(this review has a formatting fail...sorry!)
Sia is one of those books that absolutely oozes potential. The beautiful cover pulled me in and I was beyond excited to start it. In YA, we read books about amnesia all the time, but this seemed like it would take something old and tired and make it feel…well, exciting again. However, though I was interested in the first chapter, I quickly grew tired of the story. And when Sia finds her way back home and starts figuring out who she used to be, well…I was frustrated. Sia is a “gem” of a character–that one person who can absolutely do no wrong, and looks down on others for their decisions if they’re not in line with hers. She’s extremely judgmental and the story itself followed so many terrible stereotypes when it comes to wealthy families and “preppy” teenage girls. The writing was awkward and lacked flow, and I just…didn’t enjoy it. Sometimes, it made me angry and I would throw my hands up in exasperation. However, it wasn’t completely terrible, and there was a little something there that didn’t make me hate it through and through.
An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- There is something there, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. I wanted to see how Sia’s story played out, and I was interested to see if Kyle, Sia’s love interest, ever became a more prominent part of the story. While I was disappointed with this book on the whole, there was something there that made it bearable, if not enjoyable. I’m not quite sure what it was–just a feeling somewhere in there. Sia had a moment of growth, learning to accept her friends won’t always be as “humble” as she is, and that it’s okay to embrace glamour, and I guess that was important after her actions previously.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The stereotypes in this book were…overwhelming. The first thing that struck me when Sia comes home after her jaunt with the homeless is the way she treats her friends. She comments on their expensive and tight clothing, and narrates in a somewhat condescending tone that one of them actually bursts into tears. (Because if you wear rich and expensive clothes that somehow makes the fact that your best friend was missing for a week more bearable?) She’s appalled by how much effort they put into how they look, and the same goes for what she thinks of her parents. There are some stereotypes I really can’t stand, and the “rich, white girl” trope is one of them. A girl is not shallow or selfish because she’s wealthy, not because she likes to wear makeup, not because she likes to do her hair, not because she likes to dress in clothes she thinks are pretty, not because she wears high heels to school. Sia looks down on her friends before she even finds out that they’re rude to kids at school, simply because of the way they dress. Because they care about what they look like and put more time into themselves before going out the door, that somehow makes them shallow? I don’t buy that. Sia continually degrades her friends for the way they look and “wearing too much makeup” or whatever through the entire book, and for someone we were supposed to look at as being “morally right”, it didn’t sit right with me. Regardless of the fact that these girls looked down on and bullied some kids, I couldn’t get behind a main character who would shame someone for the way they chose to dress. Sia goes through the same thing with her parents. We were also supposed to look at rich people as selfish, shallow, and material, but the homeless people Sia meets are humble, modest, and polite. Because it’s impossible to have a humble rich person, and a selfish homeless person? To save bullet-point space, I’ll also throw in the sexism in this paragraph. A girl is look down on because she dresses up, but Sia can only get away with not doing those things because she’s so naturally pretty. She also dresses up for the Oscars to get more donations for charity from the actors there, and totally flaunts herself in order to do it. She and her friend, Alyz (a Russian–excuse me, Romanian supermodel), dance provocatively before talking to anybody, and then go to the people (read: men) who noticed them. Robert Downey Jr. even makes a move on her during the show! This old, drunk screenwriter (or director or producer–something like that) ogles her and leers at her, and Sia soaks it up because he’s going to write her a check–which he miswrites for $100,000–and Sia and Alyz take his money anyway, even though he was too drunk to know what he was doing. So dressing up isn’t okay if you’re going to be a normal student at school, but it’s totally okay to use your gender and your “natural beauty” to scam money out of people. Later, Sia mentions that Kyle and his friend talk about “a movie they’d been to recently, a comic convention coming up, and other guy stuff” and she can’t take part in the conversation. I’m not sure exactly what a girl is supposed to be by the standards presented here, considering they’re not supposed to be “girly”, but they’re not supposed to be interested in “guy stuff” either.
