Hi everyone, I hope you’re doing well! I can’t believe it’s the end of March already! Time flies! Today, I’m sadly bringing you my review of one of my most disappointing reads of 2021 so far. This book was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I was so excited to finally read it, but I ended up having to DNF it because of how much it irritated me!
Title: The Key to You and Me
Author: Jaye Robin Brown
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT+, Young Adult
Synopsis: Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving head-on by taking lessons from a girl in town.
Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.
Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?
So far this book is one of my biggest disappointments of 2021, and I’m so sad that I had to DNF it. Bruised follows Daya Wijesinghe who, after her parents’ deaths uses bruises as a form of self harm in order to keep her pain more ‘manageable’ and on the surface. When her friend brings her along to a roller derby bout, Daya is immediately enthralled by the sport. So, she tries out for the local team as it’s the perfect way to find more bruises, but she soon realises that there’s much more to it than just pain.
When I had just come out I watched Whip It with Eliott Page and absolutely fell in love, so of course I was drawn to this sapphic contemporary novel that revolves around (pun not intended!) roller derby. But sadly, I felt really let down by it. It wasn’t all bad, though, and I kept reading until I really couldn’t face reading any more, so I’ll start this review with the good parts of the book! One of the main things I loved about this book was the representation. Our main character, Daya, is Sri Lankan-Canadian and sapphic, and there are Chinese-American side characters, nonbinary side characters, and Deaf side characters (and most of the other characters are queer and/or people of colour!). I also thought that the discussion of physical strength vs. kindness and mental strength to be well developed and a really great addition to the book. Of course, my favourite thing about the book was the roller derby. I really love that it is acknowledged that every body of every shape and size is important to the sport – this is much like the case in rugby, the sport I play, where everybody is welcome and everybody has a point to play. This inclusivity is something that I feel is sorely lacking in a lot of contemporary and romance novels that feature sport, so I was so happy to see it here. There were a couple of side characters I really enjoyed, too, such as Daya’s friend Fee and their girlfriend, and the two elderly lesbian ex-derby players and their friends!
Now, onto what I sadly didn’t like. The first may be just a ‘me problem’ but I didn’t like how self harm was handled in this book. I don’t know if maybe I just didn’t glean it from my reading of the synopsis, but I didn’t realise that it was going to play a part in the book at all, and as someone who finds mention of self harm (and description of it, in the case of this book), I would really have preferred that there be a trigger warning somewhere in the book. My understanding of the synopsis was that our main character was using a rather physical sport, in particular roller derby, in order to get her frustrations and pain out, not using it as a way to self harm, that is why I say that it may just be that I didn’t understand and comprehend the synopsis correctly, so take that part with a pinch of salt. But adding onto that, I didn’t feel that the self harm was handled all that sensitively. Again, this may have been addressed later in the book, and there are quite a few reviews of people saying that they enjoyed this representation, so I encourage you to read other reviews if you’re interested in this book because, again, this may just be a ‘me problem’. Throughout the book I couldn’t help but feel that the self harm was never shown as being a harmful coping mechanism, and it almost felt (and I hate to say it) glorified.
But as I think that my dislike of that is a personal point, and definitely not something that other readers have found, what I really want to focus on in this review is what was my breaking point – the main character. I could not stand Daya! I understood that she had gone through some shit, losing both of her parents in a car crash that she survived, but after a while I just couldn’t look past her attitude and everything she did was selfish and judgemental. Right at the start of the book she is very ‘I’m not like those other girls’. She befriends, and flirts a little with, the team manager of the local derby team (Shanti), and she (very kindly) invites her along into the ringside seats. Whilst there they get to chatting and Daya finds out that Shanti’s sister (Kat) is one of the stars of the team. Daya, impressed by her skill and strength starts gushing over Kat and how amazing she is, and Shanti is hurt by this. It is obvious that in this situation Shanti feels like she is always overshadowed by her sister, and she politely excuses herself to carry on with her team manager duties instead of flirting with Daya who is practically a stranger to her. Daya then thinks “This is why I don’t hang out with chicks. So damn sensitive”. Like, are you kidding me??
Fast forward and Daya is learning how to roller skate for the tryouts – she ice skates and skateboards so she has a bit of an idea but wants to really make a good impression. So, she manages to open up to Fee and ask for their help, which was really brave of her. But, Daya takes this opportunity to ask Fee to rough her up a bit while she’s on the skates, so that she gets used to it. When Fee tells her that they will only help her with this if she wears her protective gear (helmet, knee pads, etc.) Daya immediately gets defensive and angry and we get the line “Jesus. So Pushy. Fee was lucky I needed their help on this so badly”. This ungratefulness continues into her relationship with her aunt and uncle who took her in after her parents’ death, and it’s not even just a case of her grieving and being closed off about her feelings and her pain, it’s just her being mean and ungrateful.
But what was the last straw for me was the tryouts. Actually, even before then, when she meets Kat and asks when tryouts are there’s one of those ridiculous scenes that sounds like it came out of those ‘and everybody clapped’ Tumblr text posts – it made me cringe so bad, but it wasn’t anything awful and I could easily look past it. But Daya’s attitude at the tryouts was so horrible, especially since the other people trying out would potentially be on her team in the future. The tryouts start with a speed test, and Daya isn’t the fastest, but she also isn’t the slowest, though this isn’t a huge problem as there’s much more to the sport than that. Following the test, all the hopefuls are sat down and they’re asked how many of them would like to play the position of jammer. Some of the girls sitting there are confused, and are obviously newbies to the sport, but Daya just sits there thinking ‘Jesus, at least do your homework, I thought, with a little smugness’, as if she also knew absolutely nothing about the sport like a week ago. Then, in the more physical bit of tryouts, Daya is partnered up with a girl called Gwen, who Daya immediately pegs as being rude and unfriendly (pot, kettle much?). The two have to push against each other to test their stance and maintain their ground, but Gwen is much stronger than she looks, so Daya has to put in more effort. At one point Gwen moves back a little and Daya falls (not injuring herself, FYI), but no one else notices. Daya is fuming at this and at their next attempt Daya uses all her strength to (almost purposely) injure Gwen. Gwen “hit[s] the deck like a sack of bones (which she kind of was), with her helmet knocking the ground and her face twisting in pain” (that’s I direct quote, by the way. When she is confronted about it by members of the team she acts superior to Gwen, saying that if someone’s pissing you off you have to deal with it. When she’s told that it’s not okay and to take a minute outside, she immediately starts playing the victim, yet when Shanti comes to talk to her, she tells Daya that it’s pretty much guaranteed that she’ll make the team.
After that chapter I just couldn’t continue any more I was that annoyed with Daya! This may just be a personal issue, so if it doesn’t seem like something that would make your reading experience less than great, I fully encourage you to pick this book up!