by Talo Segura
One long summer at their house in the South of France is much like all those previous summers. Except this year is different. Milo turns sixteen. Childhood is receding. There are expectations. No longer can he hide in the imagined worlds of literature. This will be a summer like none other. Will he survive the storms?
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This story is very much not the typical story for this site... or, a typical story anywhere. I was not being fascetious when I compared it to Catcher in the Rye, and while I'm here I'll add Donnie Darko. In the end, it's a bizarre experience, but one well worth having every so often.
The writing, by accident or intent, apes the tone of awkward coming-of-age (though not as much the isolation) that defines Salinger's most famed work. It is a painfully honest look at teen life. I was reminded of all the humiliating things most of us did during our teens that we try to forget happened when we get older. It's complex, it's relatable, it's about as comfortable as a straightjacket lined with sandpaper.
This time with a teen bookworm who's not quite figured out he's gay, as well as his extended and complicated family life. With the possibility of a divorce on the horizon, a sexually aggressive (female) cousin who feels him up in the first chapter, and an older teen he and said cousin are both developing crushes on... there is character conflict to spare.
If anything, its main drawback is being *too* real. Most people prefer their fiction a little less messy than real life... but that's a matter of taste and has no bearing in a review, save to tell prospective readers what to expect.
And what you can expect is a master's class in character study. Everyone important is established quickly and are dynamic with one another (even if, like Caulfield, the MC is rather aimless), though I think the story makes a mistake or two in taking time to reveal the adults' issues through their own eyes, instead of keeping the story limited to the children's perspectives alone. It ruins the mysteryand kills the potential to speculate alongside the characters since the audience already has the answers. Given how much of the story involves the teens speculating among themselves, it's toxic to an otherwise strong narrative- by the time the important characters discover something, it's long ago been revealed to the readers.
Not to say the adults don't have compelling drama in their own right... but it's such a different situation it might be better to write their story as a seperate parallel novel, or at least to focus on how adults and teens see the world differently. As the story currently stands, it detracts rather than enhances the experience.
It also has some difficulty transitioning from one scene to another, a difficult skill for anyone to master. It's most noticeable with the occasional short scenes that are little more than two or three paragraphs long.
Overall, a half-competent editor is all that's needed to take this to professional quality and beyond... but it does need edits to fix the pacing and trim the unnecessary material that detracts from everything the author gets right. There is a lot to appreciate about this work, and a little polish will make it shine.
That said, it is a very specific type of story which many people won't enjoy, but those that do will adore for its near-unique nature. I predict that like Catcher in the Rye and Donnie Darko before, this one is destined for the 'cult classic' bin.
The first thing to note about this fiction is that it really does not fit the mould for this website. Personally, I'm pleased to see some variation, and hope that Royal Road does expand to become a forum for fictions of all types and genres, but we're not there yet. Partway through the second chapter I was still kind of expecting the MC to get sucked into a game, or get transported to an alternate universe, populated primarily by beautiful, licentious elves...
That's a quick description of what this fiction isn't, now to talk about what it is. It's a charming, descriptive narrative about a young teenager on the cusp of his sexual awakening. A few inter-family sub plots are threaded throughout the novella, but that's the meat and bones of it. The characters, descriptive language and attention to detail all come together to make for a nice, easy-reading, approachable drama.
Style - The slice-of-life genre has been masterfully handled here. The story has a daydreamy quality, befitting of our whimsical protagonist. The language is rich and varied, and the author sets the scene brilliantly time after time. Add to this some believable dialogue and character interactions, and you can say nothing else than that this is a stylistic success.
There are few enough negatives here, although I will highlight the over-use of quotes, and an occasional tendency to over-explain. Milo, the eponymous main character, is merrily chewing his way through A Tale of Two Cities throughout the story, and frequently drops snippets in his asides. These quotes normally have a tenuous link to events unfolding at the time, but not always. When your novella weighs in at 25,000 words, you want to avoid over-use of quotations. As it stands, it's probably about 5-10% of the content.
