Dear Diary (Dear Diary #1), Allison Cassatta
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press.
Genre: LGBT (G), Contemporary, Y.A
Length: 90 pages.
Reviewer: Mr. Austro-Hungarian.
This story takes us on the path of an eighteen-year-old Chris who, in the midst of getting ready for his senior year prom, decides this day is to be the day he purges his stories in an almost cathartic fashion, so he sets out to record the precious memories he had of a summer romance that changed his life – with a man named Josh, who was an intern for a law firm Chris was volunteering at.
This was all done through the use of a hand-held recorder he received for Christmas. In fact, this recorded version of these events is where the story lies, along with intermittent appearances from all the people that he holds dear in the present – his family and best friend. Together, Chris makes his prom experience one that is not merely just a step into adulthood.
But whilst this short story has the sweetest of intentions, and I truly tried to like the story (as I am a sucker for cathartic spilling) this story also had some of my pet peeves. In fact, it had two:
1. The Sex Scene:
In this story lay a sex scene, and one that did not fade off-page and did explain the basic ins and outs of oral sex. I definitely applaud the author for this. However, there were some problems I had with the sex scene with regards to how it was handled. For example:
“I had to fight not to look at Josh, even as curiosity threatened to get the best of me. Something told me that as soon as I saw him, as soon as I saw his hand around my Jimmy, I’d put a stop to all of it despite wanting it more than I’d ever wanted anything else in my life.”
Jimmy. Jimmy. JIMMY?!
…I felt this totally undermined the sex scene. I could almost understand if:
A) This was a blatant attempt to make this slightly younger. (Again, this has as its own problems; if it was for a slightly younger audience, there would be a ringing cry for the explicitness and depth of the scene.)
B) The main protagonist was an ego-centric plebeian that had a talent for giving himself a big-enough head to force America into giving his penis its own zip code. (Which, he wasn’t. Even though I did not like the character, he wasn’t ego-centric.)
C) His penis could talk, eat, breathe and was lucid enough to be able to distinguish the English alphabet. (To be fair, I have seen enough of them around my area.)
Well, I know C is definitely out of the question, and I really do not feel it is B. So, is it A? I thought about this for a while, because the author does use this consistently. However, a few lines later:
“Oh my God, my completely erect penis was in this dude’s mouth!”
So…no, it cannot be A. The answer clearly does not lie in any of the aforementioned hypotheses. Then why is this language being used to describe the main character’s genitalia? I have absolutely no idea. If someone had ever referred to their penis as “Jimmy”, I would probably ask how they felt about having a man named James trapped in their penis and walk away. I am being serious – it is not cool in a serious story, and definitely not something that should ever be mentioned when in a sex scene.
I also had a problem with some of the word choices when this sex scene unfolded. For example:
“He went down on me again, gripped my sac in his hand, gave a gentle squeeze, and I was done for. I felt the pressure in my chest, felt my body tense as the most incredible pain filled every inch of my being…”
Pain? I don’t know where the pain is coming from, particularly because the “pressure” associated with coming towards climax has already been described. Unless I am missing out on some sort of crucial physiological sign of pre-orgasm (I use the term “missing out” loosely) I am at a loss as to why the author describes Chris going through pain.
(This should be where I put in a warning – if you experience pain similar to this, you may need to see your doctor.)
2. Realism of the People (And Everything Associated):
This story had my absolute pet peeve – people that embody the archetype, as mother dearest calls it: Blonde hair. Blonde teeth. Blonde life. The people of Dear Diary are the absolute epitome of this lifestyle. We have:
Chris: A boy who has stellar grades destined for an Ivy League college. Athletic body. Popular. Is good looking. Has a female best friend who is also stunning. They once went out, split, and are still best friends. Has the most understanding and Brady-esque parents in the world. Need I say more?
Josh: Admittedly, the most fleshed out character (which is not saying much). But he is still incredibly attractive. (Blonde hair and green eyes – that, speaking as a science major who has studied phenotypes and genetics, is pretty bloody rare. Be thankful, Josh!) It is also alluded to that he is intelligent. (Although my brain, for some reason, concluded that he wasn’t. I may have been reading too many nerd-meets-jock stories…again.) He also has a cool, almost “zomg-he-is-in-college!” thing going on…
…oh, and his EYES CAN SHOOT MALACHITE-GREEN LASERS THAT CAN HEAL SICK CHILDREN! (Not really, I just got bored and started imagining him shooting lasers from his eyes.)
