Review: Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska

28 October 2012 by 26 Comments

Book: Accelerated

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.

Buy the book: (Powell’s or Amazon)

Tony

Divorcé, proud father of four, blogger, black coffee drinker, ukulele enthusiast, and Tech Sergeant in the United States Air Force

26 thoughts on “Review: Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska

    • Thanks! To be completely honest, I was a little nervous about writing this review. I had requested the galley based on the synopsis, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I figured the best way to approach it was with an honest critique that would help an objective author write better books in the future. I’m absolutely thrilled that my review generated interest, because that’s what I was going for.

  1. Oh, amateur book reviews. This expert analysis of literary fiction from some guy who liked a book called “Serpent’s Bite” and is a big Stephen King fan — not like any of his assembly-line genre work is contrived. Clearly you’re an arbiter of taste and technique. And a master of originiality; what a unique website title! Definitely not a ripoff of anything or a shamelessly parasitic attempt to get attention.

    What I meant to say was, I’m the author or a friend of the author and I got my feelings hurted by this review.

    • Oh, dear. I’m sorry you don’t like our site. The small press publishers definitely appreciate what we do, as do our regular readers, so I guess we’ll have to be content with that :)

      • And how exactly do you ascertain whether or not the publishers “definitely appreciate what we do”? I’m sure they’re thrilled to see work they’ve put tens of thousands of dollars into denigrated by the unqualified, unsubstantiated, poorly presented and lazily argued assessments of hacks. As for your handful of readers, well, I hope they consider the context. And are aware that they aren’t reading the real Bookslut.

        • Probably because they send us free books hoping that we’ll review them, work with us on giveaways–oh, and also, paid over $2000 to bring me to the BEA because I won a blogging award for this site from the AAP. Not to mention they talk to me and RT the reviews that we do of their books. But no, you’re right, they probably are mortified by our work.

          Um, yeah, I’ve never made it any secret that I’m not affiliated with Bookslut or Jessa Crispin–it’s actually been in the FAQ for over a year, after someone told me there was a site called Bookslut. If this whole thing is about you being butthurt because I use the same word in my title, go fuck yourself. I launched this site, not Tony, so you don’t have to insult my contributors if you have beef with me over our sites sharing the same word in our titles.

          To top it all off, you’re a coward for using a fake e-mail and probably name. It’s really easy to dump on someone when you’re being too chickenshit to own up to your accomplishments. I’m glad you were able to work out your butthurt at my friend’s expense and everything, but I think you’re done whining here. I will be blocking your IP address from further comments, so have a nice day, asshole. :)

        • Also, while I’m neither the author nor a friend of hers (amusing you think those are the only two categories of people who might care about a book’s review), I did happen to read and like this book and am saddened to see it considered in a manner so pleased with and utterly indifferent to its lack of rigor. And at least if you’re going to be hostile toward the books and the authors you “review,” you could present the feedback of the dissenting without trivializing or distorting.

    • I agree with Ted. “Sorry, I didn’t like it?” How am I to interpret that? A truly professional review includes a mathematically rigorous enumeration of stars, unicorns, goldfish, or other relevant quality-indicating objects. As a book-related site, I’d recommend a whimsical literary object, such as bookworms, bookmarks, or purchase receipts from an indie bookstore going-out-of-business sale.

      You can’t run rigorous statistical methods on “I didn’t like it.” It’s like you’re trying to take book-assaying jobs away from the hardworking mathematicians of the world.

      When you wrote this book review, did you even once ask yourself how the mathematicians of the world were going to feed their families? No, you did not.

      • SIGH. You’re right, you’re right. From now on, we’ll also include pie graphs of our literary analysis. That’s only fair and proper.

      • Haha! I have a T-shirt that I got with my subscription to mental_floss that says, “I’m an English major–you do the math.” Sorry, but I’m better with words than figures. :)

    • Hey, Ted. I’m sorry you didn’t like my review. I am an amateur reviewer, and I don’t get paid for this; I do it because I like to. My only credentials are a degree in English literature and a lot of creative writing workshops, and I have certainly never had any of my own books published. I guess everyone has to start somewhere, right? I don’t have a lot to offer, but I wrote this review as a critique hoping it would help writers. Even professional reviews are just someone–who, like you or me, puts their pants on one leg at a time–sharing their opinion.

  2. I think this is a fantastic review. Contrary to how Ted would like us to think he feels (that this review is “unqualified, unsubstantiated, poorly presented and lazily argued”), it’s none of those things at all (which is obvious if one reads the whole review).

  3. I did a quick google search of Bronwen and found a “style” piece detailing her marriage in 1995. It was kind of funny, and it’s funny that she’s sort of been a “society” person for many decades now. And as a kid who graduated from *two* private high schools, I’m both embarrassed and intrigued by people writing about that elite crowd.

    It sounds like this is no Gatsby. But I agree with you Tony, it sounds like something I’d find some of myself in.

    • I don’t really know much about the author, but after reading Accelerated, I was a little curious to know more. It’s always a bit fascinating to see how much of someone’s life ends up in their books. I usually read up on my favorite authors for this same reason.

      • If a high school degree is a sign of incredible intellectual prowess, then yes, TWO graduations makes me pretty freaking awesome. Or, is the other way around when you have to keep repeating a grade?

        Basically, I got accepted to an international high school with a unique curriculum that was going to add an extra year onto my high-school experience. So, halfway through, I’d completed enough requirements to technically fulfill the graduation requirements of my prior highschool. They liked me, so they mailed me a diploma.

  4. Wow, haven’t seen a troll award in a while. Congrats, Ted (or whoever you are).

    Sorry, I’ll stop feeding the troll now. Tony, your review was very diplomatic and constructive. It’s disappointing when a story has such an interesting concept, and has such brilliant moments, but ultimately falls flat. I felt this way about Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle (I’m sorry, I know it’s supposed to be awesome and creative, and I loved parts of it!) and Lisa Mantchev’s Eyes Like Stars.

    And I wonder if the portrayal of Sean’s irresponsible relationships helped further the story in a really meaningful way, or if it seemed like just drama/shock value (ooh, look at him sleep with a married woman, and his son’s teacher, and he’s also cheating on his own wife!)?

    • That’s funny that you should mention Howl’s Moving Castle. I loved the Miyazaki film, and I recently listened to it on audio while commuting. I actually liked it, but I’m not sure how much of that was due to the superb voice acting.

      As for the relationships, I personally felt that they could have added a lot to the story had they been done a little differently. I know they weren’t supposed to be the focus of the story, but they could have added so much. Had some of the weaker characters put up a fight or challenged Sean, it might have made them more interesting. It might have made Sean more interesting if he’d shown a little bit of character and been honest with all these women, too.

  5. I really enjoyed Tony’s review. Perfect example of the “shit sandwich”. This was good/this was bad/this was good. I found his arguments to be fair and well worded. To request a mathematical explanation within a critique is a bit bonkers (in my opinion). This is Tony’s opinion and I found it to be compelling and clear. Tony has expressed what he thought the author did well and what she did not. And finally, put your big girl panties on Ted!

  6. It’s apparent that a lot of people have no concept of what the word “opinion” means.

    I definitely thought this was a great review. It gives credit where credit was due, and feedback where it was necessary. Great job, Tony :) And yes, this does make me want to read the book as well. A rating in the way of “disliked” doesn’t necessarily mean someone is not going to want to read it anyway. :)

  7. Tony, I thought your review of a book you largely didn’t like was fair. It’s hard to write a negative review for a living author, even if it’s an obviously thoughtful, balanced one.

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