For What It's Worth

Friday, May 11, 2018

review: if you don't have anything nice to say by leila sales


35704454Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.

We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. But what happens when we’re seen and heard saying or doing the wrong things? What then?


When Winter Halperin—former spelling bee champion, aspiring writer, and daughter of a parenting expert—gets caught saying the wrong thing online, her life explodes. All across the world, people knows what she’s done, and none of them will forgive her.


With her friends gone, her future plans cut short, and her identity in shambles, Winter is just trying to pick up the pieces without hurting anyone else. She knows she messed up, but does that mean it’s okay for people to send her hate mail and death threats? Does she deserve to lose all that she’s lost? And is “I’m sorry” ever good enough?


First and foremost a novel about public shaming in the internet age, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say is also an exploration of the power of words, the cumulative destructiveness of microaggressions, and the pressing need for empathy. ~
Goodreads

Source: e-arc provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review:
I’m completely baffled on how to review this book. It’s a complicated subject matter and the author approached it in a very uneven manor. I have lots of thinky thoughts. Plus, my criticisms might reveal spoilers. I guess I’ll just dive in and mark the spoilers if you care to know more.

Winter, a former spelling bee champion, loses her latest competition to a black girl and posts, what she feels, is a joke about the winner to her 100-ish Twitter followers and goes to bed. When she wakes up her notifications have exploded and her life starts unraveling.

She gets death and rape threats, loses her best friend and crush, Jason, who is black, loses her early acceptance to college and has her former spelling bee title taken away.

Winter apologizes, gets called out again, mainly because she makes the apology about herself.

We’ve all seen this and we’re all one tweet, one post away from it happening. And when you’re in the thick of it – there is no explanation, apology that will stop the onslaught of negativity.

This is an incredibly relevant topic and interesting to see from the perspective of the person on the receiving end of the call-out culture but…

Winter is a pretty unlikeable character and she tells you that up front.

“Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.”

Ok, she's not likable, for sure, but not a serial killer either. She’s really just a self absorbed teenager with no self awareness and is slightly narcissistic.

The problem is that she did hurt people around her, intentionally or not, and her goal is not to understand how what she said might be hurtful but to go after the person who RT’d her and to blame Jason for being hurt and not apologizing to her.

Early on, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, brings up a lot of issues that could have been explored with nuance and empathy.

To what extent should a person be punished for one tweet? What about threats/lies posted on the internet? Especially when that person is underage. When does a call out become bullying? What about the people hurt by your *joke*? Why do people who say horrible things all the time get to judge you for one mistake because it’s been made public but get to go on with their life without judgement? What about the people who initiate the frenzy with a RT without a second thought of what they've done or how they've changed someones life?

That would have been interesting and the book does touch (briefly) on all those things but takes a bizarre detour.

Winter enters a Malibu rehab facility called Revibe, where you basically eat granola, do yoga and try to break you internet addiction. You also have to write letters of repentance to those you’ve hurt.

This is the wackiest place y'all!

First off – the people there are supposedly all *victims* of SM shunning but they vary from a boy who killed a cat for no reason, a man who killed an escaped zoo lion that almost attacked his toddler daughter, a former Disneyesque type star with bad press, a musician that slept her way to joining a band and then was slut-shamed, a conservative politician who was caught having a gay affair, and a boy, Abe, whose father was an Enron type executive that bilked millions out of old people’s retirement accounts. The son is hated by association and tried to kill himself and is now paralyzed.

Which one(s) of these is not like the others??

They are all in the same facility. Given the same treatment with a a quick – don’t have personal relationships with each other rule tossed out. Welp, ok. A 15 year old psychopath that’s killing cats, next to a 50-ish year old man mixed with rebellious teens, next to people with real issues who may need counseling. The book didn't take the time to look into each patient/story so conflated them all into a horror story of social media shaming and that's where the book derailed for me.

The goal of Revibe is to write those damn repentance letters – even if you aren’t actually sorry – and even if you didn't  actually do anything wrong. It doesn’t matter. Just lie and write them so people will move on.

A few spoilers about what goes down in Revibe:

Highlight –> First off – Winter is an aspiring writer. Everyone finds out and has her write their repentance letters. They are all forgiven by whoever they offended because Winter is an awesome writer– the truth never comes out. So - great lesson learned there!

Second – Winter has a panic attack. Like pass out on the floor panic and the facility owners are like…whatever…get up Winter.

