Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing (September 11, 2012)
Reviewed by: Judith
Final Score: 7/10
I so badly want to make a joke about this book falling flat (though the title is extremely clever so mad props for that) but that joke is actually the crux of my review so am saving it for later. For now, let’s just jump right in.
Plot: Moving to Boston was supposed to be easy. Julie and her mom had the perfect apartment all picked out but when she arrived at the place, alone with her suitcase, it becomes apparent that they’ve been scammed. The only thing her mom can think to do from afar is contact an old friend who still lives in Boston. They send their son, Matt, to pick her up from the streets of Boston and in no time have invited her to stay with them. But all isn’t as it seems in the Watkins household. Matt is a homebody who does nothing but study and ferry his younger sister, Celeste, around. Celeste is a teenage girl who dresses like a little kid and her full time companion is a life-sized cardboard cut out of her world-traveler brother, Finn. Finn is MIA, travelling the globe, always in search of adventure and only communicates with his family or Julie through Facebook. The Watkins parents are extremely distant and accept their children and their oddball quirks. Julie finds the family off beat and strange but soon has insinuated herself into their lives. With her help, they slowly start to accept a tragedy that has been long buried and Julie learns all about the true meaning of love as she falls for both Matt and the elusive, Finn while also coming to care deeply for the rest of the Watkins clan.
Review: I’m going to lay it out there: I did not enjoy the actuality of this book as much I enjoyed the idea of it. With the unusual and quirky premise Jessica Park lays out, I was hoping for a read that grabbed me from the get go. Flat Out Love didn’t do that. At the risk of sounding trite because of this pun you all know I’m about to use, this book just falls flat. Flat on its face. The characters are just too wacky to be believed and are difficult to form attachments to. The plot seems like it will be amazing but in actuality, the story is only ho-hum and all of the major plot points are pretty unbelievable. Let’s start with the beginning: Julie needs a place to stay because of a craigslist scam. Fine. These things happen. But the way she describes it
and the way it plays out is just so hard to believe. It was like reading about someone’s idea of what a craigslist scam should be like, not what it actually is. The fact that Julie’s mom happened to have a good friend who can house her indefinitely after the scam? Highly suspect mainly because that good friend could have checked out this apartment for them in the first place, told them the whole thing seemed fishy, or just offered her place from the get go. I know it’s silly of me to harp on such a small plot point like this but it just came off as sloppy writing and overall sloppy thinking. Sadly, this turned out to be a theme for this book. All the characters read as caricatures of themselves. Matt is the nerdy, book worm who never does anything and is holed up in his room studying. Celeste is an angsty teen who obviously has major issues (hello! Girlfriend totes around a cardboard cut out of her brother) but no one bothers to help her work past those issues. Mr and Mrs Watkins clearly need therapy based on how they ignore their children and the problems they’re having in their marriage. Finn should be a non-entity because he’s never around except through vague Facebook posts but he’s all anyone talks about. Julie is just the classic hanger on who has insinuated herself into the Watkins family and decides that she can make it all better. And magically she can! She can succeed where therapy cannot. It just comes off as being too easy if you ask me. Each of the characters reads exactly as you would think he/she would based on the archetype they represent. Sloppy writing!
There’s also the added bonus of the love triangle between Julie, Matt, and Finn. Only problem is, we hardly ever see any interactions between Julie and Matt so while Jessica Park is clearly attempting to create some tension between the three by strategically placing the brother as a love interest at the very end, there was never any hint of attraction at all between Matt and Julie. So a romance between the two [HERE BE SPOILERS. SKIP IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED] comes out of nowhere! I mean, I get why the two do end up together but come on! Julie is always harping on about how amazing Finn is and how annoying and dorky Matt is so her 180 is really surprising and frankly, unbelievable.
Now, let’s get to the big plot twist. If you can’t see it coming after first meeting the Watkins family, there’s a problem! It was so heavy handed that I knew as soon as we meet Flat Finn that something was rotten in Denmark. The fact that Julie was so dense until the very end? Just annoying, especially considering how she seems like a big know-it-all who wants to fix everyone’s problems.
There’s a lot wrong with Flat Out Love but I would like to be judicious and say that it’s well-written (aside from some awkwardly written stuff at the beginning) and the author has a really clear voice. The dialogue was quick witted and there are some pretty funny bits. But her good writing style can’t make up for the fact that the story was kind of dull and felt stilted, the characters were one-dimensional, and the plot was predictable.
In the end, I’m giving this 7/10.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the heroine: 7. Julie came across as a big dull dud! She fell in love with world traveler, Finn, even though she knew his absence was what was causing his sister so much grief. She moved in with a family she didn’t know from Adam and then mooched off of them with little to no remorse. She decided with little provocation that she should fix the Watkins family when really she had no link to them beyond the fact that they were basically her landlords (to whom she was paying no money I might add).
How much did I like the love interest: There are two! Finn, absentee world-travelling brother who only communicates through Facebook. Matt, nerdy shut in with a huge collection of nerd-boy t-shirts. Finn is likable in a generic absent sort of way. If you like pithy facebook posts or unbelievable stories about exotic locations, then he is the guy for you. I’ll give him an 8 mainly cause he’s supposed to be the cute one. Matt is likable in a nerdy way. That point was driven home time and again. Matt is very smart but lacking in the looks and communication skills. You’ll like a boy like him for his personality but nothing else. I’ll give him an 8 too since he actually seemed interesting and pretty funny when he wasn’t being stuffed into a nerdboy corner.
How believable is the plot: 4. SPOILER ALERT! Finn is dead, people, and no one in the Watkins family has come to grips with it. They see nothing wrong with a life sized card board version of the dead brother called Flat Finn. They see nothing wrong with Matt using his Facebook account and pretending to be alive for the girl who decided to move in with them. They see nothing wrong with the teenaged sister/daughter having absolutely no friends and toting around a cardboard doll. This family is f’ed up and also clueless which made the whole mess just unbelievable and kind of silly.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 8. Jessica Park can write a funny scene. She also has a good hand at witty dialogue. Her characters and plot are flat but they’re definitely not poorly written.
How much did I want to keep reading: 5. Sadly, I found myself skimming towards the end. I didn’t really feel invested enough in this blandly wacky cast of characters and felt relief when the story finally ended.
Final Score: 7/10. This book was not for me but a lot of people loved it so maybe I’m just in the minority here. I couldn’t get into it and found it pretty bland and uninspired.