The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo
Release Date: May 16, 2017
DNF @ 11%
*e-ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley – thanks so much to Swoon Reads for sending me a copy although it’s probably the last one you will ever send me, lol. 😄 But thanks so much!!*
*All quotes that are used are from an unfinished copy*
Warning: Book Rant Ahead (triggering topic such as eating disorders will be discussed) – I actually used to be a fan of book rants. One of my best friends and I would scour through Goodreads, hunting down book rants of our favorite and least favorite books to find them. We thought they were hilarious because people would get so sassy and use the best gifs. It was our own personal book soap opera.
However, once I got into the book blogging world, I saw what book rants were like. You see authors actually reading your work, and after cultivating relationships with some, you realize they’re not just a myth anymore – they’re real human people which never really computed for me. Anyway, I’ve only done one other sort of book rant, and I tried really hard with that one to be as nice as I could. However, after reading only 11% of this book and letting it sit with me for a while, I still found myself needing to vent out my frustrations with this book. I’m such an upset Book Princess right now with this book.
Chin up, Princess, or the crown will slip.
A theme park princess must put her life back together after her happily ever after falls apart in this contemporary YA romance from Karole Cozzo, author of How to Keep Rolling After a Fall and How to Say I Love You Out Loud.
Everything was supposed to be perfect. Alyssa has a job she loves, working as Cinderella at her favorite theme park; a fantastic group of friends; and a boyfriend who will no longer be long distance. But as the summer progresses, her prince becomes less charming and more distant, and Alyssa’s perfect summer falls apart.
Forced to acknowledge that life is not always a fairy tale, Alyssa starts working to pull her herself back together. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to do it alone. With her friend Miller’s support, she’s determined to prove that she’s more than just a pretty princess. And with his help, maybe she’s finally ready for something better than dreams. Maybe she’s ready for something real.
Okay, doesn’t this sound like the cutest little contemporary?? I am a SUCKER for books that have a theme park in them. But add in a theme park that is basically Disneyworld? Yup, this Book Princess will buy up your book SO FAST. I have been looking for books like this ever since Dream Factory and How Zoe Made (Mostly) All of Her Dreams Come True ruined me for these books forever. They are so adorable and cute and the setting is just SO GOOD. (Also, Devoured by Amanda Marrone is a slightly paranormal one but the epic setting of a theme park.)
So when I saw this book, I knew I had to get it. However, Swoon Reads decided throw me for a loop for this one when I decided to go pre-order it and found out it was a full priced hardcover instead of their usual cheap paperback copies. On the off chance, I decided to request it on Netgalley just to test it out, but I was sure it was going to be adorable, fluffy and everything I wanted in my epic theme park book.
I was sooooooo wrong.
First off, this book isn’t YA. To me, this book was marketed as YA, I was told it was in YA, it’s in Netgalley as YA, but it’s not YA. It’s NA, or New Adult. Now, I don’t have a problem with NA books. I rather enjoy them. However, it’s a lot different going into a book, expecting YA and then discovering it’s NA. I kept asking, wait, why is this girl living alone? Where are her parents? Why is she possibly living with her boyfriend? Why isn’t she in school? WHAT IS GOING ON? If I had been given the description of NA, I wouldn’t have been so confused. Even Goodreads is perplexed.
The second issue I had was, well, with Alyssa. She was too fluffy. Like, imagine a cartoon Princess character actor at Disneyworld with sunshines and rainbows and so much fluff. I get Cozzo was trying to introduce us to the theme park and excitement of working at your dream job. When Alyssa is going in for her “first day” on the job (“first” day that we’re seeing but she’s actually worked there for a long while), she is SO EXCITED. I mean, there is glee. She can’t believe she works there!
Now, okay, if this Book Princess was working at Disney and playing a Princess, she would probably get SO EXCITED, too. But just like anything, it would wear out a bit. You can love your job, but the excitement just for the sake of excitement for this book rubbed me the wrong way.
Okay, these were my lesser objections. I have two big objections that caused me to leave this book in a giant huff. The start of the real book rant starts now – I’m about to be an Angtsy Book Princess soooooooo…warning. And the topic of eating disorders will be discussed here, so heads up. And one last warning: if you’re a follower of my blog, you probably have seen that I don’t really get personal so well. Like, I don’t open so much about certain things, and that’s how I am mostly in real life, so some of the things I’m about to talk about are quite personal and some of them, I’m actually talking about for the first time. Soooooo, yeah. It’s probably going to be a bit of mess, and if I deflect with a bad attempt at humor, it’s not me trivializing anything – it’s just how I deal with super personal stuff.
The book opens with our heroine, Alyssa, eagerly awaiting the return of her boyfriend, Jake. It’s the regular cutesy romance – he was the dashing prince who saved and fixed up her scraped knee when she fell for her first day as Cinderella. Except he wasn’t a dashing prince character actor but instead he was a paramedic for the park. Which is cool. I loved the concept of a non-prince. However, Alyssa is dashing around like one of the birdies in Cinderella and being so excited for Jake to arrive back from college. And not even a page in we’re introduced to a new character in the book: Alyssa’s eating disorder.
