2 out of 5 stars
First published back in 2008, Let It Snow is a festive collaboration featuring three stories by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle. Though each story follows a different protagonist and their friends, they all take place in the same town, at the same time and merge towards the end.
This is honestly the worst book I have ever read.
I bought this book around Christmas time hoping to have something sweet and festive to read over the holidays. Never before had I read anything by Maureen Johnson or Lauren Myracle but I have read plenty of John Green books. I figured that it would be cheesy, I was prepared for that. But I wasn’t prepared for the utter train-wreck this story turned out to be collectively.
And ‘train-wreck’ is a very apt description because the first story – The Jubilee Express written by Maureen Johnson – happens to have a train getting caught in a blizzard and almost derailing. It almost set a president for what the rest of the novel was going to be like. This part follows the narrator, Jubilee, as she is travelling by train to a relative’s house in another part of the country after her parents are arrested on Christmas Eve – when a fight breaks out at a store where these peculiar Christmas dioramas are being sold. The people there being insanely obsessed with this collection…
The amount of things wrong with this story was staggering. Firstly, stereotyping. I have been a fan of a show that does nothing but stereotype for a while so normally I can overlook it and get on with the plot – this time was difficult though as it was rammed down my throat so painfully. Jubilee is a character that is trying too hard to be relateable to a teen audience. I believe when I was around the same age as her, and even among the people I disliked, I can not remember any teenagers who acted remotely like her or the people she observed. She’s ungrateful and full of self-pity. When a group of cheerleaders boards the train, kind-of-uniforms and all, she latches onto “oh my God, I hate you so much” before even speaking to any of them.
What annoyed me was they were the characters mentioned the most often as sub-plot but only ever as plot devices – a device of hatred and judgement for the female characters, and of lust and general teen-boy-stereotyped-hormones for the males. They were also generalised by names – “the Ambers”, “the Maddisons”, etc.
Apparently, these authors have all had terrible experiences with cheerleaders.
The romance element of this story made me feel ill. It was pathetic. So, after the train is stopped, the travellers decide that they don’t want to stay on board and venture out into the blizzard already described as the worst the town has seen in years. They decide to take cover in the nearby Waffle House (because why not?). There Jubilee talks to a boy named Stuart who says she can crash at his house until the storm lets up. This made me uneasy because despite her being a relatively smart character, she still goes with him. She has literally just met this boy. He doesn’t turn out to be a psychopath and his mother and sister are charming characters, even going so far as to make her feel exceptionally welcome and reassuring Jubilee’s parents that she is safe. From that point, we get to start learning about Stuart. I really couldn’t care less. He was dull and expected a bit too much from a person he’d only just met. Keep in mind that the span of this story is an evening. Conveniently, he’s still heartbroken from a recent bad breakup and Jubilee realises that her boyfriend hasn’t messaged her to see if she was all right. Her reaction is so selfish and dumb. Each time she’s messaged him, he has been busy with his family. She even described what goes on with his family, how busy he gets. I was given more reason to understand his situation than feel sorry for her poor neglected ego. It even went as far as trying to make it a more obvious point that she had been changing for him and she was done with that. There was no character development that would have made me care! She dumps her boyfriend, rants, leaves in the morning but is ultimately found by Stuart again and they start a relationship. NO. Just no.
The writing made me feel so disconnected from the characters. It felt very forced and in a collaboration that is character driven, having a weak narrator is not good.
And that was the second most tolerated section.
When it came to John Green’s section, I felt as though I had finally found something decent to read. It was my favourite and the only reason I gave this nightmare a second star. This section was titled A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle and centred around Tobin and his friends, the Duke (a tomboy, also known as Angie, who is always seen as ‘just one of the guys’) and JP. Their story starts with a movie marathon at Tobin’s home because, once again, the narrator has absent parents. His aren’t in jail though, just a trip that has been delayed due to the storm. When their Korean friend calls and says cheerleaders are doing gymnastics in the Waffle House he works in (see how those plot lines connect with magical ease?), the boys instantly think with their downstairs brains and force the Duke out on a quest to drive through a blizzard to watch them. Again, stupidity reigns supreme as they put themselves in danger trying to drive, crash their car, and have a race on foot from two characters I could only think of as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
After a nightmare evening of trying to get to the Waffle House to leer at cheerleaders, the Duke finally has enough of being treated like a guy and makes Tobin realise what he’d been doing was stupid. Narrator falls for and gets together with the only female seen for more than a sentence. I think the reason I was able to tolerate this section the most was because I was used to the formula of the relationship. It felt very Danny Phantom. Male lead, a female friend and a male friend. Female friend is slightly tomboyish so no one really thinks twice, except male lead and she have secret crushes on one another. Male friend is awkward about the relationship and what it could mean for the friendship. It was a cookie-cutter formula. Safe.