On a semi-neutral note, there is also a degree of over-explaining. Another reviewer rightfully drew the comparison between this story and a Catcher in the Rye (a comparison that I'm livid they beat me to) and this is partly because of Milo's tangential way of thinking. My issue here is that the over-explaining continues when we are following a different character, which waters down the whole effect. In fact, there's not a huge amount of differentiation between narrative voices, and I personally think this story would be at its most effective if we just followed Milo, and his interpretation of events. More on that in the story section.
Story - Typical of the genre, this novella is not exactly action-packed story wise. There are a couple of sub-plots running alongside the main arc, and really that's all that is required. Any more and the believability would have evaporated, so I applaud Talo Segura for having the guts and the foresight to keep it simple and effective.
However, the plots are not always especially well balanced, with at least one of the sub-plots completely eclipsing the main plot thread for several chapters. Now, this wouldn't be so much of an issue, but the side stories don't actually have a huge bearing on Milo, and I found myself wondering why the story was even named after him. At the stage where I was following different characters through the resolution of entirely different plots, I confess I felt a bit cheated; I'd already invested in Milo, and he was sometimes little more than a footnote.
You might chalk the above up to taste, but one thing I think all readers will agree upon is a pacing issue. Milo's realisation regarding his sexuality is almost immediate, which completely detracts from any later indecision on the matter. It would have been nice if we had a bit more of a 'will he won't he admit it to himself' kind of thing. I would be perfectly happy for this to just be a romance story, but the promise/ominous threat of those 'expectations' in the synopsis gave me a very different impression. Unfortunately, this pacing problem is just the tip of the iceberg, and the real crime is how the entire story, all plot threads, all character arcs, everything, is wrapped up in a hasty sprint at the end. It almost felt like an epilogue, there was so much of an info dump. If I had to guess, I would say this was a competition piece with a limited word count. If not, then an opportunity has most certainly been missed.
Grammar - This is always the most boring part to review, but it's a make or break for some people.
I found the grammar to generally be of a very high standard. I recall seeing a comment on one of the early chapters which lambasted the grammar, but I think that reader was off the mark. The grammatic style is old fashioned, granted, but it is, by and large, accurate. I mean, if you reference Dickens in your work every chapter then we sort of expect a Dickensian style of writing, and that's what we get.
There are a few typos, which we expect from any writing that has not undergone stringent professional editing, and a couple of inconsistencies in sentence structure and dialogue style. Overall, though, the grammar really is pretty decent, and I found the whole thing very readable.
Character - These are real life characters with real life thoughts and concerns. The characters are well presented, act in a consistent manner, and are often relatable. Even the more mercurial characters fit their profiles, and, although their actions may at times be shocking, they operate within the framework set out for them. I have nothing but praise for the characters and their portrayal.
To conclude, if it seems like I'm being overly critical, that's because I am. I enjoyed this piece, and I found myself churning through most of it in one sitting. I was surprised to find that it became quite the page turner, and after a few chapters I was hooked enough to burn the midnight oil and dispense with the my sleep schedule. My main issue is that, being as accomplished as it is, I think there could be more of it. Everything could do with a bit of padding out, and the tension could be maintained for much longer. In short, this is a good novella, but I reckon the author has the capacity to make this a great novel.
Hello, First of all, I only gave you a day so I know the problems I mentioned in the first chapter havent changed so lets get on with the review.
There are way fewer little grammar things that ruin the flow in the later chapters so I think you edited the last chapters a few times more than the beginning otherwise just read it to yourself more. You seem to have a style where you forgo descriptions until the beginning or the end of a few scenes. It's a bit awkward to read since the rest of the chapter just loses that quality of detail but that could just be how you write it.
In regards to the Story, I guess its cute? It's really not my type of story but you tried to pile on a few things at the same time, never really giving the reader time to focus on one thing except their relationship. Milo himself doesn't seem to have any development at all and is just being lead around but that is okay for only 11 chapters. Other characters are just that, characters, plainly passed over while hinting at potential plot points. The ending seems rushed since everything resolves itself in literally two talks.
So we can break it down like this.
You know how to write well, that much is certain, the flow of your chapters are very slow paced so 11 chapters do not give any of the characters justice including Milo. It only felt like some things were happening by chapter 7 or so. You placed all the plot points together and resolved them all together, It could have been better just by using different point of views more during the same day if you really just want it to last 1 summer.
Edit: I say "things" because its simpler for people to understand.