As I discussed in a previous book review, I’m not sure how I feel about trigger warnings on books, but I believe some kind of warning needs to mentioned for important and harm-causing issues. Nowhere was I alerted this book would deal with an eating disorder. There was nothing in summary, I never saw it in any of the promo – I simply thought this was just a cute book about a girl getting dumped by a guy and having a redemption arc in the middle of the most epic setting ever.
Now, eating disorders in books can be triggering especially if handled wrong. Now, while I have read a few books with eating disorders, I haven’t read a book that involved “an invisible calculator” or calorie counting to the extreme. This eating disorder seems to be the most sneaky to me – you think that you’re just focusing on trying to be healthy. It’s what you’re supposed to do, right? You portion your intake, make sure you stick to that 2000 calories a day, look at all the labels, look up what your favorite meals and fast food places really involve, mentally calculate it, or oh, hey, they have apps that do that for you. You’re just be healthy…or at least that’s what you tell yourself. It’s what’s Alyssa told herself.
It’s also what I told myself for a longest time, until I realized I had a problem.
Because you can do these things and obsess over them constantly…because when you do these things and seriously feel sick to your stomach if you go over the limit….or skip meals or food because you went over your amount for the day, then it’s not alright. When you feel guilty for every pound you’ve lost because you know you’re not doing something right. When the people talking about your weight change from praise to furrowed eyebrows and questioning eyes. When you see bones. That? That’s not okay, and it took me a long time to realize that and a whole lot of weight lost in a short amount of time. It’s been a little under a year since I came to that conclusion, but it’s still a struggle sometimes.
Alyssa, however, seems to have some awareness that what she is doing is not okay. She hides her food journal, she understands some of the issues that come with her possible disorder (period changing, working out, etc.). However, it’s still promoted a bit cheerfully. She understands it to be okay. This is perfectly fine, because it’s her job, according to her. There are once-overs where all the characters are checked in to make sure they are the same weight for their costumes, etc. She is told she has nothing to worry about a fellow princess. When she goes in to get her once-over, there is this exchange:
(Diana, part of the HR department) “No sweat for you, right?” I smile, refusing to let any self-doubt show, and she steps closer to confide in me. “Thank you for making my job easy. I had to send Alana home today. She could barely zip her gown. Twelve pounds in ten days, how does that even happen, as hot as it been? We all should be sweating the pounds off.”
Diana looks at me, but I don’t have an answer for her.
She shrugs. “Who knows? Maybe a bad breakup she wouldn’t cop to, or something.”
A few paragraphs later, there’s this:
At least look-overs have a purpose, separate and apart from utter degradation. With some many different girls playing princess, someone has to keep an eye on character consistency and integrity. Park-goers pay a lot of money for us to get it right, to make dreams come true.
Once Diana is done inspecting my body from every angle and recording my weight after it flashes on the screen of the electric scale, she steps forward to inspect my face. She studies my complexion, commands me to smile so she can see my teeth. Then her shoulders collapse in relief and she gives me a hug. “You look great, Sweet Pea. You’re my all-star, Alyssa. Keep up the good work.” She laughs. “If this was an orchestra, you’d be my first chair Cinderella.”
I exhale a quick sigh of relief and smile back at her.
I’m proud of myself.
“I’m proud of myself”? Everyone’s disorder is different, but shouldn’t there be some sort of internal struggle? Whenever I was praised for my loss, I still had mixed feelings on it. Sure, I felt good, but it was also like I didn’t know what to say because I had the self-awareness to know what I was doing wasn’t healthy. Alyssa knows this is something to hide yet she only feels proud…and then things instantly jump to another section of the novel. There is no more mention of it as Alyssa goes to work. So being proud and relieved is the only feeling we get and there is nothing after that. Isn’t this romanticizing it? Alyssa has self-awareness enough to hide what she’s doing, but not self-awareness to feel some guilt over what she’s doing to have some mixed feelings?
So, here I am, literally at 4% going, I’m not sure about this. Maybe this is part of the redemption arc. Maybe she will figure it out, maybe this will get better. You’re close reading this, looking for something to go wrong with the eating disorder rep. It’s not too triggering yet for you, and this book is your holy grail. You have to continue. We already know I’m a book masochist.
I continued, and at 6%, it’s time to meet this Jake. He’s flying in from college, and Alyssa is waiting for him with this big meal she has prepared. I mean, big meal. Full of wine, chicken parm, and dessert as well. She’s SO EXCITED. Jake’s going to be here, she has perfected her meal, and…her eating disorder has mysteriously vanished. Not once during the discussion of the food preparation (which there was quite a few paragraphs of it) does she discuss her calorie counting. Not once when she’s downing her wine does she worry about writing it down in the journal. Where did it go? Why wasn’t it there? Okay, when it was actually served, she’s worried about why Jake is late, but during the preparation, there should have been some discussion of guilt, fear, something. It’s gone, and if the representation was going to be right, there should have been at least a sentence about it if not a few paragraphs of worry.
