance. Filled with every cliché that you can imagine:
- “Ugh, I hate this guy, but he’s hot and mysterious so maybe I love this guy.”
- “This girl is pretty and exotic and a little bit ‘broken’, so I’m fairly into her. Too bad this OTHER stone cold fox totally messed me up because of our generic tragic past, otherwise I’d be in trouble and fall for the new girl. Wait, hold on a minute, that’s what I just did. After sleeping with her, of course.”
- Hey look! A university setting.
- No way! TWO sets of disappointing parents? Wow, we have something in common now!
- Hang on, your sister died? Wow, that’s really sad. Pity we’re too busy having sex and making up drama to really make this a centre point of the story.
- And for the grand finale….
LOVE TRIANGLE. Wait, let me rephrase that. SEX TRIANGLE. The main characters want to sleep with each other, but there’s this other guy who totally wants to bone the main chick. And he just so happens to be the main guy’s friend. Of course, the friend is a total pig so the main guy comes off being all sensitive and sweet.
Gag me. The only romances that ever work in books are the ones that happen with the plot, not the ones that are the plot. Jace and Clary, Tessa and Will, Peeta and Katniss, Ron and Hermione, Viola and Todd, Rose and Dimitri, Sydney and Adrian, David and Meg. Every single character I just mentioned had way more going on in their lives than simply the other person. The other person was an equal, a partner to fight Death Eaters/take on the Capitol/eradicate the Dark Shadowhunters with. No game playing, no faux drama, just unadulterated love that had been tempered by true terrors. Maybe their terrors were a little more than what we’d face in real life, but still. These relationships are real relationships. In every romance book I’ve read, the only thing that matters is whether the main people get together. That’s it, that’s the whole plot. And since I’ve been reading some incredible books lately (thank you Patrick Ness), a sub-par plot like this really gets under my skin.
So, the basic plot is that Talia comes to Australia to escape the grief of her sister’s death and the fact that she slept with her sister’s boyfriend on the anniversary of that sister’s death. Bran’s deal is that, you guessed it, he had his heart trampled by his “first true love” and stops believing in love. Only to start believing again with the completely generic Talia.
I couldn’t believe it when I was reading yet another romance where the love interest was repugnant at first. Why is this a thing? It’s a romance, we all know that the pair of you are going to bang, so just shut up. Plus, why was there so much “oh me oh my, why does this guy get my heart racing? Why do I react like this to him when he is such an arsehole?” It is the 21st century FFS. Surely you understand lust by now. Seriously, just shut up.
The chapter structure of Upside Down made absolutely no sense. Each chapter was either titled “Talia” or “Bran”. But 95% of the chapters were from Talia’s perspective. So why did we need Bran’s chapters? Even the big reveal about his ex happened in Talia’s perspective. The distinction was completely unnecessary. Especially since the only differences in their narrative voices were:
- Bran said “fuck” more than Talia
- Bran also used a bunch of Australian slang that was way too bogan for someone from central Melbourne. Especially someone from central Melbourne who was raised in an upper class family. And, as an Aussie, can I tell you the last time I heard someone say “let’s hit the frog and toad”? Four years ago. When everyone was drunk and I think the cricket had been on at the pub. And we don’t say “like a wombat trapped in headlights”. We say a “deer” or a “rabbit” just like everyone else. I felt like Riley wanted to make Bran feel Australian in a way that hasn’t been Australian for decades.
- Talia mentions her OCD every once in a while (I’ll come back to this).
And that was it. Without those things, the voices would have been identical.
Talia’s OCD frustrated me. Now, I’m going to say right here and now that I do not, and have never, suffered from OCD in any form. But I know people who have. And Talia’s OCD felt more like the author trying to make her character different from the nameless horde of romance heroines out there by giving her a debilitating mental illness as her quirk. Some parts were OK, but for the most part, I felt like Talia’s OCD was an aside. It was something to show that she was “different” more so than an actual issue. Which really annoyed me because I just read The Rest Of Us Just Live Here and Ness captured the horrific nature of OCD as well as writing an actual character for a protagonist.
Of course, if anyone who lives with OCD has read this, and I am way out of line, please tell me and I will totally rescind this entire paragraph. Like I said, I do not live with this illness.
Finally (because I’m already almost at 1000 words), there were absolutely no subplots. And there could have been. This book could have been amazing. All of the stuff with Talia and Bran’s families and school and friends and all of it could have added to the plot. Talia could have hung out with friends more. She could have, I don’t know, sat in a classroom. She could have done anything at all besides think about Bran all the time.
And Bran could have interacted with his friends, his family, had scenes where he thought about Adie, and even had a chapter where he talked to her. The fact that Bran’s dad was a developer who stripped the environment for personal gain and Talia’s mum possibly had an eating disorder could have been subplots. These could have been explored to make this book more than it was. Instead, these things simply were supposed to show that Bran and Talia were totally deep and totally flawed and totally amazing, guys, really. But all that it did, for me, was show me how much potential this book had to be good. Great novels are tapestries, woven from tiny threads of story within story to create a beautiful piece of art. Upside Down was a failed tea cosy that had been left on a dusty table with the knitting needles still inside.