Review: The Summer I Gave Up Boys by Kassandra Kush

gaveupboys_kassandrakushFinal Rating:  onecupcroppedcup of tea which didn’t even have any hilarious purple prose in it to distract me from how awful it tasted.

When I saw the title of this book, I kind of expected that the protagonist’s break from dating wouldn’t last. What I didn’t expect was that the person the female protagonist (Kaliyah) suspends her independence for would be so utterly worthless. No, silly me, I expected that whoever it was who ended up winning her heart would actually earn the privilege by being so amazing that Kaliyah felt that being with him was truly better than being alone. (Which is a pretty awesome state of being, despite what popular media may tell you.) Nope!

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The man that Kaliyah falls for, named Isaiah, is a complete asshole. Now, we’ve met more than a few of these on this blog, so much so that I’ve started to believe having a degree in Raging Asshattery seems to be required for most male protagonists in the romance genre. But Isaiah takes this to a whole new level with a ceaseless campaign of harassment, outright stalking, and treating boundaries as though they were mere suggestions, all of which left me wondering why the hell anyone would even give this fool the time of day.

Isaiah must’ve gotten great grades in Asshole University, because he hits the ground running. Our first introduction to him is in an airport, where Kaliyah is reading whilst waiting for her flight. She would very much like to continue reading, particularly since she is still a bit sore from being cheated on by her most recent ex. But Isaiah has a crush on her, so of course he feels entitled to her time and attention, no matter how she feels. Now, I totally get wanting to reconnect with someone who you haven’t seen in awhile, especially when you have feelings for them. But Isaiah doesn’t interact with Kaliyah kindly. Oh no. He much prefers to mock her constantly, belittling her interests and life goals with a practiced hand. Kaliyah tells him twice, VERY CLEARLY, that she would like to be left alone. But he ignores this, too, and continues jabbering at her. He also touches her constantly, grabbing her hands or wrists whenever she looks away from him, which is a HUGE red flag to me. The final straw comes when Kaliyah finally reaches her limit, jams in her earbuds, and declares loudly that she is returning to her book. Isaiah response is to yank one of the earbuds out of her ears  in order to continue mocking her.

You don’t have to go very far to find stories from women who suffer endless harassment from men while out in public. Most of the stuff that happens is fucking terrifying for those women, and seeing it glorified into a “cute” behavior was nauseating. Equally disgusting was realizing that this is the man Kaliyah is going to end up falling in love with.

Isaiah’s behavior escalates once Kaliyah returns home. He visits her workplace constantly, often attempting to talk to her despite her clear disinterest in him. Later on, he also forces himself into her apartment despite, once again, being told that she’s upset and not in the mood for company. While inside her home, he actually barges into her bedroom uninvited, just so he can see how many books she has stashed inside so he can (yet again) mock her interest in reading. Kaliyah feels vulnerable and violated after this, but says nothing. (In fact, she feels embarrassed that she “allowed” it to happen.) At this point, I pretty much want to set him on fire and kick him off the edge of a cliff, because sometimes that’s just what you do with garbage.

As time passes, Isaiah invites himself to parties which she is attending, most notably her 21st birthday. There’s a lot of drinking at this party, but Kaliyah isn’t interested. (In fact, it isn’t even her party–her supposed friend basically invited a bunch of people over to her house without permission) So of course, Isaiah takes it upon himself to make her drink, by convincing her that if she doesn’t drink, she’s letting everyone down and ruining everyone else’s good time. He gets a couple of shots into her, then makes a “bet” with her that if she ends up dancing with him later on in the night, then she’ll have to be his “slave” for a day when they return to campus. Yes, this is an actual sentence which is uttered by an actual human adult. Naturally of course, they end up in bed together and Kaliyah has to play a round of “Did we, or didn’t we?” in her head over breakfast. Romance! (With a rancid touch of racism and white privilege on the side, for good measure!)

Throughout all of this, Kaliyah is slowly realizing that she’s attracted to/falling in love with Isaiah, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. She’s had a physical attraction to him since the very first page, which, OK–sometimes our Pantsfeelings aren’t particularly smart or wise, and Isaiah does sound fairly agreeable from a purely physical standpoint. But last time I checked, sexual attraction doesn’t make choices for you. Besides which, Kaliyah is an amazing, intelligent young woman who seems to be surrounded by attractive young men almost constantly…surely, she could find literally anyone else to bang?

Making matters worse are Kaliyah’s so-called “friends”, Amanda and Kristen. The former disappoints me the most by ignoring her friend’s feelings in favor of getting herself laid, though it’s a close call between her and Kristen. Kristen seems to think that Kaliyah is “intimidating” to men, therefore she should keep her mouth shut, dress revealingly, and allow Isaiah to “work his magic”. Whatever the fuck that is. She also earns a HUGE pile of demerits for fat-shaming Kaliyah by telling her Isaiah probably hates her now that he’s seen her “attack a shrimp cocktail like a starving Chihuahua”, or something to that effect, because gods forbid a woman enjoy the food she’s eating. Saying I think Kaliyah needs new friends would be an understatement.

There are a ton of other things about this book which pissed me off, but I won’t waste my time dragging them out. All in all, this story is nothing but an endless train wreck of bad stereotypes, emotionally immature characters, and the romanticization of abusive behavior. It scares me and enrages me in equal measure. Give it a WIDE berth.

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