Third: Winter, under pressure to write her own letter of repentance, rattles off what is clearly a sarcastic stream of conscious to Kevin - the owner of Revibe – who then types it out and sends it against Winter’s will/knowledge to the person who originally RT'd her - her local town reporter. Setting off a ridiculous subplot to try to sneak access to a phone to ask the reporter not to read the email. Oh okay...

As far as I can tell, only two people even work at Revibe – the owners Kevin and Valerie. How are they in charge of such a varied group of people and treating them with yoga, granola and volunteer work?

Meanwhile the teens find ways to drink, leave the facility, smoke and steal. But oh! Winter finds a boyfriend (who is a wonderful guy) and rediscovers her passion for writing so it's all good. Am I right??? *stabby* <- Highlight

So what does Winter learn from the experience? Not much. She chose the place herself to “become a better person” but she never really listens to what people are telling her about what she said – despite several people taking the time to talk to her about it. She only cares about getting her writing career back on track and making Jason forgive her (& have him apologize back to her).

Once people start liking her writing again (an article she shares in the local paper about her own redemption) then she’s all good. She becomes the poster child for people shunned on the internet.

She’s thrilled that a group of cheerleaders who blocked out letters on their uniforms to make racist words about Asians have found solace in her comeback. She combs the internet for scandals and writes letters to let people on the receiving end of a call out that she supports them – regardless of what they did because call out culture is bad. Yes…

But here’s the thing with that.

Sales is conflating a poorly worded tweet and truly vile acts. Like the cat killer, or people who go undercover to entrap and out gay men. They are not the same. And shouldn't be treated with the same broad stroke. No one should be threatened with death or rape but does someone who kills a cat and basically lies his way through rehab with no remorse deserve forgiveness in the same way as someone who said something dumb?

The author also inexplicably throws in a few more plot threads - Winter's mom is a popular mommy blogger who has written several child rearing books. It is relevant, in the sense that Winter's problems make her mom's parenting look bad & lose business - another consequence of the tweet going viral - but it's all brushed under the rug. Much like her mom would like to do with the problem. Her sister is unhappy at school but so?? There's more than enough going on without it.

The beginning of this book was thought provoking but then it veered off into too many directions, trying to address everyone’s side but not giving the plot the space to dig deep into issues of racism,  bullying, shaming.

Part of me thinks that's the way Sales intended this book to be consumed. As a starting point to a discussion. Throw all the opposing views out there and let people hash it out. And if that was the goal - then it is successful. I just think if the story focused more on Winter's family and friends trying to cope with this but in different ways (good and bad), and add more from the POV of the adult who made a teenage girls tweet go viral (a power imbalance) not understanding the impact - you could have touched on everything and dug deeper making this a truly uncomfortable book instead of a detour into the silliness of Revibe.

50 comments:

  1. Wow, important issues, and then hot mess. And under no circumstances should a cat killer (just because) be in the same category as someone who said/tweeted something stupid! Animal killers infuriate me, and usually are just the start of a twisted person's misdeeds and crimes. Murderers and rapists usually start with animal killing and torture! Throw the book at them is what I say! This is definitely as pass for me Karen. Thanks for your helpful review! :)

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    1. Yeah - there's just no comparison. And the gay politician needed real counseling & political help not SM help. That's a whole other issue. And finally Abe - didn't do anything wrong. At all. Yet he's yelled at to apologize to make it all go away. Maybe help with a statement but no...

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  2. (Pssst...the part we were supposed to highlight is in plain view 😉).

    It sounds like another example of great idea - poor execution. Sometimes authors just put too much on the plate, too.

    There's one thing I don't understand (and it happens so often in books): how can a tweet go viral when you only have a hundred followers (as it is the case here)? Maybe I'm naive, but I can't see it making the headlines...even with all the RTs of RTs.

    Great review!

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    1. A local reporter picked up the tweet (Winter's mom is a celebrity and had been interviewed by the reporter before) so it went viral from that since she did have a lot of followers.

      For some reason I woke up at 5 am remembered that I didn't change the spoiler font color - but thank you lol

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    2. Haha, it happens to me too - sometimes it just hits me at the oddest moment that I did something wrong (on the blog, that is).

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  3. I admit this book sounds like it would be really good. I enjoyed your review and thanks for sharing. I am really mixed on whether or not I will read this one.

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    1. There's definitely a lot to unpack in this one and it's super timely/relevant.

      I really loved the issues it brought up - but was less thrilled when it veered off into other things like the romance/Revibe/sneaking around.

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  4. wow I really liked her other book but this seems all over the place. Maybe it is a starting for discussion about twitter and bullys. But that group seems so random and someone who kills a cat might become more evil :(

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    1. I loved her first book too.

