Reviewed for Netgalley
Giving Up by Michelle Engardt
I guess I’ll be the bad guy here because other reviewers seemed to love this book, but not me. It was all I could do to keep reading it.
The beginning of this story moves too fast to really build up the characters into something realistic, and I found them to be simplistic and not believable. For example, Dylan knows Mandy for about 10 minutes before he reaches the conclusion that she’s “one of the nicest, most genuine human beings he had ever met,” but he doesn’t know her well enough to reach that conclusion. Sorry, but sitting with him for five minutes and offering to make a phone call for him doesn’t justify his feelings about her. And Dr. Robertson? Yikes! I really hope actual shrinks in this situation are more tactful. How in the hell is someone on suicide watch with no family or friends or job supposed to make living arrangements from a hospital bed?
I don’t find Dan to be a believable character. He just happens to be passing under a remote bridge while Dylan was bleeding out? And then he just happens to have every possible commodity that Dylan needs during his recovery? A rent-free apartment, furniture, a job? Sorry, but that seems like a fantasy to me. And at times, his dialogue sounds more like a suicide-prevention pamphlet than a genuine manner in which two young men would talk to one another, and other times he just sounds downright patronizing. There’s some hints to his character’s back story, but so much about him isn’t revealed until far too late in the story to give his character substance. As a reader, I didn’t know enough about him to be invested in him.
A third of the way through the story, I was completely sick of Dylan. I understand that he represents what it is like to be in the throes of depression and what it is like to live in that state, but he came across as whiny, and I found him irritating and unlikable.
It got slightly better when Dan’s motivation for taking in Dylan is finally revealed, but I felt that it would have helped the story a lot more to have disclosed that early on. And, for me, by the end, it deteriorated even further with Dan and Dylan’s fight where two mild mannered characters were suddenly dropping F-bombs every other word. That seemed to come out of nowhere and be completely out of character for both of them.
The point in the story at which certain things were revealed just seemed to be oddly timed. A small example, 125 pages into the book, after he and Dan have shared countless meals of Chinese food, pizza and Christmas dinner with Dan’s parents, it’s suddenly revealed that Dylan has to order cheese pizza because he’s a vegetarian. So, what’s he been eating up to this point? And why is there suddenly a need to reveal this information two-thirds of the way into the book? And here’s a much bigger example. Halfway through the story, Dan and Dylan have a sex talk where Dylan reveals that he’s not into sex, and Dan suggests that he might be asexual, a concept that Dylan does not seem familiar with. Fast forward to almost the end of the story, and Dylan is talking about his past as if he had always known he was asexual. It just made no sense based on their earlier conversation.
Depression, suicide, and sexual identity are all very important for young people to read about, and there are many books out there that deal with these topics (Liane Shaw’s Caterpillars Can’t Swim is a beautiful example), but I can’t recommend Giving Up as one of them.