The Whole Stupid Way We Are
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
February 5th, 2013
Unsolicited For Review
Synopsis via Goodreads
What happens when everything you’ve got to give isn’t enough to save someone you love?
It’s Maine. It’s winter. And it’s FREEZING STINKIN’ COLD! Dinah is wildly worried about her best friend, Skint. He won’t wear a coat. Refuses to wear a coat. It’s twelve degrees out, and he won’t wear a coat. So Dinah’s going to figure out how to help. That’s what Dinah does—she helps. But she’s too busy trying to help to notice that sometimes, she’s doing more harm than good. Seeing the trees instead of the forest? That’s Dinah.
And Skint isn’t going to be the one to tell her. He’s got his own problems. He’s worried about a little boy whose dad won’t let him visit his mom. He’s worried about an elderly couple in a too-cold house down the street.
But the wedge between what drives Dinah and what concerns Skint is wide enough for a big old slab of ice. Because Skint’s own father is in trouble. Because Skint’s mother refuses to ask for help even though she’s at her breaking point. And because Dinah might just decide to…help. She thinks she’s cracking through a sheet of ice, but what’s actually there is an entire iceberg.
There is a wall in my dorm room, and on it exists an image of a girl standing in the snow, the words 'The Whole Stupid Way We Are' marked in the paint. Why? Because that is how hard I threw this frikin' book at the wall. True story. Not really. Don't get me wrong, it is a good book, great even, but it often had me wanting to pull my hair out. So. Exasperating. XD
Our protagonists, Dinah and Skint, bless their little hearts, are headed to no place good rather quickly. The two are pretty much all each other has and yet they manage to be both their own, and each other's, worst enemy. While Dinah has a pretty stable home life, Skint's couldn't be any further from that. They both seemed way too young to handle the gravity of Skint's situation, but then, I kept forgetting that they were actually well in there teens. Dinah is constantly trying to help, but in all the wrong ways, while Skint never asks for the help that he so desperately needs. He's stubborn. Angry. Cynical. Depressed by the crimes of the world. She's naive. Well-meaning. Fanciful. Blind to the harsh realities of the here and now. Watching these two together was like watching a train headed towards a disastrous crash. I knew I was helpless to do anything and found myself wishing I could protect them. Wishing for a miracle. My heart ached for them. My brain was mentally face-palming at Dinah's futile attempts. Neither character experiences a lot of development. In fact, Skint stays pretty static throughout, though I felt this was handled quite realistically. Dinah, on the other hand, didn't experience her pivotal turning point until right at the end. I often found myself wanting to reach into the book and slap her back into the real world.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are is very much a character-driven novel. The families in this book are so messed up, specifically Skint's. There are times when the reader is given a very close-up, personal look into Skint's family life and these glimpses often had me feeling disgusted, outraged, and helpless. The tension and conflict was so painfully palpable at times; it was overwhelmingly real. The relationship between Dinah and Skint is strictly platonic, which I appreciated. Romance was the last thing this book needed, so if you are a reader that craves that in a book, along with serious action, this isn't for you. That said, the family, friend, and community relationships are strong, well fleshed out elements.
I must say, I loved the writing. Griffin's style was beautifully sparse and to the point, though perhaps a bit bizarre. Despite being in third-person, the narrative was surprisingly charged emotionally. It took some getting used to at first; however it quickly grew on me, and it ended up being my favorite thing about the book.
At first, I thought about calling the ending sad, or maybe even heartbreaking. But honestly, I find the word tragic much more accurate. To be heartbreaking, I would have needed to be at least a little surprised by the ending. That said, I pretty much knew from the start that this book was not going to end well, therefor giving me the entire novel to resign myself to not getting a nice big happily-ever-after bow to tie things up. This didn't make the ending any less sad, though.
Characters: Frustrating, child-like (not -ish), overburdened. A great array of supporting characters.
Writing: Beautiful and unique!
Plot: Emotionally evocative and often gut-wrenching.
Ending: Tragic, suitable.
Enjoyment/Likability: Well it was sad and incredibly frustrating, so not enjoyable, but I did like the book.
Recommendable: Probably not everyone's cup of tea. Definitely on the quirky side of books.
Overall: The Whole Stupid Way We Are, in my opinion, is in many ways a tragedy. (For clarity, in the Romeo and Juliet sense. Not in the...let's say...Miley Cyrus sense.) At times, this book left me so irritated, which it couldn't have done without having me seriously emotionally invested in it. If you prefer plot driven novels, this isn't for you. However, fans of character-driven contemporary YA should definitely give this book a try. It is a bit odd in its expression, but that's part of what made it so special and unique.
Cover: Very pretty and real feeling, if that makes sense.
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