Review: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour: Dutton Books, 2012 (Currently Available)

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Face Value: This cover is immediately appealing to me. I love the colors and the way, between the sunglasses and the hipster t-shirt, it totally screams “summer road trip” even if you didn’t know that’s what it was about. Yeah, there’s a slight cutoff on the face, but even beneath the sunglasses, it still looks like a specific person, not a generic model.

Here’s the thing about it though. Until I was a few pages in, I had no idea the protagonist was a boy (Colby being a fairly gender neutral name). It’s his story. So why is there a girl on the cover?

Through a critical lens, there are a few ways to read this, and I haven’t decided what I think yet. In one reading, we’re looking at an awesome role reversal. Instead of a female protagonist or author being played down to suggest “don’t worry boys! You can still read this!” we have a book from a boys point of view that looks like it’s about a girl! And it is, in a lot of ways – most of the other characters in the book are female. Bev is a hugely important part of Colby’s story.

But in another reading, here we have a classic case of the Male Gaze. Here we have a book, from the point of view of a boy. So by putting Bev, the object of Colby’s affection on the cover, we’re seeing her through his eyes. We’re looking at a woman through the lens of the male perspective, the male narrator

So what do you guys think? Do you like the cover? Is it misleading? Does it fit the book! I can’t decide!

Does it Break the Slate? It totally does. This is only the second book we’ve reviewed on this blog that features a male protagonist (the other was Everybody Sees the Ants. Interestingly, both of these books are by female writers). But what’s great about Colby is that he’s a totally feminist 18 year old dude. And he doesn’t need to go through a transformation during the book to understand these values – they are already instilled in him at the outset. He thinks girl bands are brilliant. He respects his female friends – in fact he surrounds himself with interesting, smart women. He knows a lot about Riot Grrl for crying out loud! I love this kid. And how cool is it to see this type of comfortably feminist male protagonist at the center of a teen novel? A feminist journey is great, but that’s not the journey Colby is on. He’s already there. His journey throughout the book is more personal, and that’s still a really interesting one to read about.

Who would we give it to? Music fans and hipsters. Seriously, this is a very cool book. Nina LaCour’s writing style is edgy and fun and relatable and she has a ton of music references peppered throughout the book. It’s set in San Francisco. The main characters just graduated from an arts high school. There’s a type of reader that will be all over this book.

But also, it’s a road trip book! Which is really fun for summer. And it’s all about the indecision and moment of transition in between high school and whatever happens next. And I think there are a ton of readers who will really relate to that.

Review:  Colby and Bev are best friends. There’s nothing romantic between them (although Colby might wish there could be), they’ve just been friends forever. They’ve had this plan for ages: after they graduate from high school, they’ll spend the summer touring with Bev’s band in Colby’s uncle’s van. Then they’ll fly to Europe, spend a year there backpacking around before starting college. But suddenly, as soon as they start their road trip, Bev drops a huge bomb – she’s not going to Europe after all. She applied to college without telling Colby, got in, and sent in her acceptance to RISD. Colby’s shocked at the betrayal – both her change of heart and her keeping secrets from him. Over the course of their summer travels, they both have to come to terms with each other and their future.

Colby is our first person narrator, and he’s really the heart of the story. Honestly, I just really liked his character. I appreciated him. As I mentioned earlier, he has a totally feminist mindset that is never questioned. He’s furious with Bev – and justifiably – but there’s no sense of “girls are so stupid” in his frustration. It’s legit. She kept information from him, and left him adrift. She had her reasons – but even so. Colby’s confusion and anger is well crafted, without ever turning Bev into a total villain or manic pixie dream girl.

The supporting characters are stellar in this book. I thought it was going to be all love story, with Colby & Bev finding their way to each other, and it really wasn’t. It was really all about this dynamic friendship, and the extra layer added on by the cast of supporting characters was fantastic. Meg and Alexa, the two other members of the Disenchantments, were both very different, really interesting characters in their own right, and the friendship they offer to Colby throughout the journey was really powerful. I found myself particularly fond of Alexa, and her secret regret that she didn’t go to prom, even though prom is kind of lame. And all of the people they meet along the way had real depth, and offered a lot to the story.

But the music element of this story cannot be ignored. Pretty much any book that heavily references Riot Grrl is going to get a gold star from the Slatebreakers, and the real love for female musicians and girl bands across the board is fantastically, defiantly Slatebreaking. Yes, there are inside music references that speak to a certain music snobbery, but it was so cool to see the range of female musicians appreciated and exalted by all of these characters, both male and female. The Supremes, Heart, Sleater-Kinney, the Runaways, it’s all here. It’s a love letter to girl bands, told through the lens of one medium-talented, but deeply enthusiastic fictional girl band. And it’s awesome.

Nina LaCour is such a good writer – her storytelling really moves this journey forward, keeps it interesting, keeps us caring about the characters. She does a great job of making these small moments – getting a tattoo, moving into a dorm, buying a plane ticket – feel as significant as they should in the moment for these characters. She captures this transitional and relatable moment in time beautifully.

The summer after high school is such a huge, pivotal moment for young people. I remember it so clearly, both how huge it felt, feeling like you’re on the precipice of something bigger. So much of the time we talk about Slatebreaking as this moment of taking your life into your own hands and this particular moment in time really taps into that. Suddenly, you’ve accomplished this huge thing. You are no longer, technically, a child. Your whole adult life is on the horizon and it feels like every decision you make is a huge one. And yet, at the same time, nothing is that different – yet. You’re on the verge of all these huge life changes. I really felt that LaCour’s book captures this moment beautifully. It ended with my confidence as a reader that all of the characters – Colby, Bev ,Meg, Alexa, Jasper – they were on their way to the next big thing that was right for them. And I loved that.

Reviewed from Library Copy.

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3 Responses to Review: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

  1. Harmony says:

    This book sounds awesome – love that riot grrl is represented in it. I can’t wait to check it out, thanks for the review.

  2. Carolina x says:

    Any other book you’d recommend to music fans or hipsters?

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