Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer follows Rob, a high school student whose popularity takes a nose-dive after his father is caught embezzling money, and Maegan, an overachiever whose cheating on the SATs jeopardized the scores of her classmates. Rob and Maegan’s worlds collide when they are partnered on a calculus project and they instantly connect over their complicated family dynamics. However, Rob’s attempts to right his father’s wrongs may land them in hot water.
I became a huge fan of Brigid Kemmerer after reading Letters to the Lost last year. She turned into an auto-buy author to me after reading More Than We Can Tell soon after. While I typically stick to more light-hearted and fun contemporaries, I loved her ability to craft complex characters in heartbreaking, but incredibly real circumstances. While Call It What You Want attempted to check off those boxes, it was not as successful as her two previous contemporaries for me.
Brigid Kemmerer’s books always put you inside the heads of two characters. Even in books of her that were five stars for me, one character tends to outshine the other. In this case, I definitely enjoyed reading more about Rob than Maegan. Besides her SAT cheating scandal, which really did not make much sense to me and affected the plot very little, Maegan was the typical good girl that we see in YA frequently. On the other hand, Rob was portrayed a lot more complexly. Rob struggled to match his perfect father to the crimes that he committed and his father’s current state after a failed suicide attempt. Despite despising his father’s actions, he starts to become like his father by stealing money although for much more “positive” reasons in order to correct his father’s wrongs. While Kemmerer’s novels typically are unbalanced with the main characters, I found the balance to be a little more off than usual.
For me, one reason I tend to stray away from “heavy-hitting” YA books is the fine line between really big, real-world problems and what I call the Lifetime Effect. With the Lifetime Effect, there is some big scandal that bends the entire truth of the novel and there is often somewhat resolved, but not quite enough to make you satisfied enough at the end. Also, it brings out all the stops, or tropes, for a dramatic story. While Brigid Kemmerer’s novels always have that bend in the truth ending and tackle a lot of high stakes problems, it usually stays realistic enough for me to buy in the story. In fact, that was my favorite aspect in More Than We Can Tell and Rev’s characters.
Unfortunately for me, this particular story ventured into the Lifetime Effect. Now, I’m not bashing Lifetime movies in any way. Trust me, my mom is a HUGE fan and I’ve seen countless Lifetime movies over the years. Some were good and I remember them to this day, but some leave you with the feeling like “You’ve got to be kidding me.” In this book, you can spot the twists from a mile away. There is literally so much going on in this story from the embezzlement, Rob stealing, Maegan cheating, a pregnant sister on a lacrosse scholarship, a policeman father, the rich villain, and the list could go on an on. While having quite a few plots worked in other books by Kemmerer, it just all didn’t connect or gel well with me in this book.
While I have mentioned quite a few negatives, there were some aspects of this book that I enjoyed. In the synopsis of this book, it poses this question: Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons? A lot of the characters in this book are morally gray. They commit awful or questionable actions, sometimes in an attempt to do good. While I won’t spoil how this book answers the question, I do like when you can see how a book relates to a larger theme. While I do think this novel tries to tackle way too many things at once, at its core, we have seen stories that relate to this theme play out so many times in our lives. If you can look past some of the “extra” elements, then I think many people could relate to this story.
Overall, Call It What You Want was an average young adult book for me. Despite Kemmerer’s on-point pacing and relatable theme, I just could not connect to the characters or this story. That being said, I still really like this author and will continue to purchase and read her books in the future, especially when I’m looking for a “heavier” contemporary read. I give this book three out of five stars.
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