Parents: They are too nice. Just…too nice. I said that they were Brady-esque, and they are.
Exhibit A: They have to ground Chris for “a few weeks” for sneaking out. That’s great and all, but I have two problems with this:
1. HE’S FREAKING 18! He, as an adult, does not “sneak out”; he “goes out”. Because…you know…he’s an adult? Did we forget our brains at the door, parental units? And then, to make matters worse;
2. After the stupid judgement, they declare, along the lines of: ‘You broke our rules, but we do basically understand why you did it.’ Wait…WHAT?! If you bloody well understand why he did it, then why are you grounding him? It’s like they are saying: “We understand that you absolutely had to immobilise the man that was about to stab you in the face. But, because that is against federal law, you get 5 years grounding.”
Other Things that Infuriated Mr. Austro-Hungarian:
The world was two-dimensional. Do I understand that the plot was, for the most part, driven by a young man who is sitting in his room and talking to a recorder whilst getting ready for prom? Yes.
(N.B: Not to mention that, in amongst the monologues, it apparently takes Chris an hour to spike his hair. Really? It took me less than that to shower and straighten my hair that was thicker than the Amazon…and that is saying something. Get some gel that actually holds your hair, Chris – maybe then it will seep into your brain and cause you to call your penis by an anatomically correct name. It’s a noble thought.)
But I digress. I do understand that a short story is not generally going to be fleshed out to the same degree as a novella/novel. I also understand that there is slightly less room to build the three dimensions a story needs, although it’s very much possible. But this story severely lacked the world I so desperately needed.
This also became evident when I realised there would be no conflict in this story; this made the book quite disappointing, in the sense that it almost made the world more unrealistic. Every potential moment where there could have been tension or conflict, it was shut down by the characters basically saying this:
“I should be angry with you. Or upset, or livid, or just plain bitchy…but instead, HAVE A PIECE OF CAKE!”
However, the biggest problem I had with the story was that I did not see a point, in the sense that the storyline can be basically pinned down to a love story that occurred because Chris found out he liked men…and in a big way. He was going out with his female (now) best friend, was popular, but there was ‘something missing’. And he found it, in Josh.
Now, where this plot fell short was that there was absolutely no reason Chris should have repressed his sexual identity until that point. I know, I know – it can happen. But there is usually a reason. “My family are devout -insert religious denomination here- and I am scared of coming out/it is wrong” “I have a homophobic upbringing” etc, etc.
Yes, it was touched on that Chris may have homophobic friends, and I have no doubt that the popular gang he was with would have their fair share of jocks that love to spew vitriol at men who are homosexual…if this “touched on” component of the story hadn’t consisted of roughly one/two lines.
Chris also seems to be scared about how his parents may react to his sexuality. But this baffles me, because, again, let me re-acquaint you with Chris’ parents:
“I should be angry with you, or upset, or livid, or just plain bitchy…but instead, HAVE A PIECE OF CAKE!”
There was absolutely no indication that his parents would have reacted in any way but unequivocal support for Chris. They supported everything he did, and were nice about everything they could be. (Heck, grounding was a nice experience!) I think they weren’t the type to absolutely commit a 180 and create WWIII about sexual identity.
And this is also why I am utterly confused by Chris’ denial-to-the-point-of-not-even-thinking-about-men point of view at the beginning. Then he seems to have discovered his urges for men when he meets the man of his dreams, and this confuses me even more. Wouldn’t this event have sparked an even bigger denial response within Chris, if the denial was so pertinent to him? I guess the conclusion to this question is that Josh was simply the catalyst that sparked Chris’ interest in men, but I find this too odd and incongruous to the, albeit limited, backstory.
I’ve noticed that other people have enjoyed Dear Diary. Be sure to have a look at all reviews as we all see things differently. For me, personally, I found a number of problems that stopped me from enjoying it. I suppose the story wasn’t badly written. But I found the combination of poor word choices, two dimensional people and world, and inconsistent psychology with regards to the major plot led me to give this short story two stars.
ETA – Note from Mr. Austro-Hungarian: After I submitted my review to Greedy Bug Book Reviews, it came to my attention that this book is published as a M/M adult book. Not YA.This means that this book was intentionally marketed as an adult M/M book. However, the language and content that was contained in this book was barely of a Young Adult nature, and – quite frankly – the use of the word ‘Jimmy’ to describe the anatomical male sex organ is absolutely disgraceful in a book marketed to adults.
I had originally given Dear Diary two stars, but for the aforementioned reasons, I have decided to mark the book down to one star.