What is it about the start of the month that means I only post queer NetGalley reviews, seriously? This one’s a bit more positive than the last, although the book still wasn’t quite what I expected and there were a few things I didn’t like so much — but I think that’s not entirely the book’s fault. You know how sometimes you think a book’s going to be one thing, and it’s something else, and that throws you off? Yeah, that’s what it was like with Drawn Together.
From the blurb, I was expecting this to be more light-hearted than it actually was. I think that’s probably my fault: if I’d paid more attention, or read other people’s reviews before I started, I might not have been caught out by the content. However, I didn’t, and so the darker themes of the book came as a surprise, and were quite difficult to read, which possibly affected my enjoyment of it more than it would otherwise have done.
One of the major themes that blindsided me was that of domestic abuse: I won’t go into details, because I don’t want to give spoilers, but if manipulation and downright physical violence bother you, this might not be a book for you to read, because it gets quite uncomfortable in places. I can tell you that things do work out okay, but… well, there’s a lot of bad stuff to get through first, and when you’re expecting a cheery read, that can be a bit much.
Moreover, it was a situation I found difficult to understand as a reader, and while I know it’s a cliche of people who have never been and will never be in that situation, I couldn’t understand why the characters didn’t just leave when it was so clear they were unhappy and being abused. Clear to the reader, that is; it was subtle enough that without external knowledge, you can see why she would overlook it. Like I said, this is because I’ve never been in this situation and also will never understand love as a reason for anything (sorry, but my cold aro heart needs more logic than that), and I know the fault’s with me — I didn’t think the book was unrealistic on that point.
Certain aspects of the characters’ relationships weren’t really explained all that clearly, and the switching POVs took a while to get used to because there wasn’t a super noticeable distinction between them in terms of voice. They had their own personalities and backgrounds, but in voice, they were reasonably similar, at least until you got to know them and saw the subtle differences. So it took me a while to get to grips with who everybody was and what their relationships to each other were, not helped by some seriously two-faced behaviour from one of the less pleasant characters in the book, who was very difficult to pin down until she finally revealed herself to be as awful as her bad moments made her seem.
That said, the confusion I experienced in places might have helped some of the darker things seem less gratuitous, and maybe the lack of details was a good thing in that sense, but it didn’t make the story easy to follow.
The book also uses some unconventional storytelling tactics, including email transcripts, text conversations, that kind of thing. It makes the sense of a long-distance friendship more believable, and since the two characters are creators (a writer and an illustrator/artist), it worked well as a portrayal of a lot of the friendships I’ve formed online.
As the book goes on, this also contributes to the manipulative/controlling situation one of the characters is in, because her communication is limited, so that was quite effective. Some of these exchanges felt a little unnecessary, though — they could have been told in a more conventional way without losing any of the meaning, and so felt like a gimmick — but these were in the minority.
There were aspects I did enjoy of the story, don’t get me wrong; I realise this review has been a little bit negative so far, but I did give it three stars and not fewer. I think part of my problem with the darker stuff was just that it caught me off-guard, and also that I’ve been in a bad headspace lately and so a bit more sensitive to these things than I usually am.
I meant to write up this review sooner, so that I could give more specific details (you know what my memory’s like, if you’ve been following my reviews for any length of time — three days after I read a book, almost everything has vanished from my mind, including the characters’ names). My general view, though, is that I would have enjoyed this more if I’d paid more attention to its mood and tone before I started, because being blindsided by some fairly dark stuff when I was expecting something much lighter was difficult.