Rebels Like Us by Liz Reinhardt
My Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Usually, my rating is pretty similar to the Goodreads average rating. This book was definitely an exception. Here’s why I think there are so many four and five star reviews of the book; it has an important and timely message. Unfortunately, that is all that is good about this book. This could all be the fault of marketing. This book is primarily an angst filled, teen romance. That is not at all what I expected going into this book. The blurb on the back of the book reads
Culture shock knocks city girl Agnes “Nes” Murphy-Pujols off-kilter when she’s transplanted mid–senior year from Brooklyn to a small Southern town after her mother’s relationship with a coworker self-destructs. On top of the move, Nes is nursing a broken heart and severe homesickness, so her plan is simple: keep her head down, graduate and get out. Too bad that flies out the window on day one, when she opens her smart mouth and pits herself against the school’s reigning belle and the principal.
Her rebellious streak attracts the attention of local golden boy Doyle Rahn, who teaches Nes the ropes at Ebenezer. As her friendship with Doyle sizzles into something more, Nes discovers the town she’s learning to like has an insidious undercurrent of racism. The color of her skin was never something she thought about in Brooklyn, but after a frightening traffic stop on an isolated road, Nes starts to see signs everywhere—including at her own high school where, she learns, they hold proms. Two of them. One black, one white.
I read that summary and was SO EXCITED. This book sounded like it was going to have a girl power vibe about social change and acceptance. But then I waited 200 pages for the topic of racism to even be brought up. This book is nearly 500 pages, and probably around 100 of those pages are devoted to tackling the issue of racism in the south. The rest of the book is either Nes whining about how much she misses Brooklyn, how mad she is at her mom, or debating whether or not she should let herself fall for Doyle. If you told me this was primarily a love story I wouldn’t have gone into it expecting this profound story about race. In fact, I probably would have been pleasantly surprised by that story line.
The message really is a much needed battle cry for acceptance.
“Fifty years ago Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Fifty years seems like a long time, until you consider this is Ebenezer High’s first ever desegregated prom.”
There has recently been a call for more diverse books, especially in the YA genre. This book answers that call. The main character is bi-racial dating a white character. You have another couple made up of an African-American girl and an Asian boy. It takes awhile to get to the point, but eventually this is a book about accepting people no matter their race. There’s also great moments about standing up for what you believe in. One of the best characters in the story is an elderly English teacher who champions Nes in her mission to shake things up. She truly empowers Nes to be brave and to go after what she believes is right. These bits of wisdom are so important for teens. It’s so easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do to change the world. This book tells you to be brave and don’t take the easy way out.
The pacing is SO SLOW. Why in the world is this book almost 500 pages? Nothing happens for the first 200 pages or so. It wasn’t until page 203 that I marked the first obvious encounter with racism, the thing the entire plot is meant to revolve around. From there the plot continues to drag on, basically volleying between Nes whining about how much her life sucks or her pining for Doyle. I found this book so hard to get through and honestly considered putting it down and not finishing it on multiple occasions.
This is the most glaring case of insta-love I’ve read in a long time.
“The truth is, something just stuck fast the second I met him. He walked up, and I had this feeling like, oh, there he is, that person I just met, but who I’ve been waiting for. Like I’d always known he was coming, and then -there he was.”
Isn’t that quote basically the definition of insta-love? Agnes and Doyle have nothing in common, so when they instantly decide they’re crazy about each other, it just doesn’t make sense. I get chemistry. You can feel chemistry right away. But in this case its difficult to say what is drawing these two to one another. Until pretty late in the novel the only thing I could pin point is Doyle likes the way Nes looks in a bikini and Nes likes that Doyle isn’t a troll to her like the rest of her classmates. What makes the insta-love even worse is they are “just friends” the first half of the book. They are clearly in love already, walking through the halls holding hands and spending every spare moment together. However, the author forces us to play a “will they won’t they” game for the first 300 pages, despite how obvious their impending love fest is. We finally get their first kiss around page 315 and with in a matter of a few pages they’re getting naked together. Which leads me to my next point…
The writing in this book reads at a level for 14 year olds. I would have devoured a book like this in junior high. However, by the end of the book the story starts to creep into “new adult” territory.
“It makes my nipples go tight. Half with memory, half with anticipation.”
Woah, when did this sweet tale of high school love turn into 50 shades of YA? There’s so many quotes just like this after the first makeout session passes. It was uncomfortable in a book clearly written for a young audience.
There’s only two Asians in this book and they are both cliche stereotypes. The first loves doing nails and the second’s family owns a Chinese takeout place. Seriously? Isn’t this a book that is trying to champion “diversity” rather than reinforcing age old stereotypes?
The southern white kids all read as some caricature from a CMT music video. One of them is nicknamed “critter.” Could they have thought of a more hillbilly nickname to give the kid? Doyle seems to think the words “date” and mudding are the same thing. He takes Nes mudding on their first “date” which I thought was odd but kind of sweet. However, later in the book she asks if they can go on a real date and he responds with “you wanna go muddin’?” Doyle seems to have never considered college, despite his random knowledge of classic literature, and when he finally considers it he immediately begins looking into agriculture programs. All of this I could forgive, because I know there are plenty of truly southern kids like this. I’m from Louisiana and I’ve met my fair share of them. However, his southern accent is unforgivable.
“Whelp, I better get to my desk so I can study s’more. Can’t get some fancy college diploma without finishin’ high school”
Who talks like this other than Forrest Gump and that rooster from the Looney Tunes?
Finally, there is way too much unnecessary drama. There are so many sub-plots; stories about Nes and her ex, stories about Nes and her dad. Each sub-plot seems to take on soap opera level drama. The best example of this would be Nes and her ex. Nes is still broken hearted after her ex cheats on her. This story line makes sense. It explains her cautious attitude with Doyle. What’s unnecessary is the fact that he cheated with half the senior class.
So, if you couldn’t tell, I did not like this book. I wanted to. I was excited about it. Unfortunately, it left me with a serious headache from all the eye-rolling I was doing.