John Green’s writing also helped. I didn’t feel like I was reading from the perspective of any of his other characters. Tobin felt unique though he was another skinny nerd John Green is so adept at writing. This is why I enjoy John Green’s writing most of the time. His section of the story had some real humour, the characters were likeable and not stereotypical (maybe they fall into some YA tropes, but it was bearable), girls aren’t being socially slaughtered to grave extremes like the last story and it was actually entertaining! The story flowed right, and there was enough character development that made me care what happened. This is what this story lacked as a whole. Decent character development.
The final section of this story really did nail the coffin shut on any chance of me liking the book.
The Patron Saint of Pigs is Lauren Myracle’s contribution. It was utterly abysmal. Not only was the writing terrible but she managed to create a character I hated more than any other I have ever come across from any novel. That includes Joffrey Baratheon. This section centres around Addie, selfishness personified. In the first story, we come across a character named Jeb. Jeb turns out to be Addie’s boyfriend. Or ex-boyfriend. The brief summary of their relationship is insta-love, she tried to change him, they fought, at a party she got drunk and made out with another boy and broke up with Jeb out of guilt. She wants to get back together and emails him (instead of, you know, actually talking to him) but he doesn’t see the email until he’s already left town to visit his family. In a fit of self-pity, she cuts her hair and dyes it bright pink. That is an actual plot point. Her hair. It’s made a plot point because everyone has to say something about it or complain about it or compare her hair now to her hair when it was still long and blonde.
The plot of this section revolved around her friends becoming sick and tired of her self-centred attitude. One of said friends has an obsession with teacup pigs (this is just the biggest statement of the time this was set… Micro-animals…) and has finally (finally…) got one for Christmas. Except she needs to pick it up from the pet store the next day in the morning. But of course she doesn’t have time to go herself so, wanting to prove her friends wrong, the world’s worst character volunteers to collect the pig herself. Naturally, she fails as a friend and has to travel around to find the pig all the while the blizzard happens, her other friend judges her because she did exactly what she was expecting her to do, and she does eventually get the pig and give her to her friend.
And of course Jeb arrives and they get back together.
In the end, each character ends up in the same place at the same time and they wonder over the magic of the season.
The writing made me cringe. I felt like this woman was trying way too hard to emulate the voice of a teenage girl and failed miserably. It read like a bad fan fiction.
And comparing Addie to Joffrey is unfair on Joffrey because I hate him for totally different reasons. Joffrey, as a character, I love. He’s complex. He’s hated because that is what you’re supposed to do – his character was intended to be hated. Addie I hate because she’s generally an awful character to read about. She’s bland, useless, two dimensional and has the dullest voice despite clearly having some issues that could have been explored so much better. I’m not supposed to hate her; she’s the narrator. She’s the guide for her story, you’re meant to feel some form of compassion with the person telling you the story. I love having unreliable narrators, I love twists, I love when a narrator uses slang intended for the universe and you have to figure out what they are saying. I love narrators with a unique voice. Addie didn’t have that!
The one thing I can think of that made this novel readable was comparing it to novels of today. The progress literature has made, especially with female protagonists, since 2008 is wonderful. There are more diverse characters, more females who aren’t super tomboy or super female. Girls who can blend. Sure, those characters are out there still but authors know how to handle them, they’ve learnt how their audiences are developing.
Having a pink pixie cut is okay if that’s the characters style! If that’s what they want. Getting a pink pixie cut because you made mistakes and now regret doing so is not okay. Creating a narrator that has no purpose, is uninteresting and whines every single word they say is not okay.
I genuinely feel that John Green should have worked on this story alone. If it had been a longer story focusing solely on the adventures of Tobin and co. then it would have been so much better. They were the only characters I cared about so seeing more development on their personalities, seeing some real character growth that I know John Green is more than capable of, would have been a whole world better than the nightmare that this novel turned out to be.
I would highly recommend avoiding this book if you don’t want to deal with the frustration that comes along with it. I gave this story a very generous two stars, and that was only because of John Green. It is safe to say that I will never purchase a Maureen Johnson or Lauren Myracle book ever again.