A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall
My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes
Date Published: August 26th, 2014
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Pages: 272 pages
Synopsis: The distinctive new crowdsourced publishing imprint Swoon Reads proudly presents its first published novel—an irresistibly sweet romance between two college students told from 14 different viewpoints.
The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.
But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.
Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….
This is a spoiler-free review.
As the title suggests, this novel promises its readers “a little something different”, and it does in fact deliver. However, the end result was not nearly as satisfying as it could have been given the premise. Rather than flowing nicely as one continuous narrative, it felt far too disjointed and cluttered to fully capture my attention. We are pulled in by an idea that sounds delightful and heartwarming, but ends up being more frustrating and tedious than anything. Though the story is unique and innovative in many ways, it fell rather flat for me as a whole.
This novel follows the lives of two college students—Lea and Gabe—as they meet and slowly begin to fall for each other. The catch? Their entire love story is told from the perspectives of other people they encounter in their daily lives. From their best friends to their fellow students and the waitress at the local diner, everyone has something to say about this prospective relationship. Even the park bench they regularly sit on weighs in on the situation. The only question that remains is whether or not Lea and Gabe themselves will realize what everyone else already sees.
Beginning on a personal side note, this is not the typical type of novel I would read—I am not particularly big on contemporary romance. But when I heard the concept for it, coupled with the fact that it was a debut novel, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to step out of my reading comfort zone once again. Given that romance is not my cup of tea when it comes to books, and knowing that this contributed to my feelings overall, I tried to rate and review this as objectively as possible, focusing primarily on stylistic elements.
The characterization was by far the area that I ended up having the biggest conflict with. It was the most publicized aspect of this particular novel—the unusually large number of perspectives is the primary attraction for the reader. In addition, the fact that the main protagonists of the story do not contribute their viewpoints is another highly intriguing factor. However, though the idea packs the novel with originality and is quite fascinating in theory, it ends up greatly hindering the development of the narrative.
Though the actual concept for the plot is a relatively straightforward one, having so many narrators suddenly transforms it into something that is quite difficult to follow and become immersed in. Having to constantly transition between speakers every few pages breaks up the flow of the plot and gives it a very patchwork, choppy quality, which does not serve it well. It is far too challenging to connect to any of the characters, which subsequently affects the reader’s ability to become invested in the storyline itself.
For a story that relies so heavily on characterization, there is not nearly enough distinctiveness in each of the voices. A few of them were quite original in their depiction, but many sounded almost exactly the same. As there is no time to focus on getting to know any of these characters, they come across as one-dimensional and sometimes painfully stereotypical. The inability to get to know a narrator adds undesired hurdles for any reader.
In terms of the plot itself, I simply came out of it feeling rather underwhelmed. One of the biggest drawbacks of these multiple perspectives is the need for more telling rather than showing. This style makes to so that every aspect of every event has to be related back to the reader, giving the story a very awkward and unnatural quality. I would have much preferred to see the romance unfold naturally—instead, it plays out more like a research paper or case study. It is tricky to get the desired emotional reaction out of readers when they can only hear a formal and impassive version of two people’s love story.
Since we are only ever able to see Lea’s and Gabe’s interactions when it is possible for a third party to be watching, everything quickly becomes very redundant—there is an excessive amount of interpretations of the same or similar encounters. Their entire relationship comes across as two people who feel very indifferent about each other having an improbable series of supposedly romantic and incredibly frustrating near misses. This causes the story to drag on, bringing about a sense that, even by the end, no advancement has really happened.
In addition, the fact that every aspect of this novel focuses on Lea and Gabe with no other developed side plots becomes tiring very quickly. It is hard to believe that so many people would be so intensely and utterly focused and invested in the love lives of these two random kids. And even after all of that, I never truly got the impression that they were meant to be. Despite having insight into so many people’s views, I never saw what any of them saw. Everything was just too implausible, and the ending left me feeling very unsatisfied.
Overall, though the large number of perspectives is an interesting concept, it makes the narrative feel very disorganized and unsettled. The repetitiveness of the events in the plot quickly becomes frustrating, potentially causing the reader to become dissatisfied since it feels that little to no progression is actually taking place. I truly did appreciate the creativity that Hall employed in the construction of this story. In a number of ways, she puts a fresh spin on the typical contemporary romance novel, and I applaud how she stepped out on a limb with her inventive storytelling. Sadly, all the parts did not end up coming together into a cohesive plot.