And then Jake shows up almost two hours late, dripping wet with no reason, there was yet a new character in the story: Alyssa’s stupidity. Alyssa calls him out for being so late and dripping wet with no reason and his answer? I’m not even joking when I tell you this is his story: he took a taxi from the airport, the taxi driver was evil (wait sorry, CRIMINAL cabbie as Jake calls him) and caused a hit and run with a pedestrian, Jake being the paramedic RUSHED into the CVS right there, patched the person up in the middle of the storm, but you know, he was stranded because the criminal cabbie just left his butt there. Oh, and he let it drop that there was a “we” in the taxi that he shared with someone headed in this direction.
…and Alyssa bought every word of it. LITERALLY EVERY WORD. In what world, does this happen? In what world, is this story believable? In what world is this believed in ONE PAGE?
I just kept blinking at the page, but I was still stuck in my head that I was close reading this, I had to keep going because I was literally only 7% in and I owed it to Swoon Reads to keep going, and I wanted this book so much – I wanted it to be the best and I had waited for this book since July of last year.
So Alyssa and Jake are distant throughout dinner and it’s awkward but at least Alyssa realizes that. They’re a mess. Alyssa cries because Jake already ate and their perfect dinner is ruined, they sort of make up, but Alyssa still feels there is a missed connection. Next day, Alyssa is hanging out with the princess squad and this princess (maybe she’s a godmother, I can’t quite remember), Chrissi, sees Alyssa is down in the princess dumps. Chrissi pulls it out of Alyssa that her and Jake just didn’t reconnect last night.
She cocks her head. “The concept that the way to a guy’s heart is through his stomach is super outdated.” Her eyebrows disappear beneath her bangs, and her tongue appears in the corner of her mouth. “There’s another type of magic they appreciate much, much more.”
I giggle. “Chrissi!”
She puts her hand on my knee. “No, I’m serious here.” She shrugs. “Us girls, we have this tendency to want all the emotional stuff to feel perfectly aligned in order for the physical to be good, right? But guys, they’re backward that way, most of them anyway, and sometimes, surprisingly, getting physical together can make the other stuff click. Help all involved parties relax a little bit and just have some fun together. Reconnect. Ya know?”
Um, right, because this is the logical answer? Not talking it out? Not open and clear communication? Don’t tell him you’re having issues? I don’t judge anyone about what they decide is right for them when it comes to this part of their relationship, but this is concerning. This book is marketed to a young adult audience, and it’s telling them that, oh, you’re having problems in a relationship? Not connecting? Jump right into bed and it will literally solve all problems. That one paragraph is also confirming negative stereotypes that women are emotional creatures and men just need to have the physical aspect.
Chrissi continued her wonderful advice that they needed to go to the local lingerie shop and get some princess themed lingerie. Wasn’t aware that was a thing, but now I answered a question about my princesses I’m not sure I ever needed answered? 😄 Good to know. Anyway, they go to the lingerie shop and Chrissi complains there is not godmother lingerie and I just gave up. I couldn’t do it anyway. I was so upset.
Maybe I was just close reading this whole thing. Maybe I sensationalized a few things, but I’m not quite sure so. I’ve been thinking about this post ever since I read it a few weeks ago. I discussed it with a friend that seemed to believe it was as crazy as I said it was. I kept debating how I wanted to approach this. I’m not a good sharer (which is why you only got a few sentences on it), and I do get paranoid that sometimes I’m the only one that sees these things. But this was my interpretation of this book. But I think this book has a concerning start to its eating disorder representation, questionable messages, and more. All of this happened 11% into the novel. 11%. I have more than 2800 (more than 3200 by the end of this) words on 11% of a book.
I understand that there is probably a redemption arc. From what I get from the other reviews, it is brought up to Alyssa that she does have an eating disorder from her new love interest, Miller. So it is eventually handled. I wanted to continue to find out how it was handled more, but if this book upset me so much already, I wasn’t sure I should continue for my own sake. But I feel like there was a lot in these first few pages that could be handled in a different way. I think there also should have been mentioned somewhere that this was going to deal with an eating disorder. I felt so under-prepared going to into the story. I get Cozzo is trying to show the horrible practice of once-overs, but from where I stood, this wasn’t the way to do it.
So, yeah, this got a bit more personal than what I was looking to do. Again, I don’t do it well, but I felt I needed to share because this book struck me deep with its representation. It was a huge problem I had with the story. I’ve struggled for about three hours now to do this review, but I want people to know about what you’re getting in this novel. There were a few things that were nice about the novel, and Cozzo has a nice writing style, but for this novel, I had to share the demerits instead of the merits.
Clearly, I didn’t finish it, so no crowns. And I don’t even feel like putting up a Princess rating for it.
Check it out:
(I’m so impressed if you made it down here. Thank you so much for listening. All of what I spoke was just my experience with the book and own issues. I can’t speak to if these are similar to others, but I did apply it to the novel. I hope nothing I said was offensive or triggering for anyone, but please let me know since this is the first time I’ve tried to discussing a particularly sensitive topic especially for myself.)
Also, Swoon Reads it was nice knowing you. 😄 I’m still going to try Wesley James Ruined My Life, and hope that will solve my love for theme park books.