      I still think this is a great book for teens - just to discuss how you need to be careful online. I just didn't like how she conflated the different things and made them just a "social media addiction" issue.

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  5. SO many things that should be discussed, but why on earth does she cram them all into one book?

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    1. Yeah - and she starts off strong and does mention everything which is good but then it somehow derails into - mention ALL THE THINGS - but no time to really unpack it ya know?

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  6. It reminds me of the nonfiction book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, which was really good. I do really like the premise of this one, but it doesn't sound like it was really handled well. The MC seems very unlikeable - for most of the book, which is kind of annoying and more problematic, I think - and like you said, some of these people at this therapy place need actual counseling or didn't actually do anything wrong, so who are they supposed to apologize to?

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. That book (& the Monica Lewinsky scandal) were inspirations for this book. I actually really want to read that book!

      She is unlikable and that's ok...to a certain point. If you were also going to take a harder look at who she hurt and the repercussions of how she acted at *rehab* but even in the end she sees -even really horrible people - as victims.

      I do understand the need for forgiveness and even being against the online pile ons but I had so much trouble with the authors conflating the different issues.

      The boy who did NOTHING wrong was driven to a suicide attempt and now he's apologizing to people who bullied him???

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  7. I think highlighting things like internet shaming is good but even reading the review for this book hurt my head, lol. The brain pain is a good thing for despite finding the blurb interesting, I won't touch the book now :)

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    1. Yes! There's a lot to talk about regarding that issue. And she did touch on all of it but I would have preferred she focused on one or two things instead of conflating all issues into internet shaming.

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  8. Oh wow. I'm not sure how to feel about reading this, now! I wouldn't want that many topics discussed it they were all tussled in together, creating a hugeee mess of things. It would've been better if the author focused on one topic. And the cat thing is HORRIBLE.

    - Aimee @ Aimee, Always

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    1. Yeah killing a pet cat just because and killing a tiger that is about to eat your child are two VERY different things. And have zero to do with social media addiction.

      Yes, you can look at how the public passes judgement on a large scale but I don't feel she followed through with those characters.


      The other patients had a *ripped from the headlines* kind of vibe

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  9. Intrigued by the sentence 'Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.' I admit to being a bit disappointed that it turns out she is in fact just a self absorbed teenager with no self awareness. Still, definitely a book I'll keep in mind.

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    1. I thought she was going to be a really bad person. Like intentionally hurt people or mean what she tweeted but she's really just a girl who didn't think things through. She wasn't likeable all the time but certainly not awful either.

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  10. This sounds like it could be such an amazing story, but it seems like the author lost their vision pretty quickly. It sounds like they were trying to incorporate way too much.

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    1. It seems like she tried to touch on every single Twitter drama that has ever happened. Stick to one or two and explore it.

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  11. Hmmm, good for you on finishing this one. I don't think I could've done it. I hate books that heap issue upon issue and don't resolve them well (if at all).

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    1. I was curious where she was going with it but if it wasn't a Netgalley book that needed feedback I would have DNF'd it.

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  12. Ok hmm, that sounds kinda all over the place. The premise is interesting but not really my kind of book.

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  13. There's....there's a lot going on here.

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    1. Yeah and my review is a hot mess because of it lol

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  14. I read this as well. I kept wanting her to at least try to understand what she did and why and how it hurt other people, but maybe it was too much to expect that she'd suddenly become an insightful/empathetic/remorseful person. She was way too self-absorbed.

    And the rehab place was just ... bizarre. All the people there needed some real therapy, not lessons on how to apologize. I was like, is this really a thing? I hope not.

    Jen Ryland Reviews

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    1. I get her initial reaction. Sometimes the onslaught is so much you automatically become defensive but then she keeps going on and on about wanting to be a better person but doesn't listen to the people closest to her - especially Jason. Instead she wants him to apologize.

      Then that kooky center. A boy was driven to a suicide attempt. He's paralyzed. Don't you think HE needs help? Not to apologize??? It was just messed up once the book moved to there.

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  15. And it has such great potential. I think that's what I'm most disappointed about. It already had good conflict and tension built in without the silliness and, truthfully, danger with how all those people were being mass treated together.

    This will be one that I'll skip, but still be able to take from your review the valid points about words being powerful and needing to be well-thought before put out there on social media and to show compassion when others fail and genuinely attempt to restore their wrongs. So much potential... sigh.

    Great review, Karen!

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  16. You had my attention until the rehab bit, I just *shakes head* lol!

