Sunday, 18 January 2015

'Amy and Matthew' (aka 'Say What You Will') by Cammie McGovern

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Amy and Matthew' (known as 'Say What You Will' in some other countries, I'm not quite sure which ones) is one of the most unique books I've ever heard of, in that it's the story of Amy, a cerebral palsy sufferer, and Matthew, a sufferer of OCD. I've never read a YA novel about OCD or cerebral palsy, so having them both in this one book was quite overwhelming and I don't think I appreciated it as much as I would have if it had been about one or the other, but I definitely appreciated the effort that went into the writing of the characters, portraying them as different, but not in a negative way. 
As you can probably guess by the front cover, 'Amy and Matthew' is a story of first love and all of the terrible things that can happen throughout the course of it, but it's also a story about friendship. When we start the novel Amy and Matthew don't know each other that well; they've been at the same school for years, but have never really spoken because they had no reason to, until Amy requests that Matthew become one of her peer helpers at school, assisting her in carrying her books and her bag between lessons. Amy gets four peer helpers, all paid by her parents to help her fit in at school better and start making friends, but Matthew is the first one that she really becomes friends with. Over the course of the novel they both fall in love, but obstacles keep getting in the way, so it's a constant question of will they or won't they? 
I thought I would love this book a lot more than I did. Don't get me wrong, the first half was amazingly well written and I loved the development of their relationship: Amy helping Matthew with his OCD, Matthew learning to open up and talk about the condition that had haunted him for years. Seeing the development of Amy's relationships with all of her peer helpers was also really interesting, and I was glad to see a book that was so focused on the sense of being 'other' that didn't also have a large percentage of the book being about bullying, and dealing with that. Sometimes it's good to have a book that features bullying, because it is a big problem in a lot of peoples lives, but I thought it was a credit to Cammie that she managed to display the struggles when your own self is the problem in your life. The minor characters were also written very well: I would have liked more focus upon Chloe, but Sarah's character was quite developed and it was nice to get some of her back story through Matthew and Amy, encapsulating perfectly the way people at schools know of each other, even if they don't really know each other.
However, after the description of the wonderful summer Amy and Matthew spent together, it all just seemed to fall apart. Finding out that Amy had slept with Sanjay didn't surprise me, but the fact that she was so clinical about the entire situation, implying that it was research for possible experiences with Matthew, really annoyed me. Matthew storming out was both petulant and childish, but I could almost appreciate his reasoning even though it still made me groan. 
I also really disliked the way the novel cycled around. After the revelation that Amy was pregnant, Matthew was there for her and they were happy just as they had been over summer, then as soon as she tells him she wants to go back to college he storms out once more. The real focus of Amy having her baby and giving her up for adoption seemed to be on the fact that they had both grown up and matured, but this cycling just proved that absolutely nothing had changed and it really exasperated me. If they had really matured they would have been able to have a real conversation, instead of Matthew shouting over Amy and rushing out, which wasn't fair in the slightest.
The ending also left me feeling rather flat. It was quite open - possibly to allow for a sequel in the future - but that caused the ending to fall short of the mark. The fact that Matthew was dating a different girl, and Amy was settled at college, would have been a good ending, demonstrating perfectly the fact that sometimes you can be in love with someone but obstacles can get in the way and make it eternally impossible, even if you can manage to continue a friendship. However, with Matthew kissing Amy's cheek and saying that they would just need to see what the summer felt, I was completely filled with a sense of despair and irritation. They'd already messed up the relationship twice, and they'd both managed to move on, yet the book ended with this sense of hope that was unnecessary. It would be nice if once in a while there could be a book that finished with a resolution, instead of needing to allude to the perfect happy ending in the distant future. In this way, it almost reminded me of the 'If I Stay' duology by Gayle Forman, in that it didn't really need to have a sequel but people always yearn for a happy ending. 

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