Author: Nicole Kronzer
Release Date: April 21st 2020
Publisher: Amulet Books
Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary
Goodreads Rating: 4.26 (of 35 ratings)
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Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay?
Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Amulet Books at Yallfest 2019. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book.
This book. This book was an accidental pick-up at Yallfest when I was waiting in line for another ARC giveaway, and it was sort of a panic grab. I saw that it mentioned some funnies and feminism, which always is a good combo, and honestly, none of the other books looked as enticing. I hadn’t heard a single thing about it, and that’s why this book is truly an underrated gem.
I will definitely be picking up Kronzer’s other books, should she continue to write, because I loved the ease of her writing. It’s easy, it’s breezy, and it draws you in until it consumes you. I devoured this book in a day, because I had to know what was going to happen. It starts off light and then gets heavy, but Kronzer’s writing never misses a beat.
This book deeps with some super heavy topics, and while you feel it, you also continue to feel a feeling of hope. Our heroine, Zelda, goes to a improv camp, to help hone in her skills to one day make it on Saturday Night Live. When she gets to camp, she discovers that she is one of only 5 other girls at a camp where toxic masculinity is king. She deals with isolation, gender discrimination, and a controlling camp counselor who may or may not be showing more interest in her that is allowed (legally, ethically, and mentally). This story shows Zelda’s journey throughout.
I believe that Kronzer did a good job with most of the topics that she took on. It was incredible the amount of feminism and girl power that she shows throughout the story. We are still living in a patriarchal society, and comments that are in this story are things that woman have heard and continue to hear. Kronzer doesn’t sugarcoat it, and it’s so hard to read at times – but she also shows the resilience of sisterhood and our heroines that showcase mental, emotional, and physical strength. I loved the sisterhood of the Gildas so much, and it’s honestly the best part of the this story. It honestly made me feel like I could take on the world again.
Kronzer also did a touching and through job on the abuse that Zelda experienced throughout the book – especially with her camp counselor. Young adults are the biggest age group to experience abuse in relationships, but there are still so few books that I’ve seen that touch on this topic. This book showed the horrible reality of a girl that is drawn in by an older man after having no romantic experience beforehand and gets drawn into his twisted web before realizing she’s in too deep. This story is, yes, focusing on taking on the “man” but it showcases taking on one man who has started to steal parts of yourself. It’s incredibly heartbreaking to read, but I felt Kronzer did an amazing job of showing the turmoil Zelda went through, the warning signs of the abuse, and how you can reclaim yourself.
I felt like Kronzer did a good job of making sure both of these topics had adequate time devoted to them so that neither message was lost or diminished. There are a few other plot lines going on throughout the story, and they were all interesting and kept the story going on as well.
I did have one little hesitance with another plot line, though. The romance subplot might have been a little fast? SLIGHT SPOILER BUT ALSO CONTENT WARNING (highlight text to read): Zelda meets a Boy Scout from another camp, and they do embark on a romance at a certain point in the novel. Kronzer does do a fantastic job with showing what a healthy relationship looks like compared to Zelda’s and Ben’s and showcases how a man should treat you – along with sex positivism. However, it felt, well, it felt a little fast? Like, it kind of came up very quickly after things went down with Ben, and it just felt a little rushed and almost tacked on. It didn’t necessarily feel like it was having a boy save her, but it just felt…it just felt a little off like he swooped in right after the whole abuse came to light – which was a slightly mixed message. Zelda is almost raped, and then we have a consensual sex positive moment a few days later. Again, multiple people say throughout that she doesn’t have to and she can take all the time to heal, so we definitely see both sides of the very important coin. I’ve never experienced any of what Zelda went through, so I’m not the right person to say anything about the time length of healing and how to heal – I would leave that for a person that has experienced it. However, it just seemed like a very quick amount of time and seemed like the answer was to rush the healing, when I think we could have benefited from a slightly more drawn out timeline.
The characters were amazingly well done. There are a lot of characters in this story, and each one felt like their own distinct personalities. The Gildas were the star of the show for me, and I loved them all. The Boy Scouts were fun (Ricky and his rocks were a jam, and I want a whole story on this man), and Zelda’s brother and his boyfriend were fantastic. All of the other characters were complex as well – even when they were terrible people.
Other minor things: I loved the camp setting, and I honestly could picture it so well. It wasn’t incredibly funny, but I appreciated some of the humor and there was a great laugh out loud moment. I didn’t find myself put out of it, though. I definitely learned a lot about improv as the story continued.
This review is already pretty long, so I’m just going to wrap it up before I continue to ramble. This book blew me away, especially since I had no expectations for it. I thought it was just going to be a little random book, but it hit me so hard. It was certainly the book to read in Women’s Reading Month. It does have triggering and hard to read content, but there is a message of hope, healing, and inspiration.
representation: albino side character, black side characters (and love interest), Indian side character, f/f romance, m/m romance, Korean side character
content warnings: homophobia, attempted rape (underage, too), underage drinking, consensual sexual content, racial comments
read this if you: an underrated but incredibly feminist novel that delivers sisterhood, strength in the darkest time, and healing
What do you think? Let’s discuss in the comments below!