Review: Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska
Author: Bronwen Hruska
Published: October 2, 2012 by Pegasus
First Lines: “Sean Benning had put in his time. He couldn’t risk being caught in another conversation about ERB percentiles and afterschool activities that cost more than he made in a month. Forty-five minutes was his limit.”
Rating: Sorry, but I didn’t like it.
(Electronic galley provided by Open Road Media)
When I first read the synopsis for this book, I thought it was something I could relate to: Sean is raising his son Toby on his own because his wife Ellie unexpectedly runs away, and the private school his in-laws pay for is pressuring him to medicate his kid for ADHD, even though he doesn’t see any of the symptoms. Great! The main character was a man, and I share (or have shared) at least a few of his problems.
My first impression after finishing Accelerated was, “It feels like I just read a Lifetime movie.” After I found the author’s bio, it turns out that she is a screenwriter who has written Lifetime movies. This was her first novel, and–all things considered–it was alright. That being said, it wasn’t really for me, and just in case the author (or any other author) is reading this, I’d like to provide some constructive feedback.
First, not everything about this story was bad. A few aspects were rather brilliant. I was impressed with the way the story wrapped up, and upon finishing, I felt like there were no loose ends or any parts left unresolved. More than once, I found myself in awe of how subtle details from earlier in the story came to have a big impact later on. All the plots and subplots wove together into a perfectly resolved ending.
I was also very interested in the topic: over-diagnosis and over-medication of students with “ADHD” who are just normal active children. <rant>One of my son’s teachers tried to get us to have him tested so she could get him on Ritalin, but I see the kid concentrate for hours at a time on his Lego creations, books, or movies. I felt like she was taking a lazy way out because she was too bad at her job to get my kid interested in what she was trying to teach him, and she didn’t have the basic sense of authority to make him sit down and do his work. I never had trouble getting him to do his homework.</rant> I identified with this topic, and it stirred up some strong feelings for me.
Of course, despite the good qualities, the story also had a few points where it could have been better.
My biggest problem with Accelerated was the characters. I never really liked Sean. He was a passive hero, with no special qualities or admirable traits. He loved his kid. Everybody loves their kids; that’s not really anything special. I felt like more of the problems in the story got solved by luck or outside help than by Sean’s actions. The only sacrifice he made was to risk getting fired from his crappy job that he hated. I would have liked to see him knowingly risk losing his art exhibition rather than have that happen to him unexpectedly as “bad shit happening to good people”. Likewise, I was annoyed by the fact that he slept with a married woman in the opening scene, and then later he slept with his girlfriend and his wife in the same day, but faced no consequences. That was a prime opportunity to introduce strong conflict.
A few of the other characters were weak as well. I would have liked to understand Ellie, the estranged wife, a little better. Why did she run away? Because she’s a psycho? That’s lame. She should have had a stronger motivation that actually made sense. It’s the same with Cheryl, the rich doctor’s wife whom Sean bangs in the bathroom at the PTA meeting. I can’t imagine why she would want to sleep with Sean in the first place, much less in a public setting. I would really have liked to see these characters’ motivations.
My next complaint is a bit nitpicky, but it’s a style issue. Several times the narrative spelled out what characters were thinking by their facial expressions and body language. The story is told in third-person limited point of view through Sean’s eyes, so I guess you can justify it, but that’s one of my pet peeves as a reader and writer. Here’s an example: “She tried reassuring him with a smile.” Instead of telling what she was trying to do with the smile, it would have been better to just describe the smile and let the reader interpret: “Her mouth smiled, but her eyes did not.” To use the writer’s advice cliche: Show rather than tell.
The last thing I’m going to address is the romance between Sean and Toby’s teacher Jess. In order for it to be appealing, I would have liked for the “forbidden” factor to be played up. It would have made that subplot much more interesting. But considering she was a teacher and he was a parent, their relationship was risky and entirely inappropriate. I never felt any of that danger. In order for it to be believable, it should have ended in flaming disaster. He was not even divorced yet, and their relationship was completely unprofessional, so there were all kinds of external forces that could have interfered, and it might have been even more interesting if one of them had been jealous or if they’d had something to fight over. If they had managed to overcome some of these problems in a believable way, then it would have meant more to the reader that they ended up staying together at the end.
So that is my critique of Accelerated. If you like sentimental stories about family and a bit of romance, or if you are interested in the ADHD issue, you may actually enjoy this book. If you’re a writer, I think there are some good lessons to be learned in plot construction, and some examples of what not to do with character and conflict.