“Giving Up” made me want to give up on it

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.


Caterpillars Can’t Swim is a beautiful story of tearing down boundaries and building unlikely friendships

Reviewed for Netgalley

Caterpillars Can’t Swim…but they do eventually morph into beautiful butterflies just as the relationship between three high school boys changes from ugly and awkward into something beautiful that breaks down barriers and saves a life in the process.

Wheelchair-bound Ryan becomes a local hero when he pulls an unconscious Jack out of a river and saves his life, but what could have been an ending is only the beginning as Ryan becomes entwined in Jack’s secretive, unhappy life.

Liane Shaw deftly handled issues such as homophobia, physical disability, depression, and suicide and portrayed them in a way that was gripping without being preachy or clichéd. Her characters were fresh and managed to escape so many of the stereotypes that are usually present in books about high schoolers. Cody could have easily been a one-dimensional jerk, but he had layers that were at times chopped right off to reveal surprising truths about himself. He was abrasive and rude and charming and even sweet in his own way. It’s rare that a reader wants to hug and slap a character all in the same paragraph, but Cody was definitely refreshing and believable in his reactions to Jack. I also liked Ryan from the start. He was snarky and funny and genuine. He was a perfect mix of someone who had accepted his disability and someone who occasionally got completely pissed off about being stuck in a wheelchair. His discomfort and uncertainty about Jack were palpable and made him real to me.

The lack of an insta-friendship was a welcome change. I enjoyed seeing the friendship between Ryan and Jack build over time. Their comradery required honesty and a slow-building trust which wouldn’t have been credible if it had been rushed. And I loved the ending. Jack’s problems didn’t just disappear with a new friendship. Everything wasn’t neat and tidy. The ending was scary and messy and let the reader know that Jack has a long road ahead of him, but that road just might end in a happier place.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim is not your typical YA story, and that is something I really enjoyed about it. This was my first Liane Shaw book, but her writing style and her approach to topics that can be difficult to write about in a fresh, non-stereotypical fashion really appealed to me, and I look forward to reading more of her work.