Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

Anyone who reads Young Adult/New Adult recognizes Colleen Hoover as one of the pioneers of the independent publishing revolution.  Hoover’s debut novel, Slammed, hit the NYT Best Sellers list in 2012 and several successful titles have followed.  With last year’s It Ends With Us, Hoover was getting her feet wet in murky waters.  Without Merit finds her diving in headfirst. 

Our main character Merit, is an identical twin and is struggling to be heard in a highly dysfunctional family.  They live in a converted church where an 8’ wall sculpture of Jesus still hangs.  The family includes her mother Victoria, a recluse living in their basement; sister Honor; brother Utah; and her father Barnaby, his new wife, also Victoria, and their young son Moby.

Merit meets Sagan and they share a kiss.  Supposedly Sagan is Honor’s boyfriend and has just moved in with them.  Merit is now consumed with not wanting to be attracted to her sister’s boyfriend.  New Victoria’s long lost half-brother, Luck, also moves in unexpectedly, and there is a subplot about a dog.  So begins a convoluted story that one reviewer aptly described as “a big stew of weird people behaving badly.”  While the primary theme is depression and suicide, it tackles LBGT issues, infidelity and overwhelming family dysfunction fueled by multiple secrets.  Hoover also throws in a half-hearted attempt to draw in the Syrian refugee crisis and leaves it hanging unresolved.  Considering the baggage it carries, this book wraps up on what feels like an unrealistic positive note.  There are discussion questions at the end along with referrals for mental health resources.

If you like off-beat, meandering stories, this might be for you. It rightly emphasizes that everyone has issues and that’s OK.  Honorable mention for a unique premise and world-building but deductions for little romantic content, and dialogue that reads more like an after school special.  Ironically, even Merit refers to her life as such.  Some may find the odd names a further distraction to an already challenging plotline.

For really good YA romance, choose one of Hoover’s older titles - the Slammed trilogy (Point of Retreat & This Girl), Losing Hope, Maybe Someday and Ugly Love.  All her books deal with social issues but her early works focused on some really amazing romantic connections.  The chemistry between her couples was what made her books outstanding and it’s sadly lacking in her recent releases. 

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