Been Here All Along by Sally Hall
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Release date: August 30th, 2016
Publisher: Swoon Reads (Macmillan)
Length: 320 pages
Source: print ARC from the publisher (I am sorry, publisher)
Gideon always has a plan. His plans include running for class president, becoming head of the yearbook committee, and having his choice of colleges. They do NOT include falling head over heels for his best friend and next door neighbor, Kyle. It’s a distraction. It’s pointless, as Kyle is already dating the gorgeous and popular head cheerleader, Ruby. And Gideon doesn’t know what to do.
Kyle finally feels like he has a handle on life. He has a wonderful girlfriend, a best friend willing to debate the finer points of Lord of the Rings, and social acceptance as captain of the basketball team. Then, both Ruby and Gideon start acting really weird, just as his spot on the team is threatened, and Kyle can’t quite figure out what he did wrong…
Oh, man, I sooooo don't want to write this review, because I really--really--REALLY--wanted to love this. A book full of tropey T-Swift cuteness starring two nerd boys in love? This sounds like everything my little heart could ever want! And oh, it could have been. If it hadn't been for...well, everything besides the premise, alas.
WHY WEREN'T YOU GREAT? YOU COULDABIN A CONTENDER. YOU WERE EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING THAT I WANTED, WE WERE MEANT TO BE SUPPOSED TO BE BUT WE LOST IIIII-IIIIT
I apologize for that ear worm. Those of you too young to know that song, please don't tell me. All righty then.
So Been Here All Along is about this boy, Gideon, who is like Simon Spier's pale, watery reflection, realizing he's in love with his best friend and next door neighbor, Kyle, who is like a very tall, very cute plank of wood. Kyle just came out to him as bisexual, and has a girlfriend, Ruby, who alternates between being totes cool about everything and hideously bitchy for no apparent reason.
"...because he's kind and warm and looks at me like the coolest bitch on earth."
All four of these characters carry first person POVs, which brings me to my first problem with Been Here All Along: the unnecessary POVs. I've run into this problem with every single one of Hall's novels, though in the first one, A Little Something Different, it's the point, and Hall has fun with the myriad viewpoints. In both this book and Signs Point to Yes, the excess viewpoints detract from the narrative. Why on earth was the brother even in the novel, let alone narrating a portion? Why have us live in the heads of four bland humans when you need only be in two? And they were all so generic. They were saltine crackers. They weren't abysmal, or anything, but they were only remotely interesting when discussing Lord of the Rings, which does not characterization make.
|THEY'RE ALL BACKGROUND NOISE|
Every POV read mostly the same, except occasionally Gideon made a joke, Kyle was really nice, Ruby said "bitch" a lot and Ezra was ***edgy***. But they had the same tone, style, and general uselessness.
Hall has this tendency to insert what I can only describe as pamphlets into her dialogue, the kind a guidance counselor would hand out to a parent trying to find a way to discuss eating disorders/learning disabilities/sexuality/pick a topic with their teenagers. So while I'm all YAY for the representation happening...oh my god, the conversation that Kyle and Gideon have in Kyle's car about him coming out as bi is like straight up one of those awkward videos they make you watch in Human Development (or whatever more normal thing your high school called Sex Ed/life skills/don't have sex because you will get chlamydia AND DIE) (okay those of you too young to get that reference, don't tell me).
It became apparent to me very soon that this book would bore me witless, but I was really only here for boys being adorably in love. Anything can be saved by boys being adorably in love.
And yet I was not saved by the adorable boys. I am distraught.
What I wanted:
What I got:
I predicted every single plot "twist" the moment they were hinted at (oh, so Kyle has trouble in school and doesn't like to read or write? I wonder...what that... could be...and who...will tutor him...OH, and Gideon is going to randomly NOT WRITE THAT ONE LIST IN ELVISH? I WONDER WHAT WILL HAPPEN THERE). And yet at the same time, the drama was at such a low simmer I found myself immeasurably bored. Like, I love that everyone is super chill about everyone coming out and super chill about life in general but NOVELS CAN'T BE FULL OF SUPER CHILL PEOPLE CHILLING OUT, CAN YOU JUST LIGHT SOMETHING ON FIRE OR SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW
oh god this is getting hostile. And long. But i'm just so betrayed by the adorable boys in love not being adorable. Because it's definitely not a gigantic turd pile of a book, not at all. But it needs a ruthless edit and a hard rewrite. It feels like the blueprint of a book. There's a wonderful story somewhere in here, but it's been diluted with a pail of lukewarm water.
The characters are diluted (what is an Ezra? Why is a Ruby a Ruby? Is she only here to get thrown under the bus but sort of not really?), the setting is diluted (um, Gideon wants to be student body president, yet we never hear about campaigning? He's a great student, but we never hear about actual classes and shit? Kyle's basketball team WINS THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP--off page. And Kyle, the supposedly devoted athlete, isn't really that bothered?). The plot is diluted, and everything is so strangely low impact or predictable or tied up way too neatly like six pages later.
AND THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH OF THIS
Every time I perked up in my seat going OO, WAIT, SOMETHING INTERESTING FINALLY PERHAPS, the conflict would be tidily resolved and we'd move onto something new. It's just...wishy washy. All of the action felt staged and limp.
"Except for Buster. Buster is totally my bro. He just gets me."
...Are people named Buster? Who are not cartoon rabbits? Unless you're threatening someone and you're an intrepid girl reporter, like "listen here, buster"
"I lean my elbows back on the row behind me, close my eyes, and zone out a whie, imagining Ruby's friends, and my friends, and Gideon's friends doing something together."
ARE YOU SO BLAND YOU DONT EVEN DAYDREAM IN SPECIFICS
Gideon came the closest to having an actual personality, and I felt like, if the book had been SOLELY from his point of view, and his voice had been developed, this book could have worked. (The Elvish writing was beyond ridiculous, though. I'm so sure there's a direct elvish equivalent of "babbling about wanting to be student council president". I'm sure Legolas chatted about that all the time.
I saw another GR reviewer call it "connect-the-dots storytelling", and yup. That's pretty much how it felt. It was obvious, bare, and kind of pedestrian, which beaks my heart. ALSD had a lot of verve and personality and humor, and there was, like, two drops of it here. Even the romance, the reason I was here, which had the potential to be precious beyond words, was rushed and...well, easy. No big emotional BAM moments, no beautiful epiphanies, no builds. The whole book was rushed, really, and both lacking in conflict whilst having too much going on (a feat, to be sure.)
I'm off to watch this music video thirty times in a row. And maybe listen to some Avril Lavigne.