Monday, September 2, 2013

Christina Read: The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

Release Date: February 21, 2012
Published by: Penguin Young Readers Group
Recommended by: Brooke Busse

Christina Reads Your Recommendations is a regular Monday feature here (inspired by A Reader of Fictions' Sadie Hawkins Sunday) in which you, my readers, get to choose what book I will read and review next. Got a book that you love and want everyone to read and review? That you're not sure what to think of and want a second opinion on? That you think I'll love or that I should have already read? Send in your recommendations via this form!

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

Dying of a broken heart is just the beginning.... Welcome to forever. 

BRIE'S LIFE ENDS AT SIXTEEN: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn't love her, and the news breaks her heart—literally. 

But now that she's D&G (dead and gone), Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend has been keeping a secret about Jacob, the boy she loved and lost—and the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there's Patrick, Brie's mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul . . . who just might hold the key to her forever after. 

With Patrick's help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she's ready to move on. But how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?

First, two points:

1. This became a read-along with the lovely Jessie at Ageless Pages Reviews. If you haven't visited her blog, do so ASAP. She has absolutely wonderful reviews, and it was so awesome to discuss this book with her! (PS - Jessie, if you're reading this: I'm going to get to the e-mail tomorrow :)). 

2. This is a book that is not for me. It's not that the book is horribly written - just that I don't think that I am the target audience. Thus I had a harder time connecting with the main character etc. etc. I had a very similar experience with Transparent by Natalie Whipple. I would also recommend this book to a "tween"/younger YA crowd. So take the rest of my comments with a grain of salt.

Ten likes/dislikes:

1. (+/-) Brie, the protagonist - I had a rough time with Brie. I thought that I could've really identified with her during her funeral, but it was told in a dissociated narrative that made me feel distanced from her. And then, well, in order for Brie to pass through those five stages of grief, she's got to make some really questionable decisions. In order for her to grow, she's got to start at a low place. And Brie at her highest wasn't enough for me to make up for the self-absorbed Brie at her lowest. She's a sarcastic, witty, cutesy, incredibly believable teen who would choose Belle as her Disney princess, and whether you like this book hinges on whether you like Brie. I'd suggest reading some excerpts and seeing if you can deal with the young teen voice, then picture her having done something that you'd cringe at now but would have definitely done as a teen. Will you be okay with that?
2. (+/-) World-building - At first I was really glad that there were no info-dumps with regard to being D&G - Patrick does hand Brie a book with all the details about the things they can do, etc. etc. But the more the novel progressed, the more confused I got with regard to what zooming was, why they would go to the top of the Golden Gate, how these various powers came to be. The book takes a very go-with-the-flow approach to the world-building that I generally appreciate, but for some reason, didn't quite work for me this time around. The setting, on the other hand, was established quite well. Brie's got a few favorite hang-out places which have their own textual references, like Frostys at one of the food places. That added to a nice sense of appreciation for where she lived prior to her death.
3. (+) Romance - Patrick was adorably cheesy in some points, yet annoyed me at other times. "Aw, you're cute when you're in denial." Lines like "you're cute when..." are literally one of my romance pet peeves. As Jessie told me, they smack of condescension. Also, at that point, you're wondering how a character you just met could actually know that of the MC. Anyway, that's obviously a personal preference. It's quite refreshing that Patrick isn't the best thing since sliced pie, that he and the MC have to work for their relationship. Also refreshing that he's not a jerk, as you might find in most romantic interests in PNR (though this does read more as contemporary romance in the afterlife), and okay, so he's cheesy. So he's basically described as being Tom Cruise in Top Gun, a 1982 Fighter Pilot. He still brings a nice lightness to the story, matches well with Brie, and even better, he's got his own story. He's his own person, and for more of his personality and humor, you can read the excerpts I included at the end.
4. (+/-) Cheesiness/Message - This book has the highest level of cheese factor that I've encountered in years. The romantic interest comes up with a variety of nicknames, most of which are based on some form of cheese thanks to Brie's name (Cheeseball, Cream Cheese, Angel, etc.), and the banter between Patrick and Brie can get really, really cheesy. I like cheesy things on occasion, but you have to be in the right mood for them, I think, so I figured that I ought to warn you. More worrisome than the cheesiness is the underlying core to the novel - that teenagers would go to such extremes over their first loves.
5. (+/-) Pop Culture References - Remember that time when I wrote a discussion post about pop culture references? I could have framed my discussion around this book - it has so, so many pop culture references. This book has got the Disney princess vibe plus Top Gun, Doritos, orange Crocs, a bunch of 80s songs (the chapter titles are all named after song lyrics; there is actually an appendix to name the songs that were referred to over the course of the novel)... Those are just the ones that I can remember off the top of my head. Obviously, if you're a fan of 80s pop culture or pop culture references in general, you will love this book. Me? I'm a pop culture fail, so not so much on my end.
6. (+) Stages of Grief - One thing that I appreciated about this title was its attempts to take matters beyond the typical paranormal / contemporary mix and give a little depth to Brie's death. As the summary says, Brie has to pass through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance) to get to the right place in her afterlife. And each of these stages was developed well.
7. (+/-) Plot - Another thing that I can definitively say about this book is that I did not predict where it was heading. It threw me for a loop with some of the plot threads, so I can genuinely say that it was one of my more unpredictable reads of this summer. That being said, there were some plot threads that I thought this book could have done without so that it would have been shorter. If some plot threads had been cut, I think my issue with the pacing (below) would have been much reduced.
8. (+) Writing - The writing is fine. Never once did I doubt that I was reading from a teenage girl's POV, and it's got an almost compulsive quality to it, teenspeak and all. Very easy to read. The one complaint I had was in the beginning when Brie was talking about things as if they'd already happened - a dissociated narrative until she's D&G. I found it harder to relate to her in those moments.
9. (--) Pacing - I should warn you: I was asked to read this book because my critique partner believed the story had weird pacing. Honestly, I wasn't thinking of that when I started reading the book, but I definitely thought about it later, so maybe my judgment's a bit skewed--who knows? I'll give an example: during Brie's funeral, she's remembering how she and her friends have charm necklaces, and then suddenly the attention shifts back to the funeral. The beginning jumps around from this wonderfully poignant narrative about insta!love as a teenager to facts about Brie and her life to her funeral to her heart breaking and diagnosing it etc. etc. As you can see, it jumps around a bit. And later, when it comes to the different stages of grief, each part reads like it's got its own pacing separate from the novel. 
10. (+) The Cover - Definitely a fit for this book. The dress, the bridge, the font. Symbolic and fits the cutesy tone very well. (Also I really like that title font -- anyone know what it is?)

Although this book was not for me, it may work for a younger YA crowd looking for a cute, fun, fluffy read with a bit of heart and a lot of pop culture references. The story does address redemption, lost love, grief, and the need for compassion and understanding, so it's not a completely light read either.

Here's one way of telling whether you'll like the book. Do you like the voice in these excerpts? Do you like the interaction between Patrick and Brie? (I tried to choose excerpts in the first 1/4th so they aren't too spoilery!)

I stared at his jacket, disliking it more and more by the second. “Do you ever take that thing off?” 
“Why would I? I look good!” 
“You look stupid.” 
“Whu-oh, look out. She’s testy today, folks.” 
I scowled. “I am not testy.” 
“Or wait a second.” He grinned. “I get it. You’re trying to get my clothes off, aren’t you? You totally want to see my sexy bare man chest!” He reached for his jacket zipper. 
“Ew!” I threw a piece of crust at him. “Spare me the hairy details.” 
“You sure?” He paused. “You really don’t know what you’re missing.” (~16%, Kindle)

