Thursday, 12 November 2015

'99 Days' by Katie Cotugno

*This review will contain spoilers!*
"It feels unfair though, right?" Gabe says. "I mean, if you're a dirty slut, then I'm a dirty slut."
'99 Days' is set across 99 days (surprisingly) of the worst summer of Molly Barton's life. You see, two years ago her boyfriend, Patrick, broke up with her, and because she was upset and wanted someone to comfort her she ended up sleeping with his older brother, Gabe. Regretting it straight away, she begged Patrick to get back together with her, and the truth only came out after her mother, a bestselling author, decided to sell the story of her sex life. 
Molly moved across country to boarding school and has been avoiding her home town and all of her mistakes for the past year, but she has to return home over the summer before she goes to college, which is where the 99 days begin.
For the first half of the novel, I sympathised with Molly. She was avoided and ignored by all of her old friends, got her car keyed by Patrick and Gabe's sister, Julia, and was the victim of a lot of slut-shaming. Meanwhile, Gabe didn't seem to receive any backlash for his part in their sleeping together, and it does take two to tango. The fact that Molly and Patrick had been broken up at the time didn't seem to even register on anyone's radar - the fact that they were On A Break after all (yes, I supported Ross in 'Friends', and I know that makes me a terrible person, but if you want to be in a relationship with someone don't spontaneously break up with them!). 
I had high hopes that it was going to be a strong feminist YA text, all about doing what you want to do with your body and being able to own your decisions. Patrick dumped Molly, so Molly did what she wanted to do as a free, single woman. This seemed even more likely when Gabe and Molly started a relationship despite the disapproval from his family, as it looked like she'd slept with him for a good reason - she'd actually had feelings for him, even if she'd discovered them at the wrong time and had then gone on to hide them for a year. Not that you need to have feelings to sleep with someone, but still, it looked like everyone was making a big deal out of nothing. 
But then everything went to shit. Molly quite clearly still had feelings for Patrick, and he has feelings for her. But Patrick had a girlfriend, Tess, and Molly was going out with Gabe, so nothing happened between them... Until it did. 
In all fairness, Patrick had broken up with Tess the first time him and Molly kissed, so it was just her cheating on Gabe. Again, I know that's only a technicality, and a lot of people are upset about it because of the principle, but technically it was fine - at least on Patrick's side. But then Patrick decides to get back with Tess, and him and Molly continue their affair behind both of their backs, which really pissed me off. 
And I do mean, I got angry. Female solidarity should always come first. But maybe the exact reason that I was angry about it was because I made exactly the same mistake two years ago, and I'm still angry at myself for making a terrible decision and being a shitty person. I just wanted Molly to be better, I just wanted Molly to have learnt from the pain and hatred she experienced a year ago and to not be stupid enough to get herself into that situation for a second damned time.
Then Patrick gets annoyed with her, because he wants them to sleep together and it's only in that moment that he realises she had sex with Gabe. Yes, in her mother's novel it implicitly states that she slept with his brother, but Patrick naively believed it was a fictionalisation. I'm not quite sure why he was so angry, what exactly he thought they'd done that wasn't sex but made him raging mad, but it didn't make much sense. Furthermore, there's lots of vague descriptions of Patrick and Molly's make-out sessions ('I think of the clutch of my legs around his waist. [...] I try not to think of his mouth on mine, the rough scrape of the bark against my naked back.') that made me believe they'd already had sex... It's just all very unspecific, so it does get quite confusing. But for some reason, Patrick has such an intense moral compass that it's perfectly fine to cheat on your girlfriend but don't you dare not be a virgin... So I don't really understand him at all anyway. You can't scream at someone for being a "filthy whore" when you're naked in your ex-girlfriend's bed when your current girlfriend is at home, probably asleep. That's double standards. 
All in all, with the character development - I really disliked most of the characters to the point of sneering with disgust, and that's the sign of a fully-rounded and believable character - and the realism of most of the situations, this should have been a five star book for me - but it just didn't really seem to go anywhere. There was no plot, when you take it apart and look at the structure. It was just the looping, repetitive mistakes of a teenage girl, and the sexist beliefs of the town around her. Molly makes up with Julia in the middle of the book, and she stops called her a 'dirty slut' and a 'ho', so you think that maybe Julia has realised that Molly as a person is worth more than Molly's mistake - however, as soon as it's revealed that her and Patrick have been carrying on in secret, Julia reverts straight back to who she was at the start of the novel, so there isn't really any character development there at all.
Yes, this sparks Molly's brilliant speech, her standing up to the sexism she's experiencing and the unfairness of the brothers not receiving the same backlash as she is: 

"I'm not the only one they deserve to hate. It just felt like such a gross double standard."
"It is a double standard [...] and I'm glad you said something. Equal opportunity hate, or not hate at all."
But because the beliefs of the majority don't change, it seems that Molly is fighting a losing battle.
It might have been different if Molly had known better than to mess around with Patrick - if she'd known how much Gabe meant to her, and had fought for him tooth and nail - but she just makes the same mistake again. I understand that it's supposed to show how deeply ingrained her feelings for Patrick are in her sense of self, and I know that it's supposed to demonstrate how your first love gets into your bones and never really lets go, but it just seems like a cheap shock value.
Combine that with the fact that Molly doesn't end up with either of the brothers, she just happily swans off to college single and blissfully carefree towards the damage that she's caused in the family once more... It just feels like she never really learns. At the very end of the book she promises that she's going to try harder to deserve friends, but because we don't see that it doesn't seem very likely.
I like Katie Cotugno's writing style, and what she tried to do here was commendable - when I'm writing I like to skip large chunks of time, so being able to write something about 99 consecutive days is very impressive. I also do like her characters, because they're realistic - I just wish there had been more of a story here, because I just feel as though it fell a bit flat.

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