I picked up this book with an open mind. To say I disapprove of Jenna Bush’s father is an understatement, but I still picked this up knowing that she is not her father, and the book could be just as good as any other book from a new author.
I do believe that Jenna Bush’s intentions in writing this young adult novel were good. She volunteered with UNICEF and wanted to write a novel based on a girl she met while volunteering, to share important messages about HIV/AIDS with children and young adults.
The story itself is heartfelt. Ana is a girl who has lived all her life with HIV, and it has been a hard life. She was only a small child when her parents died. She was abused by relatives. She was taught that people would treat her badly if she told them about her illness. Her story is not uncommon.
I admire Jenna Bush for being able to actually finish a 200+ page novel. However, this is not something that should have actually been published.
While the author’s intentions and message were good and heartfelt, the writing itself was too simple for a book aimed at eight year olds, much less one targeting high school students. As I read, I kept thinking, “show, not tell!” Isn’t that pretty basic for novelists? Haven’t we all heard that? If Jenna Bush has heard it, it’s not advice she cared to follow.
Her characters are flat. The dialogue is wooden. The novel actually contains sentences such as these:
“Ana understood now that the truth was always better than secrets or lies.”*
“Ana started to develop more serious feelings for Guillermo.”*
The first sentence seems like it belongs in a book for small children with heavy-handed morals. Either Jenna Bush really thinks in such small words and simple sentences, or she is really talking down to her intended audience of ages 14 and up (as it says on the back of the book). The second is a perfect example of “show, not tell.” Neither one is particularly unique in its badness, and neither one belongs in a published novel for which the author is rumored to have gotten a six-figure advance. That HarperCollins would publish this trainwreck of a first novel seriously lowers my opinion of the company. Don’t waste your time on this one.
The photography was nice, though. And there will be color pictures in the finished book. I enjoyed that part. If you just flip through and look at the pictures, it’s a very nice book!
*Note: These quotes are from an uncorrected ARC and may differ from the final book.