“So, do you want to get back at him?” 
I paused, mid-slurp. Looked up. “What do you mean? Get back at who?” 
He groaned and fell over on the table. “Seriously, Cleopatra? You’ve seriously already forgotten?” 
Huh? What am I supposed to be remembering? And why’s he calling me Cleopatra? 
He smacked his head when I didn’t answer. “My dear, you continue to amaze me.” 
He reached over and grabbed my shake. “You’ve got Phase One bad, kid. Real bad. Luckily, you’re sort of cute when you’re in denial.” He took a slurp from the straw. “Oh, that is GOOD.” 
“Hey!” I swatted at him. “Get your own!” My eyes wandered to his outfit, as they did from time to time, and I found myself cracking a smile. 
He caught me staring. “What’s so funny?” (19%, Kindle)

“Ben definitely L’s you,” Sadie teased me as we ran to the auditorium. “You two would be insanely cute.” 
“His glasses are adorb,” Tess agreed. “I think it’s def time you got a handle on Handleman.” We all burst into giggles and pranced inside, totally excited for all the magical make-out sessions the night would obviously bring. 
So when I saw Ben kissing Anna Clayton front and center, let’s just say I wasn’t exactly psyched. The music was blasting. Tons of kids were talking in big circles. Thousands of glowing yellow lights were strung up across the walls and ceiling. Super-high above our heads, a giant disco ball glimmered and spun— casting little diamond-shaped sparkles across our faces.
And there, right in the middle of the dance floor, Ben and Anna were apparently guest starring on Project Tongueway. (~26%, Kindle)

Up Next: Need to catch up on 2 review titles: Brother, Brother by Clay Carmichael and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. If one of you submits these titles via the form below, I could continue this feature and you'd get a free link to your blog. Otherwise I have to suspend this feature just for the next two weeks. But as always, here's my plea to please send in some recommendations :D. Especially of books from this list!

PS - is it world-building, worldbuilding, or world building? I HAVE WONDERED THIS FOR YEARS. Do you know? Booooo if I've been writing it incorrectly all this time o.O.


  1. I have no clue, I always use world-building since my corrector on Windows Live Writer tells me that is the way to write it :p And this world-building sounds confusing. I think I even prefer info-dump over no information at all..The romance sounds okay, although I'm not such a fan of those cheesy lines. The pacing sounds horrible! I hate it when everything shifts by giving information that doesn't really matter. Getting details is fun, but sometimes it's too much. Based on the excerpts I'm going to say NO for now. Thanks for the honesty! :)

  2. I haven't seen this, and from the sounds of it. I'm not sure if it is something that I would enjoy. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on it.

  3. I have been hearing quite a bit about this book and hmmm, the excerpt still sounds okay for me so I might pick this up if I see it at the library and read it when I want something light. I do like the idea of the 5 stages of grief. The romance seems a little too cheesy, I mean those are a lot of nicknames lol. Thanks for the review Christina :D

    I have no idea either! I write it as world-building or worldbuilding.

  4. "This book has the highest level of cheese factor that I've encountered in years."

    I can't do cheesiness! I love banter and fun, but it has to be controlled. I was reading those excerpts you included and thought the first one wasn't too bad (I liked it actually!), but then the second one made me cringe quite a bit. And then the third - "His glasses are adorb" and "Project Tongueway"?! No no no! I'm generally not a fan of younger teen voices either, but it does depend on the book.

    I've heard mostly good things about this one, so I'm surprised that it didn't quite work for you, but like you said, not being in the target audience could be the reason why. And we do generally agree about most titles, so I don't think I'll be rushing to read this one any time soon.

    And is it not just world-building? Does the hyphen not exist?! Have *I* been doing it wrong all this time too? We've been living a lie!

  5. Lisa (Lost in Literature)September 2, 2013 at 8:09 AM

    Okay, so after reading this: "This book has the highest level of cheese factor that I've encountered in years." I'm not sure I can read this book. Cheesy banter, an underlying cheesiness core - thanks for the heads-up, I'm going to be skipping this one. LOL I can't handle that much cheese!! :P

  6. Blythe@ Finding Bliss in BookSeptember 2, 2013 at 8:43 AM

    Yeah, this book DEFINITELY will not end up working well for me. "This book has the highest level of cheese factor that I've encountered in years." Nope. That...definitely, definitely does not bode well for me. And books with excessive pop culture references really annoy me. Nope nope nope.

