Book Review: Sway by Kat Spears

I happened on this book at the Barnes & Noble, and after reading that it was a Cyrano de Bergerac retelling bought it on the spot. Cyrano happens to be one of my favorite stage plays. (Back in my theater days, I was even in the show, so it has a special place in my heart.)

Sway

Sway is described as gritty and raw. After devouring this book in a marathon reading session, I can say that those are very accurate descriptions. Honestly, I went into it thinking it might be a little more cutesy. Maybe I was influenced by Roxanne (the Steve Martin film), but this ‘Cyrano’ isn’t anything like that. Jesse, or Sway as he’s sometimes called, is into a lot of dangerous stuff. He is very charming in his own way, and I give Kat mad props for going with a Jewish protagonist. (#weneeddiversebooks!) But he isn’t romantic, and he definitely isn’t sweet.

I was surprised at the amount of strong language used. Not that I think teens don’t swear in excess, but it’s usually downplayed in YA. From the drug references and language alone, I would have to say this is Mature YA, not for readers under sixteen, IMO.

As far as stakes go, this novel was a good reminder that “the world doesn’t always have to explode.” I’m not saying there aren’t stakes: Boy tells the truth, he loses the girl. Boy lies, he gives the girl to someone else. But it isn’t life or death and it’s refreshing to see “soft” contemporary being published. Although “soft” isn’t the best descriptor for this novel as it deals with themes of suicide, racism, morality, drug use, and manipulation. Could we coin the genre “dark and soft?” (Of course, I kid.)

I liked the overall arc and progression of the story, but I have mixed feelings about the ending. Most everything gets tied up in a nice little bow, which isn’t bad except that everything was such a mess and some of it doesn’t feel realistic. And some things that were brought up, don’t get readdressed and we have no closure on them. They weren’t major plot points, so it doesn’t break the story… I’m just OCD and would have liked closure for my own personal satisfaction.

There were also some questions I had about Jesse that never got answered. How did he get his connections in the first place? How long has he been the man who gets everyone what he/she wants? Once he gives up certain activities, what will he do instead? I also had a few worries (that would spoil the end, so I’ll talk about them later!) about his character’s future, and wondered what would happen next.

To close, it was a good read. Darker than I expected, but with some great laughs here and there, and a very fresh take on the Cyrano story. Now, scroll for spoilers!

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Ok, so my biggest issue with the end was wondering if Jesse intended to give EVERYTHING up to be with Bridget. He gets Andrew to take over his drug dealing duties (not that it’s bad for him to get out of that), gets Rob put in jail (which was also necessary), but has no plans to go to college (which isn’t inherently an issue) or any plans for the future. All he says is he wants to spend his life trying to deserve her. So, he’ll just follow her to Dartmouth? Play guitar and….? I’m left wondering if now that he feels again, all his ambition is wrapped up in this girl. Shouldn’t he have plans of his own? Not that they can’t have a relationship, but should the relationship be the only thing he has? Yes, he’s friends with Pete, but it’s Bridget’s brother. And Mr. D. won’t be around forever, not to mention that Bridget will always come with Jesse to visit him because her grandmother is there too. It just feels a little like his whole world might be Bridget, and that worries me.

Other things I wondered about: Was Ken going to come kick Jesse’s a** for telling Bridget the truth? He doesn’t seem like the type to not retaliate. Did David SERIOUSLY still go out with Heather even though she was bleeding him dry and Jesse warned him not to? Or did he just take her to Homecoming and plan do dump her later? How long did Skinhead Rob go to prison for? Wouldn’t one of his people on the outside hunt Jesse down and kill him in the meanwhile? It wouldn’t be hard to figure that he had something to do with the arrest and again, I can’t see him letting it go. And Grim was the muscle anyway and HE didn’t go to prison, so wouldn’t he be able to avenge Rob?

Anyways, I liked the book. I did. I would have liked a bit more back ground (although it is hard to do without info dumping), and I would have liked a few more questions answered but it’s still a good read and unique compared to the usual guy-meets-girl stories. And if you’re a Cyrano fan it’s a must!

 

Query Helps and Quick Links

As it’s now the New Year, I’m going to bet a lot of hopeful authors have finished polishing their MS and are ready to jump into the trenches. I know because that was me at the beginning of last year. What I wished I’d had at that time was this list of helpful resources which will tell you how to make your query sparkle, research agents, and how to deal with inevitable rejection. (It’s ok. We all face it, and it doesn’t mean you won’t make it. Just think of it as getting one step closer to the right agent/ editor for you.)

Step One: Research Agents

https://querytracker.net/

http://www.literaryrambles.com/

http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/  (MUST have membership for full access.)

Tips: I always try to find a few interviews from my prospective agents, to see if we’d be a good personality match. I also always look for a successful query for each agent to see what format they prefer. (My favorite website for that is below.)

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries

Step Two: Perfect That Query

Here’s a great website to help you write your “blurb” or the meat of your query.

http://www.betternovelproject.com/blog/back-cover-copy/?utm_content=buffer73b34&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

And of course the Query Shark and her ways to do (and not do) a query letter.

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

Writer’s Digest also offers webinars, usually priced at around $90, that often include a critique from a reputable agent! (So worth the money if you can splurge. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have updated their website yet this year, so keep checking back for an updated listing.)

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/webinars

Tips: Some agents post “how to write a query letter” or “query do’s” in their submission guidelines. ALWAYS READ THESE! Some of these agents won’t even consider your query if they can tell you didn’t. Also, keep an excel spreadsheet or something of the like to track your queries: who you’ve queried and when, what kind of response/request, response times, etc. This way you won’t accidentally query the same agent twice or nudge before an appropriate time, or query two agents at an agency that strictly says “querying one is querying all.”

Step Three: Going With the Flow

Part A) You got an AGENT! Congrats! Celebrate and help your CPs and Beta’s reach their goals too.

Or Part B) You’re getting rejections

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/dont-give-up-until-youve-queried-80-agents-or-more

http://writersrelief.com/blog/2011/01/how-to-interpret-rejection-letters-from-literary-agents-and-editors/

Tips: I’m quite familiar with rejection. It’s only been recently that I’m seeing any kind of interest in my novel, but that’s okay. So if I could impart a few things that I’ve learned over the last year, they would be this:

One: Rejection can make you a better writer. Each time I got a rejection, I looked at how I could improve. If I got feedback, I took it seriously and tried to incorporate it when it fit my overall vision of the book. I’m definitely a stronger writer now than I was a year ago, and I’m hoping that’ll continue because I’m probably still going to be getting rejections, lol.

Two: Rejection doesn’t mean you’ll ultimately fail. EVERYONE gets rejections. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and many other well known authors saw plenty of rejection before making it big.

And Three: Rejection hurts, but it makes the small victories even sweeter. I’m a firm believer that you can’t know happiness without having felt sorrow, sweet without tasting sour, and success without having been knocked on your arse a couple of times.

Just remember, it’ll be okay. Keep going, and we’ll all get there.

Good luck in the trenches everybody!