Thalia @ Pictures in the Words

I'm Thalia! I run a book blog called Pictures in the Words and I hope to be an editor for YA fiction. I'm a GoodReads refugee!



Currently Reading

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Andy Weir
Progress: 31/369 pages
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Arousing Love (Review)

Arousing Love, a teen novel - M. H. Strom

What did I read? Seriously, I’m partially convinced that this whole experience was one bad dream.


I have to admit, I picked it out because it looked like it would be terrible. (You just can’t trust free books.) But one of my best friends from college and I wanted to read something together, and for a while, it was actually kind of fun and funny. But when I moved back home for the summer and had to finish the book on my own…it was significantly less enjoyable. Significantly. I reached a point where it seemed like stabbing myself in the eye with my mascara wand over and over and over again for a straight twenty-four hours would be more bearable—and more enjoyable.


I’m not exactly sure what genre this is supposed to be either. It’s some kind of Christian-also-trying-to-be-semi-erotic? I don’t understand. It’s like the author didn’t realize that, generally speaking, people who want to read strongly Christian-themed books don’t want to read anything remotely near erotica. And those who are in the mood for erotica probably aren’t looking to have religion shoved down their throats. And yet, my friend and I found ourselves fielding ridiculously long religious explanations between occasional page skips—some things we are simply too dignified to read aloud.


Anyway, this book completely bombed. Nobody ever talked about the fact that Zach and Joanna seeing each other (sexually), especially since her parents explicitly disapproved of their relationship, was technically illegal, given the age difference. Joanna’s dad was the most sexist and prejudiced man I’ve encountered in modern fiction in a long, long time. And the whole thing was terribly written, terribly executed, and just downright terrible.


What I Liked: Spoilers!

  • I realize this is a pretty crappy thing to say in this section, but if you have a friend who is willing to trade off dialogue with you and read everyone’s voices in funny accents, overly dramatized—then this book does have some comedic value. Perhaps if she and I had gotten to finish the whole thing together, I would have given it two stars just for that. Nobody wants to hear that they wrote a bad book, but at least there’s some redemption in it being a funny-bad instead of a I-want-to-gouge-my-eyes-out-with-my-mascara-wand-bad (though this book was both at different times).


What I Didn’t Like:

  • Should I talk about the writing, or is it a given? I don’t want to be cruel, but the whole thing was pretty much horrendous. In addition in incorrect grammar in various instances, Zach’s voice was all over the place, and the phrases and thoughts sounded so ridiculous that it was hard to take any of it even remotely seriously. I’m honestly not sure how anyone could have read this, pre-publication, and have had the presence of mind to think it was good and definitely ready for the masses to read. The whole thing was immature, poorly written, and generally eye-roll-worthy.


  • Zach and Joanna…hmm. I’m not really sure where to start with our protagonists. Zach is eighteen years old and lives at home, doing absolutely nothing with his life. (He kind of, sort of works in his parents shop [though I don’t think anyone ever explains what they actually do], but considering how much he skips work to hang out with Joanna, I don’t think the job is legitimate.) Despite his completely lack of adulthood, he lives in a “shack” behind his parents house (even though his mom still cooks dinner for him every night). And he must be the mental age of a ten-year-old. Joanna, if you can imagine, is even worse than Zach is. She’s completely selfish (I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from a shallow fifteen-year-old) and she is overwhelmingly emotionally unstable. Joanna is all about acting like a grownup, although nothing she does is mature or sensible whatsoever. The second day she knows Zach, she invites herself to his house and suggestively asks if she can use his shower. She borrows his clothes, comes out in just a t-shirt, and openly invites him to feel her up all he wants. Once Zach and Joanna start dating, she gets even worse. Joanna covers up her teenage lust by prattling on and on about how God wants them to be together, and God wants them to love each other, and how she is so ready to “get married in God’s eyes” by having sex with Zach. Zach has the audacity to glance at a group of girls at the beach as they walk by, and Joanna freaks out because it made her feel unwanted, unloved, and like he was just going to forget about her. (Literally, she wanted to “get married” aka, have sex, because otherwise, she thought he was going to forget about her when she went back home. She actually tried to use sex as a bartering tool to get him to continue to date her.) And, you know, when two completely emotionally unstable people get together, they think everything they do is a great idea. Zach complains to Joanna’s dad about having to marry her when she’s eighteen because it was already “hard enough” to not do anything sexual with her, so how could he possibly wait two more years? Yes, folks—love is all about the sex. You can’t possibly have a relationship based on anything else!


  • I swear, this book is why Christians get a bad name. It seriously covered every single controversial topic it could have, and while I, being a Christian and being a conservative, found myself agreeing with the basic ideas (as in, “Yes, I think that is wrong,” etc), none of their logic made an ounce of sense, even to me. Plus, don’t even get me started on Joanna’s father—after complaining that dads were given no role in who their daughters married anymore, he set a “bride price” was Zach so he could give Joanna away. Zach and Joanna’s father sat in a car and bartered for the life and future of a girl, and decided that yes, she could marry when she was seventeen, as long as they didn’t do anything sexual until then (then they had to define was constituted “sexual”, yecchhhh)—the dad basically told Joanna’s mom to shove it when she expressed unhappiness at her daughter getting married so young. The whole thing was ridiculous. Sometimes, I want to read books about people of my faith in a fictional setting—I mean, who doesn’t like to read about people going through similar things and having similar thoughts? But I don’t want everything shoved down my throat, disguised as a teen romance. (Teen romance that was way not appropriate for most teens.) The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.


  • Is this supposed to be Christian fiction or erotic romance? Sometimes, I just wasn’t sure. Between the lessons from Joanna’s dad, Zach and Joanna would sneak away to do things like paint nude pictures, make out on the beach only to be barely interrupted by strangers before going all the way, and spending a dang lot of time naked for no particular reason (considering it’s a Christian book). I’m not sure who the target audience was, but it seems like it really missed its mark. How does one begin to sell Christian erotica? It’s an oxymoron on all levels.


Overall: I think I pretty much covered all the bases, or at least the ones worth covering. You don’t want to hate the main couple, and you don’t want to feel like you’re being preached to throughout the course of a novel. You also don’t want to feel way outside your comfort zone, and this book contained all of the above. It was sexist, overbearing (in all aspects) and downright ridiculous. Anyone who thinks Zach and Joanna’s relationship could possibly be seen as romantic should take a step back and think about what actually constitutes a healthy, loving relationship and reevaluate the messages sent in this book. Definitely not recommend on any level.