Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hijacked By Stupid People

Nothing I hate more than reading what should be a very good book only to have The Scene happen. Every reader knows what The Scene is. The Scene is that moment in the book where everything goes to Hell and you want to chuck the damn book across the room. In this instance, I was able to finish In Between Men by Mary Castillo, but damn if The Scene didn't ruin an otherwise great read for me.

Isa Avellan is having a really bad day. An ESL teacher, this southern California single mom has just learned that the students of her school have voted her the most unfuckable teacher. She's so undesirable, she took first place over of the science teacher nicknamed Bilbo and the librarian who is 500 years old. When the fallout happens (as in press coverage because some students feel they're wrongly suspended) her slime-ball ex-husband cashes in on her 15 minutes by trash-talkin' her on a sleazy morning radio show (think Howard Stern). On top of all this, she takes a soccer ball to the head at her son's practice and starts having visions of Joan Collins (as Alexis Carrington) as her guardian angel. Then there's Alex Lujon, her son's soccer coach, hunky single guy, and way, way out of her league. Why are they always finding themselves alone together?

This starts out as a fun, fast read. I love the Joan Collins' touch (hey, I've always wanted my own Pips), and the author alternates first person point of view between Isa and Alex. I really like Isa, who seems like a nice woman, overwhelmed and a little unsure of herself. It's funny without being slapstick, and there's a lot of interesting, meddling characters around that keep things moving along.

I'm even willing to overlook a few things. Namely, the list that circulates among the students naming Isa as the most unfuckable teacher. It's a photocopy. Um no. This was published in 2006. High school kids would IM it, text message it, or post it on MySpace before they'd hand out photocopied lists. Just saying.

And I'm willing to overlook the author's glaring lack of Beatles knowledge. Something was not written about Yoko Ono and it is not sung by John Lennon. That's all George Harrison, and it was written about rock n' roll muse Patty Boyd (who also inspired Eric Clapton's Layla and Wonderful Night). Sure I'm a huge Beatles fan, but geesh, doesn't everybody know this?

Ahem, anyway - I'm going along for the ride. I'm overlooking the little annoyances. It's fun, it's reading fast, things are going along just fine and then I get to it. The Scene That Ruins Everything. The Scene That Makes Me Want To Scream. You guessed it. Yep, the characters have impulsive, unprotected, didn't even think about birth control until after the fact sex. ::hurling book against wall::

I'm all for characters having free will. I'm all for them making "bad" choices. But when the characters are too damn stupid to learn from their past mistakes? That just makes them idiots. Idiots who are incapable of learning. Isa's son was the result of an unplanned pregnancy at 19. She shelves her "dream" of going to med school and instead goes into teaching. Her asshole husband leaves, and she's now a single mom. I'm not one, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say being a single mom is no walk on easy street. Don't you think this would make Isa more diligent about birth control? And to have sex with the guy in the back seat of his car and not for one single moment think "condom" or "did I take my pill?" No, she isn't even on the pill. Hey, I know she hasn't had sex in a long time but - hellosy, you're a single mom!!!! You can take the pill even though you aren't having hot, sweaty sex every day of the week. Honest.


Can you tell this is a bit of a hot button for me? Which makes it sound like I loathed and hated this book. I didn't. I really enjoyed parts of it. But the unprotected, is-she-pregnant conflict drove me bat shit crazy. There was enough going on in this book conflict-wise without this bit of nonsense. But I take comfort in knowing I'm not alone, because one of the characters towards the end says exactly what I had been thinking since The Scene. Isa's best friend, Tamara, implies that Isa might not have made the best decision in the whole world by having unprotected sex. Isa then reams her out by saying:
"You're not the one who has to live through this again. Think I forgot? Am I that stupid to you?"
Um yes darling, you are. You really, really are. And it's a shame too because for the vast majority of this story I really liked you. Bugger.

Final Grade = C-


Alie said...

LOL Wow you'd really hate Christina Dodd's Tongue in Chic then! It happens several times in that book too.

There are certain "themes" that bother me in romance too, like your unprotected sex issue. I can't stand unintelligent women in period romances. I also can't stand when the intelligent women have careers they never could have had.

Cathy in AK said...

This is one of my biggest "GAH!" issues as well--otherwise smart and interesting characters that get stupid for the sake of tossing in a plot device. Book-to-wall. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Granted, we don't always make the smart decision, especially when we're all hot and bothered, but to not even THINK about birth control? I might let an "Oh, what the hell," slip by, but even married and financially secure (relatively) I'd have asked myself if I remembered my pill that morning.

Thanks for the post. As a wannabe author, I will strive to avoid The Scene : )

Rosie said...

Well this review puts to bed forever me worrying about an author's reaction to my review when I'm going to be meeting them in person. I have to go to the panel now just to see what happens especially with Joan Collins thrown into the mix. Who can forget the famous cat fights between Alexis and Krystle (Linda Evans) on Dynasty.

Meowr! Pfffftt!!

Wendy said...

Alie: You know, I don't necessarily need the condom scene. I just "assume" the characters are using protection even if the author doesn't give me the details. What I can't stand is when the unprotected sex morphs into the "OMG! What did we just do? You could be pregnant?!" conflict. I can roll with it in historicals, but in contemporaries I don't find it credible. Cuz smart people know that pregnancy is easily preventable - and um, if that's the conflict obviously I'm not dealing with smart characters.....

Cathy: That was exactly it. I was really liking these characters until that moment. And given Isa's past, I just had a hard time believing she would fail to even think about birth control. I mean, she obviously learned nothing from her past and that really bothered me.

Rosie: I had a hard time grading this book because I really enjoyed it except for my ranting on the unprotected sex. I was a little worried about the Joan Collins thing because I thought it might be overly silly. Sure it was a little silly, but it was also a lot of fun. Let's face it, having visions of Alexis Carrington playing your guardian angel would not be boring. And I like Castillo's writing style, she just hit on one of my admittedly hot buttons here.

HelenKay said...

Without the unpotected sex part, is this a B range book for you? Or is it impossible to separate out that plotline and tell? Just wondering since it's on my TBR pile.

Wendy said...

HelenKay: I can separate the conflict, so I would say it's easily a B range read otherwise. Even though the Unprotected Sex, OMG Am I Pregnant conflict gets on my last good nerve I'd have no qualms about reading another book by Castillo. She just hit one of my hot buttons here. And as we all know, not all readers have the same "hot buttons."

Sherry Thomas said...

I recently threw what would be a hissy-fit for me when I told my editor absolutely no way was I going to make a certain change she'd wanted. And my reason, if I made the change, where was the birth control going to come from?

And I write historicals.

Me, too, I have a thing about birth control.