Testimony From Your Perfect Girl

Annie Tripp has everything she needs–Italian sweaters, vintage chandelier earrings, and elite ice skating lessons–but all that changes when her father is accused of scamming hundreds of people out of their investments. Annie knows her dad wasn’t at fault, but she and her brother are exiled to their estranged aunt and uncle’s house in a run-down part of Breckenridge–until the trial blows over.

Life with her new family isn’t quite up to Annie’s usual standard of living, but surprisingly, pretending to be someone else offers a freedom she’s never known. As Annie starts to make real friends for the first time, she realizes she has more in common with her aunt and uncle than she ever wanted to know. As the family’s lies begin to crumble and truths demand consequences, Annie must decide which secrets need to see the light of day . . . and which are worth keeping.

Testimony From Your Perfect Girl , Kaui Hart Hemmings
May 14, 2019

Maggie’s Thoughts

Listen, it’s no secret that neither of us like contemporary. We’ve talked about it ad nauseum on the podcast and on most reviews (it’s why we invited our friend Davis onto the project, he’s our contemporary boi!). And when Jessi told me we had some ARCs for a contemporary book coming up, I rolled my eyes and sighed. I wasn’t exactly enthused about it at all.

I read Testimony From Your Perfect Girl on my off time during work, or when it was slow. And then something strange happened.

I didn’t want to put Hemming’s book down.

Which is an absolute phenomenon when it comes to me & contemporary books.

Sure, it was hard to get into Testimony From Your Perfect Girl. And I audibly groaned and complained about the very first paragraph of the book–which describes, in detail, what the main character was wearing. I found Annie to be annoying and hard to relate to, and I was frustrated with the lack of information about the inciting incident. And then I realized that that’s exactly what Annie was going through.

I got pulled in by Hemmings’s easy flowing writing, and I started to relate to Annie a little bit more as she got herself a job, stumbled through some romance, found out more about herself and as she slowly started to redefine who she was, I started to get to like her. I liked being in the quiet little story–despite how often Jessi and I exclaim how much we want dragons and robots and exploding suns. It was a good little emotional book to ease me back into enjoying to read.

That’s not to say there weren’t some things that could have been better; I absolutely wanted some more tense moments. But the times we got that tension, it felt like real life tension. Robot dragons may be in your face tension, but trying to work through emotional trauma and redefining family borders is tense enough.

There were some laugh out loud moments–and I praise this book 100% for it’s fierce feminist sex-positive message. I loved watching the relationships build between Annie and her aunt and uncle. Some of the times when Annie and Aunt Nicole were hanging out felt so pure, it watered my crops and cleared my acne.

Jessica’s Thoughts

As I’ve practically tattooed on forehead, I’m not a fan of contemporary. And Testimony From Your Perfect Girl was distinctly lacking in killer AI programs falling in love and murdering whole ships of people for one single girl. But I decided to give it a chance.

Annie Trip introduces herself to us in luxury. She puts on designer sweaters like the rest of us put on those ratty old jeans from high school. And she stays in that naive, rich girl trope for a long time.

I agree with part of Maggie’s review, that this lack of information was incredibly frustrating, but obviously necessary. But I’d like to add that she only goes out of her way to ask or learn about the trial once and even after she gets some finite details about the extent of the damage her father has done, she doesn’t seem to register it.

In fact, Annie doesn’t seem to register much. And at first, I saw this as a pretty fair representation of the depressive spiral, giving her cause to act out just to see if a change in behavior would help. I was even proud of her for standing up to a guy who used her obviously weakened state for a good time on New Year’s Eve, when she shouted about what she’d done for him in the woods. And I was glad to see that of all the lessons Annie did take to heart that the lesson that sex is not affection one seemed to actually stick.

But it took a lot to really drive home just how many lives her father’s fraud screwed over. It’s not enough to hear it from old friends, but new friends also need to tack on that they are working more because their families have lost so much.

As the story progresses we find out that all the adults in Annie’s life have lied to her about one thing or another. This really clouded the story and diluted Annie’s chances at confronting her parents about the damage that had been done to so many people’s lives, including her own.

There were some funny moments and definitely a great lesson the autonomy of sex, but the plot overall felt watered down and slow. While I don’t think the plot should have been dumbed down to only focus on her father’s trial, I do wish more of the problems in Testimony From Your Perfect Girl had focused on the trial and its consequences for Annie.

Maggie’s Rating
★★★★☆
Jessica’s Rating
★★☆☆☆

Before She Ignites ★★☆☆☆½

9780062469403_24007It sounded like it would be a great read. Fantasy. Anxiety. Dragons. But Before She Ignites fell short for me and I ended up putting it down about 75% of the way through.

Before

Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

After

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

At first, the out of order narrative was intriguing. We bounced back and forth learning just what got Mira thrown in prison in the first place. The first few shifts in time worked like flashbacks and added to the story in place. But as the book went on and I learned more about Mira, and her personality, the more these shifts worked against the book.

You might assume that being thrown in prison by those you trusted would sparked a certain amount of forced maturity on a person. It might be a wake up call to an absurdly naive and privileged character, like Mira. But the flashes just showed me the same character.

Mira before and Mira after, aren’t significantly changed. I would assume getting thrown in prison and being starved and taken from a world of comforts would change a person. I don’t see strength in Mira, I see naivete.

She gets warnings at every turn: you don’t know who you can trust in the Pit. And her first actions are to trust the people in her cell block. Her excuse is that the friendliness is a custom on her island, but that’s just not strong enough for me. The friendliness should from Mira before, and be something to work back to for Mira after.

Her lack of change comes through strongly in the out of order narrative and it’s where the book lost a lot of stars for me.

 

But it wasn’t all bad. The anxiety, the part of the story which really intrigued me, was really well done. Although Mira has panic attacks for legitimate things and I really wanted to see her have one for no reason at all to really drive home to readers who don’t suffer from them just how obnoxious and intrusive they can be, her coping mechanisms were spot on. Her reactions and frustration with losing control of her of her body were accurate and I really enjoyed them.

But the one thing which annoyed me to know end was how the dragons were referred to. Always by full Latin-esque names: drakontos quintus, drakantos mons, drakontos aquis, drakontos raptus, drakontos titanus, drakontos mimikus, drakontosrex, drakontos maior, drakontos sol, drakontos ignitus, and drakontos milus. I understand that Meadows is trying to create a species and keep us thinking is sizes and colors, but the jargon for her world was tiring and it made the descriptions sound unnatural.

People say, “I have dogs” not “I have a black Labrador, St. Bernard mixed breed canine.” I think this could have been a lot better if the academic classification of the dragons had been less integrated into Mira’s narration.