Your Own Worst Enemy Review

11.21.2018


*Thank you to HarperCollins and Fantastic Flying Book Tours for providing me with a free copy of this book for review. This does not affect my opinion of the book.*


"When they go low, we go slightly lower."

Flawed execution of potentially meaningful ideas proved to be Your Own Worst Enemy's downfall. I read this novel in hopes of discovering political commentary in a high school setting through humor and foolishness-- the hallmarks of a good satire-- but the poor humor, constant sexual references, and lack of impact yielded a disappointing story that isolates the intended teen audience.

Jack's satire of the 2016 presidential election follows an American student government election. Three candidates, Stacey, Julia, and Tony, face off through posters, speeches, and club outreach to sway their peers' vote. A romance between Julia and Stacey's campaign manager, Brian, complicates the election and instigates drama.

The constant sexual references, intended to be funny, represent the largest detractor from the story. To joke about a girl unknowingly being the object of a boy's sexual pleasure in class is not humorous or insightful; if anything, it reinforces the discomfort teen girls battling sexism, societal expectation, and the romanticized pursuit of love through chase must experience in high school. Frankly, the prevalence of these bad jokes also grew annoying.

"Brian Little had a boner he couldn't get rid of. He tried focusing...every path led him back to contemplating Julia's breasts."
These references furthermore supplemented poor writing. Figurative language, again intended for humor, simply felt awkward and unnecessary.

"When Brian arrived, bounding up the escalator like a man on a sexy scavenger hunt (find: one naked girl in a department store)..."

As a book published as Young Adult, Your Own Worst Enemy fails to capture teen audiences. Teens can think and read about sex, and teens can think and read about politics. But these unending, poorly written sexual references do not provide an exploration of teen sexual or political identity, or even a funny joke. Instead, their pervasiveness compromises the characters' actual depth as teenagers in a high school setting. Because this satire relies on personality caricatures based on presidential election candidates to convey the story's messages and move the plot, the characters' shallowness hinders legitimate connection to teen readers.

As a satire about politics, the book also falls flat. Several times, Jack introduces a new conflict that could create significant dialogue, but leaves the conflict unaddressed or addresses the situation awkwardly. My lasting impression of this novel was that it attempted to be progressive but neglected to realize and understand the significance of moments to those who have experienced them. 

For instance, Brian views Julia as a "beautiful and mysterious Other" due to her mixed background. He momentarily thinks this is "race-fetishizing", but his following thoughts, endeavoring to resolve his error, fortify the stereotype that teenage boys exist only sex-obsessed.

Brian also has an eating disorder, something his younger brother often takes advantage of, especially when candidates bring baked goods to grab voters' attention. After the campaigning process, however, Jack does not address this again.

Especially in a book aiming to point out the societal flaws that surrounded the last presidential election, recognizing diversity ought to matter. Jack's neglect towards the correct formality of a non-English language, however, made me again question the novel's execution of uplifting change or progression. When Stacey greets her Korean stepfather, he tells her "ahn young ha se yo". In Korean, adding the "ha se yo" indicates formality and respect, typically used to say hello to an older speaker, like a parent, teacher, or adult figure. While addressing children, or a person younger than the speaker, the speaker would use "ahn young" or another greeting that makes note of the difference in formality. Of course, context matters; I recognize that Stacey is not close to her family. Still, for Stacey's stepfather to greet her, a younger child, with "ahn young ha se yo", ignores usual formality.

Jack does attempt to explore race and sexual identity as teens grow to discover themselves, but heavy-handed set-up of scenes prevents them from relaying sincerity. At the beginning of the story, for example, Stacey notes that Tony Guo, an Asian candidate who disregards schoolwork and uses illicit substances, must not "be a stereotypical Asian". As a biracial reader, I could relate to some experiences depicted in this novel, such as enduring the questions of "where are you really from", however these scenes often felt disingenuous and awkward.

While I appreciated the creative separation of chapters into parts of a campaign season and the promise of the ideas in this novel, Your Own Worst Enemy was ultimately the most disappointing book I have read this year.

- ★★ -


4 comments :

  1. It is a shame this fell short for you, and that threads were started and left unattended.

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  2. Oh no, what a shame! This sounds super disappointing.

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  3. It's a shame that this book didn't work for you, but this isn't the first negative review in the same vein that I have seen. I hope that your next read is better, and thanks for putting together a thoughtful review!

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  4. I was interested in this book just due to the juxtaposition of high school and national politics, but, thanks to your review, I think that I am just going to skip it. Minimizing campaigns to sexual innuendos and jokes does not give teens the motivation to get into politics. Unfortunately, it seems like this book underestimates both the importance of politics and today's teenagers.

    Thanks for the warning about this one and the great review!

    Tessa @ Crazy for YA

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