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  17. Oh wow I’m torn about this book too based on your review too bad it branched out so much it weakened the plot because this is such an interesting premise! So relevant nowadays! mistake are not what they used to be! They are global now!

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    1. It's such an important topic. I hope someone I know reads it and disagrees with me. If love to hear a different take on it.
      If it didn't conflate ALL twitter controversies and didn't have some of the silly rehab stuff - I would have enjoyed it.

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  18. Wow. This book is very relevant Karen and if I've read it too, I'm not sure what to say either. It's just frightening how online world can do when you use it the wrong way, and the main lead sure had that big time.

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    1. I'm beginning to think SM books aren't for me. I'm so interested in the topic but none have worked for me so far.

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  19. Ugh, she just had to be unlikeable! What about relatable? Can we relate to her actions or lifestyle? I like to be able to connect in some way with the characters I read about, but I know that's not always possible, and not every character is meant to be likable. I don't mind people you love to hate in books (because they're clearly the villain/adversary), but I do mind when the MC is just ARGH.

    It does seem like the topic is something that should be discussed, especially with how wild one tweet can become overnight. There's no erasing it either, because I bet 100s of people took a screen shot as proof. One false movie on social media and the claws come out. People get scary mean.

    There are rehab centers for internet addiction? I guess I never thought about that before.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. Honestly, her whole family is odd. They just don't get it. Their whole issue is how do we make this stop so it doesn't affect us. OR get over it already!

      And there are a lot of ways to look at it. Some people honestly make mistakes and learn - while others deserve to be called out. Not every interaction is a call out and not every tweet deserves to be called out but she doesn't really look a that.

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  20. Ironically, it's Mother's Day, and the cover of the book definitely reminds me of what my mother used to tell me all of the time. (lol) For that reason alone, I would be drawn to the book. Then the first line is intriguing and makes me want to know more. With my attention span these days, I don't have the patience to deal with a novel that pulls me in too many directions, so I think I'm on the fence with this one. As always, I adore the way you write a review, and you're perfectly on point! Hugs...RO

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  21. I like your analysis and expect it would mirror mine if I'd read the book. Conflating acts of different immorality is a slippery oversight and, today, leads to unjustified condemnation. I like your judgment.

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    1. Thank you. It's an important topic but wasn't handled well in this case. IMO anyway.

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  22. It sounds like it was a good concept for a book, just poorly executed.

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    1. Yup. So many of these books start well but try to do too many things and fall apart.

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  23. I didn't have any interest in reading this book before I saw your review, and I'm glad because this book sounds like a mess. Thanks for your honest review, Karen!

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    1. It was. Once she hit that rehab the whole thing falls apart and the author loses the nuance or anything important to say about the topic.

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  24. I don't enjoy unlikable characters most of the time.It sounds like the author needed to put more thought into how she approaches such serious topics!

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

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    1. I think she was being a regular teen but she never really understood what happened IMO so she could grow from the experience.

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  25. This could have been amazing but honestly, it sounds a little like horrible white people being offensive on the internet to minorities and how to make yourself feel better. I think my first issue is that the author is white and I'm assuming the comment Winter makes is racist in content? It sounds incredibly messy. Call out culture isn't a new thing, if you say something shitty and then play the victim, people are going to pull you up on it. It feels uncomfortable that it sounds as though it makes those offended by her comment or comments as the villains. That's where it probably falls down for me. It's such a relevant issue with teens online today but completely misguided in coddling anyone who makes hurtful remarks and doesn't learn from their aggressions. I'll be skipping this one unfortunately. I can feel your frustration Karen and brilliant, in depth review. Really enjoyed the conversation ♡♡

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    1. Yes, she did say something racist and yeah...I had a lot of problems with this one. From Winter herself NEVER really understanding why what she said was wrong (& instead putting pressure on her black friend to apologize) and conflating violent acts with a media faux pas.

      My review was rambly enough lol so I couldn't touch on everything but ugh...very disappointed in how she handled everything. The issues she brought up were important but like I said conflating poorly worded tweets with something that hurts others or people calling you on valid things vs real bullying...a lot of muddied waters when she could have written something more powerful

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  26. I am a little scared of this book. I have seen some scathing reviews for it too. It sounds like it could have been really meaningful, but maybe it wasn't quite excited well.

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  27. Oh wonderful review, thank you so much for sharing this. I have this book on my TBR and was quite excited to read it, given that it deals with so many interesting topics, especially when it comes to social media. I'm sorry to hear this was such a disappointment, it seems like the author tried to put too many different topics in all of that, that's too bad :/
    Thank you for sharing this :)

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