The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan // ARC Review

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⭐️⭐️💫

I’m torn.
Really, it’s a mixed bag of wonderful feel good moments with some of the most off-putting characters in YA. At first, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t relate to Mattie and even found her dreadful at times. Then it finally dawned on me that I’m not supposed to like her because she is the antithesis of a decent person. To be honest, this is a semi-accurate representation of a teenager. I admit I was like Mattie at some point of my life. Totally self-absorbed and indignant of an apathetic world to my melodramatic life.  Constantly judgmental of people who were happy being who they were simply because I was unhappy with myself. I didn’t like the way I looked and there wasn’t anything particularly special about me.

Mattie faces the same issues but handles it much worse. She remarks her “mousey brown hair and under eye bags” can’t be fixed (in reality there’s such things as concealer and hair dye). Instead, she mocks other girls for modifying their looks to fit Western standards of beauty. That’s the point though isn’t it? People can decide for themselves how they should look and not be pressured one way or the other. However, Mattie obviously feels inferior and resorts to bullying as a coping mechanism. Betty (the popular girl) has glowing blonde hair and a radiant smile therefore she somehow deserves all this resentment.

In addition, we’re constantly reminded of how much Mattie likes Jazz, vintage dresses, and knickknacks. Of course, she isn’t vapid as Meadow who cares about such things as makeup and current fashion trends! The horror. It is frankly pathetic that Mattie cannot realize she’s putting others down in order to validate her own individuality not understanding the hypocrisy. Purposefully, alienating others so that they don’t have a chance to hurt her fragile ego. Having delusions that she is better than others because she cares less. Typical high school demeanor.

What I can’t excuse is the adults who also participate in the same sort of behavior. Will’s mom continuously jokes about his “Stepford-wife” girlfriend and makes vulgar comments that he should find someone else.

“Yeah. Though she’s not really my friend.”
My dad laughed. “Smart. You don’t want to get stuck in the friend zone.”
“What? No! I have a girlfriend, remember?”
“Never hurts to keep your options open,” my mom grumbled.

It’s totally uncalled for and a little disgusting for adults to shit on kids when kids already get enough shit from other kids. This is a point of contention as Will’s mom is prejudice of the lgbt+ community and can’t fathom that they are also human beings, not a badge to prove her “coolness” or tolerance. Unfortunately, this is a B-plot pushed aside for Mattie’s straight-girl problems.

On that note, due to cruel ignorance, Mattie accepts that Will’s confession is “mutual assured destruction”. This cannot be farther from the truth. Will may face ridicule, rejection, hatred, and fear. Friends affronted, college recruiters not wanting someone so “controversial”, and his family disowning him. While Mattie might…get grounded?

In the end, Mattie matures into a confident person. In the sense that when we find who we are, we no longer have to be jealous of those who got there before us. This is a serviceable coming of age story that attempts to flip the script but ends up following it rigidly.

*I think what happened with Connor is technically really icky. Maybe even against the law.

This is an advance reader’s copy in exchange for a fair review thanks to NetGalley.

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The age old conflict in design is finding a medium between dynamic art and legibility. While the first cover seems to be the final version, I actually like the one directly above. It’s harder to read but I like the water effect on the hand and the letters playing with foreground and background. The author’s name has a nice flow that mimics the waves The graphic shapes and gradients are nicely done. Centered text makes the cover too static but I understand that marketing is a thing too. Overall, I am enamored and impressed that for a YA book, this cover isn’t slacking.

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