Initial reaction: This is going to be a long expansion in the full review, but I'm honestly disappointed in how juvenile and false this narrative came across. Not to mention it pretty much trivialized everything from rape/sexual assault to mental illness and put it all in some chick-lit-ish cute bow just so that the heroine finally grew some buns of steel close to the end of the book to tell her controlling parents the word "no." And all in the measure of a bad boy who just so conveniently happens to love her and *show* her the right way. Never mind her actually doing these things herself and being proactive, because she's never once that in this narrative. Always the follower.
I'm not happy with this work at all. The unfortunate thing was that it had a good premise, but the execution was just wrong. All wrong.
Fair warning, long review.
I struggled a couple of days figuring how to write this review. Even pondered over it in my commutes, because I don't think I've read a book this mediocre since RaShelle Workman's "Touching Melody", but for entirely different reasons. So this will be equal parts rant and constructive examination.
If going by premise alone, "Loving Liberty" would be the kind of book I'd like to read. I like seeing characters struggle and grow through the course of a narrative. I like watching characters stand up for themselves in the face of adversity and come into their own as they learn to assert their needs, wants and desires in life. I even like more than my fair share of romances, though I tend to prefer slow burning romances. The reviews cited for this book were mostly glowing, and I'll admit that made me a little weary because I didn't see much in the way of critique, but I jumped in anyway for the experience.
What I got from the experience made me beyond angry. Granted, the tone of this review is probably much more dialed back than if I'd written this in the heat of finishing it, but I'm glad I waited because maybe I can spell out what went wrong with this story on so many levels it'd make one's head spin - and why I'm utterly baffled by the fact that it's getting so many praises. What the heck did I miss in this story to make it such an inspiring read? Inspiring? More like insipid, unrealistic, belittling, trite, puerile, highly offensive without knowledge of being that way, and extremely formulaic. It wasn't worth the time or the digital ink it was printed on.
One of my biggest pet peeves reading is a story that feels like it's beating me over the head trying to sell all of its respective intentions on a surface level. That's probably the first line of offense "Loving Liberty" commits, though depends on who you are as far as how this may be offensive. Despite every intention behind the construction of this work - it is entirely puerile in the way it's told. I was extremely surprised to see this, even considering this is an NA work (which I know you guys know I have a mostly miss ratio with this genre, but I read it anyway to see if I can find something that clicks with me, and I'm fortunate to say I have in a few occasions. VERY few.)
The tone of this felt like it didn't really know which audience it wanted to write for. This is New Adult, but the narrative feels like it could be a combination of that, middle grade, YA, or happy go lucky adult chick-lit (which is extremely inappropriate given some of the tougher subjects this story tackles). Boring's narration is largely inconsistent and awkward, the voice of the heroine is naive and grating. She's supposed to be 21 years old, but sounds like a 13 or 14 year old girl (and I'd almost hesitate to say that, because that's underselling that age group for some levels of maturation). More on this in just a bit.
I got that this was a story about a young woman who's controlled by her family for just about every aspect of her life, but from the obvious *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* references to Liberty's name in the text to the purported role she has in this story, I think this book set itself up to fail from point one.
It felt fake. This entire narrative felt fake. (This is a description I know I'll probably come back to often.) It's like expecting someone to serve you a hot fudge sundae and they only give you the whipped cream with the cherry. Doesn't cut it. One-dimensional characters, melodramatic scenarios, NA stereotypes, blatant disregard for the seriousness of mental illness and using it as a plot tool, trivialization of rape/sexual assault, slut shaming, bitch slamming, tool of a boyfriend who just so happens to be oh-so-perfect and cater to every need and teaching the heroine how her life is screwed up and ways she needs to rise above it (never mind she doesn't figure much for herself), over the top evil family....and this narrative expects me to take it seriously for standing up for what you believe in and not taking crap from anyone? THIS is supposed to be INSPIRING?!!
But I digress, let me start at the beginning.
Liberty lives with her parents at 21. They control every aspect of her life, from the clothes she wears to the classes she takes at her local college. Even her choice of a potential lover (Andrew). I'm actually not knocking that premise off the bat because in a situation where a family is abusing another family member, this can happen. I remember reading the case study of a 34 year old woman who still lived with her parents and they basically ran her life to where she didn't realize she *had* any choices, or else she would be physically, mentally and emotionally punished. It was a really sad situation because the woman was very secluded and it took her years of therapy to realize she could make choices for herself and stand outside of her parents' shoddy abuse.
Liberty is quite different. If it isn't obvious by her name (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*) that she desires independence, then she take the opportunity to tell the reader this in several capacities. Lo and behold, she ends up meeting a perfect bartender whom she instalusts over and finds a common point to speak about her controlling presence. I think I heard Liberty obsess over this guy's muscles and imagining him shirtless in multiple spanning pages.
