To be honest, I’m struggling to describe the set-up of Life is Like a Parade — so here’s the blurb I was given from NetGalley (who kindly gifted me this ebook so I could slate it).
“After twenty-seven months in the Peace Corps, the droll hero of this amusing tale returns home with one simple thing on his mind – he’s determined to kiss a girl. And not just any girl or any kiss, but an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime first kiss with Mandi, his beautiful next door neighbor. The fun mix of tension, humor, and life lessons in this heartfelt romance will appeal to readers of all ages.”
With such a cutesy title, Life is Like a Parade set me up with hopes of fun and romance. Was it all that I expected?
This must be a debut novel, for it’s a near-comical mess. Leading man Tommy is completely, totally and utterly desperate for his first kiss. He reaches vomit-inducing levels of unattractiveness throughout the novella. At first his heart is 100% set on Mandi — until he bumps into Jamie, who he’s always fancied too, turns out. When he talks to Jamie about his
desperation desire to kiss her on what feels like every third page — to which she says that she won’t — it’s slightly frustrating, slightly annoying. It feels as though he’s not listening or taking her seriously, and as a reader, you want her to say “shut up and talk about something else!”
The reason I call it slightly frustrating is because I don’t care about the story enough to feel much, if anything at all. If the writing was in any way believable, I would have completely wanted to punch Tommy for how he goes on and on about this kiss. Instead, I shrug my shoulders and read as fast as I can to finish the story and start the review.
Author L. Henry Smith seems to be completely out of sync with the generation he’s writing about. In no way does he capture the human experience in all its glory. Not only are his characters not relatable, they are dull, uninteresting and lacking of any obvious flaws.
Tommy is too nice. Annoyingly nice. This is the type of character you dream up as a twelve year old. How do I make readers like my character? Make them unbelievably nice. That’s what kids do. Not adults with years of life experience and media consumption under their belts.
You do not make them nice. You make them real. You give them warts and lumps and bumps and flaws. You throw them in the deep end and hold them underwater until the very last second before they drown. You make them go through hell so they’ve a story to tell. We should watch them fight for what they want — what they’re desperate for — like life isn’t worth living without it.
Tommy is not that type of desperate. He does not fight for his crush’s attention, nor does he try his hardest to impress and swoon her. He treats her as a friend, aside from mentioning every few minutes that he wants to kiss her. The tension isn’t palpable as we hope he’ll get the girl. It’s hard to even be on his side when he’s so disgustingly desperate in the first place.
The benevolent sexism — let’s not start me on this. It’s as though the author is of a different era.
“I was insensitive, thoughtless, rude, and inconsiderate —you know— like a normal guy.”
Women are not born with the ability to be more caring than men. End of.
Then there’s the time that Tommy stands up to a bully to protect a schoolmate. Poor Debbie has blown her knee out and can’t play for the school football team, so when some other athletes attempt to steal her crutches, Tommy steps in. This all sounds nice, right? Well, Tommy shouts this at a bully.
“She’s a girl, Jake!” Tommy exclaimed in exasperation. “She hasn’t complained once. You’re the biggest and toughest guy in school and you whined for a month when you broke your arm.”
Their genders are irrelevant in this debacle. It’s great that Debbie is strong and tough and whatnot, but the argument implies that she should have complained because she was the girl, and Jake should have not because he was the guy. What a stupid statement.
I’ll be honest, the tradition of the man being protective of the woman was flipped later on, with Tommy being defended by a girl. Big whoop. *rolls eyes*
The golden rule of storytelling is show, don’t tell. Life is a Like a Parade is like a rebel without a cause. It purposelessly embodies the complete opposite of the rule, using a draining, tedious “tell, don’t show,” approach.
“Leave some to the imagination” is not the right approach when it comes to describing the excitement of first love. At no point did I feel an ounce of excitement. When Jamie cares for Tommy’s wound, it read as a surgical manoeuvre. There was so much potential here — sparks, nerves, lust, tension, a tender, intimate moment. What really happens is a complete let down.
Jamie gently applied some antibiotic ointment to the wound, covered his palm with a gauze pad, and then pulled out a roll of bright pink stretchy tape.
That’s not to say that Henry Smith didn’t try to make some of the descriptions vidid. They failed, but they seemingly tried none-the-less.
Young men in antique mining helmets pushed the old ore car behind the elaborate Silver County float and tossed the sweets at the feet of delighted onlookers who lined the parade route.
Talk about adjectives overload. They should be treated like a spice — sprinkled sparsely to add flavour. Pour in too much and you’ve ruined it.
Let’s discuss the characters for a moment — there are no unique voices among the mix. If you gave me a short conversation that took place between any two characters, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish who’s talking. Boring characters with bland personalities and no voice? Wow, what a real treat!
L. Henry Smith has potential, I won’t lie. A Life is Like a Parade reminds me of how I wrote at fifteen. Try-hard to the max. Wanting to be romantic and sweet, with no real idea of how to accomplish that. No personal style with an unoriginal voice.
Unless Smith gains more experience in writing and views both their own and other authors work in a critical fashion — avoid their work like the plague. It is not worth your time.*
*Unless you would like to learn how not to write, that is. Then you can find the book here.
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