  7. It's embarrassing, but I have a favorite Disney princess O.o I love, have always loved, Jasmine. I have so much love for Ariel as well, but Jasmine is my forever favorite. Hehe. I like Belle with her books and sweet heart, but she's so predictable so I think a girl who you think would pick Belle in a heartbeat--kind of disappointing. Sucks that you didn't connect with the MC. I have a weakness against that cute line as well ;) This passing stages of gried reminds me of Ten Tiny Breaths and this type of sectioned-writing/plot worked well for that particular story, too. The pacing sounds weird to me already *__* I read those passages you gave us, but I don't feel the chemistry.. :( It may be because I'm not THAT familiar with the story, but still.. It seems so cliché. I'm tired of it and I'm experimenting with books, because I want something new, exciting and awesome. That's why I picked up Breach which was so out of my element and even though at the end of the day the sexual relationship was so not my thing, but the emotional part was refreshing and quite different from the usual. I feel like all the books I was waiiting for this summer have somewhat let me down and now I need to find new ones and hopefully the ones I've been eagerly anticipating to read this fall won't disappoint me so much. I hope that whatever you're reading right now is fabulous and you'll enjoy it thoroughly:)

  8. I've said this before but I seriously love the way you do your reviews. Pop culture refrences don't bother me too much unless the seem thrown in like an advertisement or for no reason. Sometimes they make the story more realistic. (And now I want Doritos) The pacing sounds like a huge downer, and unless I have a lot of time, I tend to really try and avoid slow books. I do like those excerpts, though!

  9. Everyone here seems to say world-building, so I'll go with that :D. Yes. Info-dump would have been preferred; it seemed strange the MC didn't ask more questions, but I guess her focus was more on spying on her friends and family than what was happening to her. Yeahhh... the pacing. That's something I think that you might be able to overlook if you're into the other aspects, but it sounds like the cheesiness and the excerpts were too meh for you too.

  10. Thanks, Jenea. I'm sorry this one isn't for you; best of luck with your next read though!

  11. The excerpts definitely function on a person-by-person basis! I like the first excerpt, but with the others, it gets too much for me. If you find it at the library, I hope you enjoy it and its portrayal of the five stages of grief :D. (Also, I lost track of the # of cheesy nicknames; it's not just the three I listed. But if you are in the mood for something light :))).

  12. No, I agree--the first one isn't bad. I marked a bunch of passages while reading though but er, got too lazy to look through them all O.o. Ahahaha, yeah, I forgot about Project Tongueway when I was writing the pop culture section. And younger voices definitely depends on the book! Harry Potter was marketed to a younger crowd, but hey, we all love that series...

    Yeah... looking at GR, I was so glad that I had read with Jessie and we both had similar feelings on the book. There are a lot of 5 / 4 star reviews, but I just... eh...

    AND I THINK IT IS WORLD-BUILDING. I hope we have not been living a lie! Otherwise all the people on this thread have duped! o.O

    Also, I still can't believe I exceeded your comment character limit. I do want an award for that, Sam. I do.

  13. Hahaha, the best thing about waking up to these comments was seeing how many people had quoted that one line of my review. I guess cheesiness is something we just can't deal with! Patrick would have a field day with all the cheesy jokes he could crack on this page.

  14. But, Blythe, you mean... you wouldn't enjoy Project Tongueway and Cream Cheese and Cheeto and Cheeseball references? *gasp*


  15. True -- I'm definitely not opposed to pop culture references. They can make it easier to relate to that world. (And now I want Doritos too, after having read your comment ;)). It's just one of those didn't-work-for-me cases. The pacing isn't so much slow as uneven, so if that was your concern, you might be good to go, especially you liked the excerpts :D.