Oliver isn't a bad character, don't get me wrong. He starts out charming enough, but then devolves into the familiar perfect male character as the story progresses. He becomes Liberty's "rescuer" through the narrative. Some of this actually could've had potential if it wasn't so heavy handed. I did want to like some of the times when Oliver made the gestures to let Liberty choose where she wanted to eat and encourage her to be able to *make* choices in general. But I felt like the narrative was handing this to me on a silver platter and Liberty was more passive than active, following Oliver's lead in just about every spectrum.
And Liberty's family was the worst. I don't even think Domyouji's mom from Hana Yori Dango could hold a candle to the OTT cruelty that Liberty's mother, father, and sister showcased. Liberty's sister slut shamed and sold her out so many times, it was very unbelievable - drama for the sake of drama - all over a guy no less. (I'll get to that guy later, because I have a whole section I'm dedicating to "other" guy, and he was the reason I was beyond angry with this book.) Liberty's mom was overbearing, constantly demanding of Liberty's time and expectations without even a thought given to her daughter's wishes. Liberty's father expected perfection from her studies and to aspire to "be a good wife" - which is just as much misogynistic as it is inaccurate towards a person's worth. But as Boring introduces these problematic turns, she really doesn't do much to knock them down, especially not in subtle ways when she actually does try to do so.
Case in point: Andrew. Screw him a thousand ways to...well, you know. It wasn't just the fact he was a problematic character. Oh no, he was a set piece for melodrama and problematic presentation for a lot of different things.
Andrew is the boy that Liberty's family wants to set Liberty up with. He's supposed to be charming, wealthy, the "perfect" boy for Liberty to hook up with. But Liberty hates him, and for good reasons. Unfortunately, this is also handed out in a "Captain Obvious" fashion. Every time she pushes him away, he gets more intrigued by her. Every time she does something he doesn't like, he belittles her. He shames her weight, knocks down her ideas on traveling abroad, basically the two are not a good match and yet he doesn't do anything but want to possess her any way he can. Even to the point of heckling her and SEXUALLY ASSAULTING HER after they've officially been not together anymore.
Andrew is the reason why Liberty's sister hates her with the power of a thousand...somethings. Why her sister slut shames her and basically blackmails Liberty into getting Andrew to like her instead of Liberty. Of course said plan backfires, so Liberty gets in trouble for seeing Oliver to the side. Liberty's family obviously doesn't like Oliver. They will do anything to keep her from seeing said bartender.
Even threaten to trap their own daughter through the guise of mental illness.
I had enough issues with the way mental illness was treated in "Ten Tiny Breaths", "Levitating Las Vegas" among other narratives. NA seems to be a ground for showcasing either having a mental illness in an over the top fashion that's far in the measure of drama for portrayal of that character's experience OR as a baiting tool to keep a character from doing something the character's caregivers or enemies don't want.
In this case, Liberty's parents pretty much told her they would have her committed (again, she suffered from depression when she was younger and they trapped her at the hands of a cruel, manipulative doctor) if she threatened to leave the life she wanted to leave behind.
Tell me again how this is supposed to be realistic. Tell me again how this is supposed to be "inspiring." It's manipulative and utter B.S. and I don't understand why this kind of thing is shown for portrayal in the measure of mental illness - it's offensive and inaccurate and honestly someone has to call it out for being what it is: melodrama. And I'm not sympathetic for calling it out to be this because I hate seeing it. I really do. I wish NA authors (and even Boring herself) would actually treat mental illness for being the difficult measure that it is. That they would treat bullying for being what it actually is. For treating sexual assault/rape for what it actually is, rather than as an afterthought or vehicle for melodrama or conflict porn.
It doesn't convey any kind of understanding or respect for the issues they really are. And if it can't be portrayed seriously, how the dickens is it that others will be able to understand what it is and take it seriously? Portraying these very important problems in our society so casually makes them trivial and people numb to them (which is dangerous!), and the portrayal of these was in fact trivialized in a way that made me sick as I read such. So honestly, I couldn't take her narrative portrayal seriously. At all.
Ultimately, Liberty gets her moment to shine by standing up to her family and controlling circumstances, but it isn't without the heavy backing of "true luv" and Oliver's constant presence. It would've been far more rewarding if Liberty had really come into her own for herself. Instead, it felt like the moral of the story was that you need a man (or S.O.) to help you along and see you through all of your problems. And real life doesn't work that way. Sometimes you have to pick yourself up by your boot straps, and you have to do it alone. There may be people encouraging you along, and that's fine - we are human. We can't make our lives without being able to have some emotional support close to encourage along the journey. But ultimately, the decision to move forward in the face of adversity lies from within, and then it's series of stages from that point which are never so clear cut or easily resolved.
This narrative felt so false not only for the portrayals, but the overarching messages it so blatantly sent out. It even tries to "hang a lantern" on the portrayals (like the reference to Liberty's name), but honestly that felt more cheap than amusing.
I cannot recommend this narrative.
Overall score: 0/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.