Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review - 100 Days of Sunlight

100 Days of Sunlight
by Abbie Emmons
Date: 2019
Publisher: Abbie Emmons
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 310
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down.

Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.

Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.

Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.

100 Days of Sunlight is a poignant and heartfelt novel by author Abbie Emmons. If you like sweet contemporary romance and strong family themes then you’ll love this touching story of hope, healing, and getting back up when life knocks you down.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's been over a year and a half since I last read a young adult novel. Maybe it was my one-star experience there that turned me off, or maybe I just got tired of seeing the same old problems in books written for that age group. In any case... it's been a while. So why did I pick this one up?

I was searching for graphic design videos on YouTube when I spotted one of Abbie's videos. I watched it, and then I realized that she's the author who wrote that self-pubbed novel with the gorgeous cover that I'd put on my "want to read" list months ago. As I watched more of her videos, I began to get curious. She seemed to know what she was talking about, so I reasoned that her book was probably pretty decent. So I checked out the preview on Amazon, decided it looked like it might be a worthwhile read, and bought it.

The first thing I want to talk about here is the self-publishing aspect. I've seen other reviewers make assumptions about Abbie getting a publishing deal because she's a YouTuber. Nope. 100 Days of Sunlight is a self-published book (which you can learn more about in some of her videos). Having read quite a few self-published books, I've come to the conclusion that they're often... well, terrible. This book kind of shatters that perception, though. When an author really takes the time to properly organize, plan, write, edit, get feedback, and pay attention to good design, the results can really pay off. 100 Days of Sunlight does not seem self-published. In fact, I would encourage anyone who's thinking of self-publishing their own book to buy a copy of this one to see how it should be done. Everything--the cover, the layout, the editing, the e-book's price point--gives a reader the impression that they're looking at something that's come out of a traditional publishing house. In fact, I can count on my fingers the number of technical mistakes in the writing... which is more than I can say of some books to come out of the big publishers. (Hey, errors happen. The fact that they didn't happen until almost the very end is really impressive; I'm used to seeing them start to creep in after the halfway point.)

Let's talk about the story. It's your standard YA contemporary romance (I'm guessing... since this is not my preferred genre), complete with characters who are about one quip away from bursting into song surrounded by cuddly forest critters. Were it not for the alternative POV and Weston sharing his backstory in flashbacks, we would've had a Manic Pixie Dream Boy on our hands. (I mean, the guy makes waffles and plays a yellow ukulele while trying to help the heroine see the brighter side of life.) The comparisons to Augustus Waters are pretty much inevitable. But Emmons avoids falling into the MPDB trap trope by letting us get inside Weston's head. And, actually, it's really his story. I found that, as I was reading, I was far more invested in his narration than I was in Tessa's, despite her problems being the catalyst for the whole story. I thought Tessa wasn't developed quite as well, and there were things about her that seemed to be obvious attempts to make her character more interesting... when they really didn't. I'm talking about things like her overly nasty attitude at the beginning, her mother (that could've been interesting to work into her character development, but it seemed more like an effort to make her family seem unconventional), and her strange comments about holding Weston's hand being "inappropriate" (I know this is a sweet little YA novel, but... hand-holding?). As for Weston, I liked him for the most part... but he lost me for a bit somewhere in the middle with his attitude about disability. This isn't the first time I've seen this attitude from those with physical disabilities, and maybe Emmons was aware of this when she put the words in Weston's mouth, but as someone with a non-physical disability, it really pissed me off:

"You see, most people would look at me and say that I have every right to be miserable. But I don't. I have no right. I have no right. And neither do you."

When a reader is struggling with something like depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, it's painful to read something like that. Painful, and incredibly invalidating. When some of these conditions, by their very nature, can make you miserable (as in, you have no control over what emotions are sweeping over you at any given moment, no matter how hard you try to plaster a smile on your face), to have a character--a hot, wish-fulfillment sort of character, at that--basically dismiss you as someone who's choosing to be miserable, who doesn't even have a right to their own feelings, it can be tough. Don't get me wrong: I like Weston. But I do wish authors would be a little more cautious when they try to include messages like this in their work. Someone like Weston can overcome their challenges with a lot of hard physical work. But if your challenge is a mental illness that actually makes you miserable, it's not as easy. In fact, for some, it might be impossible.

Aside from that, the plot is pretty generic, and suffers a little from being somewhat contrived. Some of that could've simply been avoided by setting this, say, twenty years ago. As it is, some readers are going to inevitably wonder why Tessa needs a typist in the first place. She's got Siri on her phone, so we know this world has voice-recognition technology. Why wasn't it used? (For that matter, making Weston sit in the bottom of the tub to take a shower just seemed like an opportunity to show him feeling pathetic. Does this world not have adaptive technologies? His parents bought him running blades, but they couldn't spring for shower legs?) Some of the dialogue is kind of treacly, and doesn't always ring true. The child characters don't sound quite right to me (including 13-year-old Weston and his friends), and the grandparents are likewise a little off. Maybe it's just that most of the book is squeaky clean, and much of the dialogue sounds a bit formal. Nobody I know talks like this, but maybe they do in other parts of North America.

I know all that makes it seem like I didn't like it, but that's not true. I'm not sorry I read it. I just don't think I'm the audience for this sort of thing. However, I would still recommend it to readers who enjoy YA contemporary romance, and I would also recommend it to those who are interested in self-publishing as an example of how to get it right (because goodness knows there are enough examples out there of how to get it wrong).

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3.25 out of 5 ladybugs

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