Title: Call It What You Want
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 384 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Bloomsbury Australia on July 1st, 2019
RRP: $16.99 AUD (paperback)
Blurb from Goodreads:
When his dad is caught embezzling funds from half the town, Rob goes from popular lacrosse player to social pariah. Even worse, his father’s failed suicide attempt leaves Rob and his mother responsible for his care.
Everyone thinks of Maegan as a typical overachiever, but she has a secret of her own after the pressure got to her last year. And when her sister comes home from college pregnant, keeping it from her parents might be more than she can handle.
When Rob and Maegan are paired together for a calculus project, they’re both reluctant to let anyone through the walls they’ve built. But when Maegan learns of Rob’s plan to fix the damage caused by his father, it could ruin more than their fragile new friendship…
This captivating, heartfelt novel asks the question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons?
I adored Brigid Kemmerer’s YA fantasy novel, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, so I was happy to receive an early copy of her new contemporary for review. I had a bit of anxiety hoping that I would enjoy this genre from her as much as I had with fantasy, but that concern turned out to be completely unwarranted, this was a fabulous read!
Call It What You Want alternates chapters between its two main characters, Rob and Maegan. I liked this consistency, as it meant there was no confusion about whose perspective we were in, but I feel that their narration is distinct enough to be told apart in any case. Rob was my favorite, which threw me as I normally gravitate more to the female protagonists, but he was just too precious for words. He could’ve been the stereotypical Bad Boy, given his gruff aloofness and blunt devil-may-care attitude, but he was also compassionate and chivalrous and genuinely sweet. I also love that he was a bookworm! Rob binge-reads several books (An Ember In The Ashes being one of them) and it made him all the more appealing to me. ❤
His situation was quite unique – I’ve never read about a teenager in Rob’s position and it broke my heart seeing what he was going through. Rob had to bear the emotional burden of his father’s crime, which was ridiculously unfair, and then to make matters worse, he has to play caretaker as his father’s botched suicide left him paralyzed and without any cognitive functions. I would’ve been furious and refused to pitch in, honestly, the indignity of looking after the man who ruined your life would be too much for me! But Rob’s such a caring son that he wants to make his mother’s life easier and despite knowing his father’s a criminal, he can’t turn off his love for him, so he does the right thing.
I legit shed tears in multiple chapters reading about Rob’s struggle to cope with the loss of his friends and social status, dealing with being ostracized or outright bullied, having to adapt to living dollar-to-dollar and giving up the future he’d planned all while privately grieving the memory of his father. It never felt melodramatic or overwrought because Rob doesn’t give in to self-pity as he thinks he doesn’t deserve it or anyone’s sympathy, and instead is stoic and resigned to slog through his final year of school. I just wanted to give him ALL THE HUGS.
On the other hand, it took me a while to warm up to Maegan – she comes off as quite judgmental and it annoyed me because she had no business throwing stones from her glass house. Given that we find out at the start that she cheated on the SATs, it made her initial interactions with Rob even more frustrating and unpleasant as she implies to his face that he’s no use as a research partner and is going to be a liability. That accusation would’ve been more understandable coming from him!
However she does learn to curb her judgmental tendencies as she comes to realize how wrong she is about him and starts to empathize more with others instead of seeing it all from her own point of view. I appreciated that being a main character didn’t exempt her from criticism, which is why I came around to liking her after all; the author had other people call Maegan out on her behavior and privilege, which she took on board and mulled over internally. I liked her character growth throughout the story and that she started to question her beliefs and that of her parents, whereas before she blindly followed their lead in her eagerness to be the goody-two-shoes daughter.
The blossoming relationship between these two characters was an utter delight – they met when they were near breaking point with the stress at home and at school, and found comfort and a safe haven in one another. I loved that their friendship was built up slowly and believably as they bonded through exchanging confidences and lending a sympathetic ear before the romantic angle was introduced because it made it all the more sweet and wholesome. 😀 They were just so adorable together, and again, Rob’s chivalry and ingrained respect for Megan made me love him even more because it was so simple to him that her wishes were of paramount importance and not his own desires. Rob is the book boyfriend that teenagers deserve!
Okay, I’ve talked a LOT about Rob and Maegan because I have so many feelings about them (this author is amazing at making you feel like the characters are real live human beings!), but the great thing about this book is the array of supporting characters who are also remarkably fleshed-out, regardless of how little page time they may have. Of course the relationship between our protagonists is given the most attention, but never to the detriment of their relationships with others around them. Not only are the parents present in the book and active in their children’s lives, which isn’t a given in YA, but even the parent of one of the supporting characters has an important part to play! Maegan’s sister Samantha isn’t just limited to a role in Maegan’s life, but develops a friendship with Rob as well, bonding over their mutual love of sports. 🙂 (This is very true to life, I’ve often seen friendships between siblings and partners, but it’s the first time I’ve read this in a book) Rob’s former best friend Connor had the most unexpected and rewarding arc, Maegan and her best friend Rachel had to work through some bumpy moments as well as with Rachel’s boyfriend Drew, and new friend Owen is given more complexity and shades of grey than I imagined. The librarian Mr London is my favorite and he has the fewest scenes in the book, but his presence had such a powerful impact nonetheless. ❤
So the characterization is a huge success (not a surprise to me after ACSDAL!), but how about the plot? Well, the book is mostly character-driven, it feels more like a slice-of-life narrative where we’re checking in on the protagonists to see what’s going on in their lives rather than following them from one plot point to the next in a clear structured manner. This won’t appeal to everyone, but because I was so invested in the characters, I had no issue with it. I found it refreshing to see topics like cheating, teen pregnancy, abortion, suicide and more developed in relation to how it affects our main characters rather than focusing on the topic itself. This prevents any heavy-handed moralizing and just looks at what the characters’ truths are in this specific situation instead.
There were interesting elements explored with the fallout from Rob’s father’s crime and how it affected some of the characters he grew closer to in the book. This raised a moral dilemma about the uneven distribution of wealth and whether it’s okay to take a little bit from those who would never miss it when it could make a world of difference to someone who is living in poverty. I found it quite stressful to see Rob tiptoeing across the line into theft, it was like watching a trainwreck, and I would’ve traded that for more scenes of him bantering with Owen, but I suppose it was necessary to have SOME plot! 😛 There was also a stellar twist towards the end that I never saw coming and it blew my mind, talk about a blindside!
If you’re a fan of character-driven YA, this is definitely the book for you! But even if your tastes lie towards more action-packed stories, I still would encourage you to try this because the author has such a deft hand with natural realistic dialogue and a smooth flowing storytelling style that captivates the reader. I’m very impressed by Brigid Kemmerer’s versatility in crossing genres with ease and looking forward to whatever she throws at us next!
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Praise from other bloggers:
Katie @ Pages and Pugs | Kaylee @ Kayl’s All Booked | Rose @ Of Paperbacks and Heartbreaks | Breanna @ Paws & Paperbacks | Katie @ The Anxious Bookworm
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
3 thoughts on “ARC Review – ‘Call It What You Want’ by Brigid Kemmerer”
Great review! I enjoyed this one and had many feelings about it as well!
Thanks for the shout-out! So happy to read that you loved this one too! 🙂
This is on my TBR list – glad you loved it! Looking forward to reading this one.