  16. Why is that embarrassing? Disney princesses are like the cultural icon that no one can avoid, and er, I totally dressed up as them for many a Halloween, so I'm not going to judge. Jasmine's one of my favorites too, even if Aladdin totally misappropriates my culture. I do remember reading about that for Ten Tiny Breaths; I don't remember if reviews said that it had the same issue with pacing but sounds like it didn't. Heh. I didn't say that it was cliched, but Jessie definitely thought it was, so maybe that's what you're picking up on? Poo to the bad summer reads! I hope you'll enjoy Dream Thieves--not long now, eh? :)

  17. I'm basically counting the days now :D LOL.

  18. I just love your review style. It works so well!

    I get what you're saying about Brie. It makes me wonder what I would think of her character. I'm thinking I would lean more towards the side of finding her irksome, but I guess I couldn't be sure until I read the book.

    It seems like there is a fine line between cute and cheesy romance. I absolutely ADORE cute, but cheese is a big no-no and an automatic eyerol-sprain for me.

    Overall, I'm not sure whether this would be the book for me either. But I really love the concept of going through the stages of grief. I think I'll keep it on my TBR, but not have it be a priority at all. Thank you for this review - it was SO helpful!

  19. Oh, I actually really liked this one, although I don't remember much about it--I do remember that I was somewhat disappointed in the ending chapters, though I can't remember too many specifics. CHEESE, it does sound like there was a lot of cheese, hah. Sometimes I'm just in the mood for something light and fluffy as a palate cleanser, though, and I think this fit the bill at the time. I'm curious what would happen on a reread.

    Did you know that the author was a YA editor, btw? Maybe she still is, too. I always find it interesting when an industry person goes into the writing side.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  20. Thanks, Aylee :).

    Very true. I thought it'd be easy for me to relate to her when I read the synopsis, but I guess you never know until you read the book.

    There are a lot of people who didn't think it was quite as cheesy as I did - or so I'd assume given the many 4, 5 starred reviews on GR. So maybe she's straddling the line between cute and cheesy romance?

    Me too. I haven't read another book like it on the stages of grief! Thank you! If you do get around to reading this one one day, I hope you enjoy it!

  21. Ah, yes, I was a tad disappointed with the ending chapters because they revealed some of Patrick's story and the growth for Brie's character, I thought, was a tad rushed at the end. Was that it? Hahaha, there's nothing wrong with cheese. I agree on palate cleansers - I do wonder the same: whether a reread when I'm in a different mood would lead to different interpretation.

    Yeah! I saw that in her author bio (Vampire Academy, Strange Angels, etc.), and I agree. It's interesting to see their takes, especially since they've been involved in the other side of things.

  22. This was actually one of the VERY first contemporaries I gave a try -- after many years away from YA novels. I always thought I didn't like contemps, that I needed something paranormal to keep me entertained, but this story proved me wrong. I thought it was super cute, even with the cheesiness, and I liked the slightly supernatural angle. I'd probably rate it a bit lower than I did if I read it now, but I still think I'd enjoy it.

  23. Oh, do you consider it a contemporary? I'm glad you gave contemps. a try after reading this one - that's always a good thing. I thought the slightly supernatural angle was nice too though :). I wonder if I'd have a similar experience to yours if I reread the book now.

  24. Could you please explain to me why 2 different boys (Patrick & Jacob) came to Brie's life in two different times? Argh. I dont get it, sorry. The book is so awesome but I got confused. Did she reincarnated after she died during the motorcycle accident thats why she was able to live again or something? Please help me.

  25. Hm, I can't remember who Jacob was. Was that her previous boyfriend?

    From what I understand, this is Brie's afterlife. In her REAL life, she was with Jacob. In the AFTER life, she got together with Patrick. I don't remember if the book offered an explanation for the afterlife and just how it was Brie was dead but kinda-sorta alive.


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