Monday, 30 June 2014

Review: Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern

Amy & Matthew by Cammie McGovern (also known as Say What You Will in the US)
Format: Paperback
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on 27th March 2014
Pages: 336
Genre: YA, Contemporary
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This is the story of Amy and Matthew. It's about being different. It's about feeling alone. It's about finding each other. It's about falling in love.
I don't know whether I just read this book at the wrong time or what, but I feel like any thoughts I have about the book are sort of swamped in a haze. I just can't seem to figure out how I feel about it.

I was really drawn to this book at first because Matthew has OCD and the whole premise of this story made it seem like it was the closest I was going to get to reading a book about a girl who falls in love with a guy who suffers from anxiety. (As I've said before, my boyfriend suffers from anxiety.) In the end, I figure the world kind of still needs another story like that, because this one didn't quite work out for me.

The subtitle of this book is "A Love Story". I guess I expected more relationship stuff from this book, but there was really none of that. Most of the book is just Amy and Matthew struggling to make their feelings known to each other. It takes a ludicrously long time. And it's kind of frustrating and possibly just not quite my cup of tea. I've made it clear before that characters who suck at communicating with each other are just not my thing. I find it hard to root for a ship like that. And here were Amy and Matthew, constantly failing to tell each other how they really feel. Not reaching out for each other when they should. It just takes them way too long; too many misunderstandings, too many mistakes, and I kind of lost interest.

I wasn't sure about the way Amy dealt with Matthew's OCD either. I felt like she could be really selfish, and she pushed Matthew a bit too hard sometimes. It did not feel to me that she was present and supportive, ready to be there for him whenever Matthew was having a particularly bad time, but that she just wanted him cured of his OCD and that was it. Matthew's recovery also seemed oddly easy and smooth to me. Like, I know he still isn't really fully recovered by the end of the book, but I just feel like I was never shown the full impact of his OCD and his anxiety on his life and on the lives of those around him. On Amy's life.

I think Amy got given a far more complex and well-developed arc. I have very little knowledge about cerebral palsy; it was nice to read a book with so much focus on that, and so much on Amy trying to move beyond that too, to learn her place in the world and how to define herself on her own terms. I liked seeing her struggles with her overprotective mother. Amy was selfish, yes, but she was such a teenager. She wanted to live, really live the way she hadn't managed to yet; she wanted to be liked, she wanted to make an impression on the world, and the choices she made were rash and bold and risky. I think she learnt quite a bit about life by the end of the book.

Despite all this, I sympathised with Matthew much more as a character. The way he viewed the world and the sadness he carried with him just made him so much more compelling to me. I loved the way this book explored what sexuality meant to both Amy and Matthew, how they had very different takes on the subject, and this bit of the book, from an email that Matthew sends to Amy, was so raw and beautiful:
I understand what you were trying to say, but I also have to say I don't believe there's such a casual sex for people like you and me. How could there be? We don't have casual relationships with our bodies. They're unpredictable, humiliating things that have failed us so much it's hard not to hate them, and impossible to imagine being naked with another person and relaxed at the same time. I don't know. Maybe that's not it at all.
It's just heartbreaking.

Still, much of my enjoyment of the book was dampened by the fact that it feels to me much less like a love story than a story about two people who need to just learn to communicate already. And also by the fact that I wasn't always comfortable with the portrayal of Matthew's OCD and Amy's attitude towards that. For these reasons, I was never convinced by the romance, and that just isn't great for a book subtitled "A Love Story".



  1. Aww, it's such a shame you didn't enjoy this book much. I can understand your points, but I really loved it. I don't know much about OCD or anxiety, so I can't talk much about the portrayal of it in this book, but I felt I learnt quite a lot that I didn't know before. And I felt Amy was supportive, she was trying to help him. I don't quite agree with the way she went about it, but I think she felt he needed a push in the right direction.

    Also, with the subtitle, I think it depends on how you define a love story. I would agree with you if it was, "A Romance". Because it's not. But those two characters are in love with each other. It may take a fairly long while, but there's still love there. And isn't a love story a story about love? By the same token, I'd consider a story that focuses on unrequited love a love story, because it's still about love. And I like how they had trouble communicating their feelings, reminded me a lot of myself when I was their age :)

    But we can't all like everything, I guess. I hope you enjoy your next book more! :)

  2. I think part of the reason I find this book a little off-putting is because in some ways, my reading of it is really intensely affected by my own experience with dating a guy with anxiety. Maybe sometimes things go as easily as Matthew's recovery does in this book, and I guess I should be happy for Amy or something, but mostly I'm just kind of frustrated because from what I've experienced, it's just so much more complicated and difficult. Amy's actions and attitude just don't sit right with me somehow. It's very hard to explain, but it's just a very personal thing, I guess.

    Hmm. You do make a good point about the subtitle, I suppose. Still, this is not my kinda love story. I guess I was also kind of annoyed with the book because it felt like to me that several times it was building up to Amy and Matthew's first kiss, and then it would be like, "HA. NOT YET." I don't really enjoy being frustrated like that more than once in a book. I was a little fed up because sometimes it felt a bit contrived, the way the book kept driving them apart again and again.

    I am reading Days of Blood and Starlight at the moment!!! And heck yes, I am loving it. But I will be reviewing Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas next which was again sort of a 3 star read (or maybe 3.5 stars, I haven't quite decided yet).

  3. Oh, I was in no way trying to dismiss your own personal experience. I have no experience with anxiety disorders what so ever, so it was just coming from how I felt about the book. Personal experience is always going to affect, in some way, the way you read a book, so I bow to your better knowledge :)
    I do find that almost-but-not-quite-kissed thing in books, but ti didn't bother me so much in this one. I think I was more interested in the characters than the romance aspect. I enjoyed that part of it, but I found them individually more, I just found them to be interesting people.
    Oooh! I will be reading those reviews fairly soon! :)


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