- Sia herself was absolutely flawless. It’s like she wasn’t even human. She’s so “attractive” that she’s sexually harassed several times in the first couple chapters, she volunteers to take on a job to help pay the bills, she flaunts that her friends are homeless, and she shows off her amazing new personality turnaround, but it doesn’t really count when you can’t remember what a jerk you were, does it? She devoted all her time to charity, told people how to “better themselves” and was just…boring. I don’t want to read about a perfect character–they’re totally inhuman! Sia can’t understand why people wouldn’t act the way she does, but she doesn’t realize that she’s essentially an aberration in the human race–nobody, nobody on this planet, can be selfless all the time or not have a single thing wrong with them. But Sia? She’s Miss Perfection.
- The narration itself was terribly stilted. We were told exactly what was going on, and it just…told the story. There was no emotion behind the words, even in supposedly emotional scenes. I won’t even talk about the fact that it was present tense and I hate present tense. I just didn’t get the same sense of…well, anything behind Sia’s feelings and motivations and emotions that I should have.
- Fugue amnesia and alcoholism are illnesses–and both are mental. Amnesia for obvious reasons and alcoholism because it’s an addiction. Neither of these are things that can just be “beaten” without serious work and serious dedication. Sia has fugue amnesia, which is a rare psychological disorder. The doctor says Sia should go to a therapist to help her recover her memories and also immerse herself in her usual habits. She and her family ignore the therapy suggestions and just make her go back to school (where Sia doesn’t immerse herself in her usual habits, by the way). It’s also evidently caused by enormous amounts of stress that cause the brain to wipe everything–a clean slate, if you will. Absolutely nobody seems interested in discovering why Sia was so severely stressed that she was affected with an extremely rare psychological disorder, nor do they do anything to make her better. I just don’t understand that. Sia’s memories come back in a sudden rush when a little girl hugs her (why?!), but we don’t get much of how Sia actually feels about everything. She never seems to mind that she’s living with strangers, or can’t remember anything except the last month of her life, and she doesn’t struggle at all with the fact that she’s lost her entire identity. This book just used the amnesia as a clever way to let Sia rediscover her motivations and priorities in life, but didn’t talk about what having a disorder like that would mean for the victim. Now, the second thing, alcoholism, is treated so flippantly that it’s just…a slap in the face to anyone who has suffered with it or has watched someone they love suffer. Sia’s mother has been an alcoholic for a year because of how stressful their life is, and she refuses to go to rehab because she doesn’t want to be with the “losers” in there. She screams and gets mad whenever anyone brings it up. The same day Sia comes home for the first time, her mom goes on a drunken rampage, and Sia and her dad try to talk to her. The usual happens with Sia’s dad and he leaves–but Sia tries to talk sense into her mom. She says she’s proud of her and she loves her and wham, bam, Sia’s mom is ready to go to rehab! She goes in the morning, and after a week, Sia and her dad go to visit. She’s doing much better and the doctor says she’ll be ready to go home in a few days! Yay! Oh…wait. Because alcoholism can be cured in a week? It doesn’t quite work like that. The minimum is usually thirty days for rehab centers that deal with addictions. I just didn’t like the flippant way this book addressed serious medical problems. It made it look so easy to get better, and it’s just…not.
Overall: This book and I didn’t get along for a variety of reasons. I just didn’t like the attitude taken towards women, shaming girls for wanting to look nice in front of their peers but making it totally okay for a girl to sexually taunt grown men in order to get donations for charity. I didn’t like the stereotypes and I didn’t like the way the book addressed mental diseases and portrayed them as easy to get over. Once I finished writing this, I glanced at some of my friends’ reviews and realized that I felt very similarly to most of them, so I’m not totally alone in my assessment. However, there was something here that didn’t make it a total loss, even if I can’t quite put my finger on why. This might be a book you want to look into when you’re at the library. I probably won’t be revisiting this one.