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Hello, lovelies! Continuing my blogging theme for Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m reviewing another book featuring mental health (you all know the drill by now, I’m sure). Today’s review is for The World On Either Side by Diane Terrana. I received an ARC copy of this book, thanks to Orca Book Publishers and LibraryThing. All opinions are my own.
The World On Either Side by Diane Terrana
Publication Date: September 10th 2019
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Where did I get this book?: I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Summary: After the death of her boyfriend, sixteen-year old Valentine stops going to school, quits seeing her friends, and, finally, won’t leave her bed. Desperate for her daughter to recover, Valentine’s mother takes her on a trek in Thailand. In the mountains north of Chiang Mai, Valentine finds a world she didn’t know existed, where houses are on stilts and elephants still roam wild. She learns about the Burmese civil war and the relentless violence against the Karen and Rohingya peoples.
Then she meets Lin, a mysterious young elephant keeper tormented by his hidden past, and an orphaned elephant calf, pursued by violent poachers. Together, the three flee deep into the jungle, looking for refuge and redemption.
(Trigger warning: suicide, overdose, depression, human trafficking, war, rape, animal cruelty, genocide.)
My Rating: ☆☆+1/2
*Exasperated sigh* *writes two sentences* *erases everything and leaves to grab a cup of tea and bake a dozen cookies* Where do I even start? This book had a lot of potential. Like, a lot. However, it fell quite flat. This is confusing, I’m sorry, but that’s just it. The book was confusing. Good in some places, strange in others, but overall leaving me like “what in the world just happened?” And not in a good way.
The book tried to tackle too much. Depression, the business of tourism and abuse of elephants, genocide, child soldiers, murder, moving on after grief…a million different topics were discussed, and I couldn’t properly process any of them. They were all important, yes, but my head was spinning. It would have been best to choose one or two controversial/deep topics. Save the others for another few books with new characters and a different setting.
However, I did like the setting of Thailand. There was certainly great imagery written into the story, which was wonderful. It brought me back to when I read Nowhere Girl by A.J. Paquette, also set in the Thai culture. The description in both books is quite rich and lovely.
The one thing that bugged me the most in The World On Either Side was the romance. What? Did I really just say that? I, a lover of YA romance, didn’t like it in this book? Yeah, you read that right.
Oh boy. The romance was…questionable. The book begins with Valentine talking about how she misses her boyfriend, Amir, who died in a tragic accident. She’s fallen into a deep depression – like, way deep. And it makes sense. Grief is a horrible place full of shadows and brokenness and what ifs and whys and never enough answers. She’s hurting, so her mother decides what she needs is a new setting.
When they arrive in Thailand, Valentine meets a guy named Lin. They end up bonding over a baby elephant. Eventually, that leads to love. But…but…but why? I felt bothered by their relationship. It was fast? Strange? A cheat-y way of “moving on from grief?” And he’s older? Like…older older.
This was a book that could have gone without a romance. Probably should have, actually. Here, Valentine is grieving over the loss of Amir, then she meets another guy, tells herself a couple times that it’s too soon, then falls headlong in love! Because of a variation of the “two people, one bed” trope! Whyyyyyy…
But I digress.
Now, while the depression rep was pretty spot on, and the grief after loss was fairly accurate, I didn’t like how everything played out in the end. It felt unkind, dismissive. The phrase that comes to mind is “suck it up, buttercup.” I felt that, upon closing the book, the moral of the story was that other people have it worse than you, so quit feeling so bad about your own problems. Perhaps that wasn’t the intended message, but it came across that way for me.
The ending itself was great though. It belonged, and it was beautiful. It was written like a breath of fresh air. But ugh, if I could forget the romance, I would in a heartbeat. That messed up the story for me because moving on after grief is much more complicated than what was portrayed here. There was so much about loss and grief that could have been focused on in this book, but was downplayed instead.
So, in conclusion, The World On Either Side left me largely disappointed, aside from a few good moments and the ending. It was well-written and had potential, but didn’t deliver.
Have you read The World On Either Side by Diane Terrana? What is a book you wanted to love, but couldn’t get into?
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