Mar 28 2019

They Called Me Wyatt by @NatashaTynes #WeNeedDiverseBooks #SpecFic #DebutAuthor #BookReview

They Called Me Wyatt  star rating image on the blog of @JLenniDorner
by Natasha Tynes

#WeNeedDiverseBooks #SpecFic #DebutAuthor #BookReview
Author I Haven’t Previously Read, Debut Book, MC returns to hometown Trope, Speculative Fiction book, Diverse book
Expected publication: June 11 2019 by Rare Bird Books

I received an unedited ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. Siwar is a Christian from Jordan. In chapter 10, she identifies as both White and Hispanic. It’s a stand-alone book. It’s speculative fiction because when Siwar dies, her 25-year-old consciousness lands in the body of a newborn boy. The fantasy/ speculative fiction elements are all easy to understand. (Basically, she’s possessing him, but it’s pretty much useless for her until he’s in his twenties.) I do read, and write, speculative fiction, but this book is different from my usual reading choices. There’s a strong mystery element of figuring out who killed her. While that is what the book is about, it’s not the reason to read it. It’s the cultural comparisons, the insight into different lives, that make this book stand out. Readers who are interested in that kind of diversity will enjoy this book the most.

The book definitely holds a mirror up to society. It’s not at all subtle about it, either. The book is a kind of wake-up call to the need for acceptance and betterment. In those moments it became so real, I had to double check it was fiction.

There’s a scene where Siwar remembers playing soccer, and then not being allowed to do so anymore. “So, she chose a judgemental society over my athletic pursuit.” That’s a really powerful scene about how females are treated differently and unfairly.

“His kryptonite is my sword.” That’s a great line I really enjoyed. Another I loved was in chapter 23, “If this was a novel it would have tanked.” I can’t explain it, but that made me laugh.

There are a few racists in the book. One says something that, while painful to read, is all too common among the hate groups. Practically their anthem or manifesto. My strong emotional reaction was a desire to vomit (but Natasha Tynes did it well, so that’s a positive). “You know, eventually, the dominant color skin will be light brown. People will forget. They’ll forget that it was us. Europeans who brought civilization to this world.” 🤮

The Dr. Fisher scene in Chapter 19, I personally feel would have been better as present tense. That way the memories would have been the only flashback/past tense. The mention of having someone grab a person by the crotch is horrifying, heart-breaking, and also an excellent tongue-in-cheek subtle political message (I assume, based on a certain real-life high-power person who brags about committing such an atrocity). It gives the word “pretty” a whole new meaning, a really terrible one.

A line that bothered me, and may trigger others, was “I sound like a f*ck*ng r*t*rd.” There are other times in the book where the main character seems more tolerant.

Professor Stein was my favorite character, even though his part is small. I believe he genuinely wanted to help Siwar and see her succeed. I could identify with him because I’ve known many people who are so close to greatness but haven’t quite reached it yet. He reminds me of several teachers I’ve had. I don’t believe, as the story sometimes indicated, that he was a racist. I think Siwar just wasn’t ready to hear the advice he offered. Paying more attention to language is absolutely crucial for writers.

As further proof, there’s a story in the book called “Tom from Maple Avenue.” It is a fictional story, but it mentions a place called “Ellen Town, Pennsylvania.” I’ve lived in Pennsylvania most of my life, and I’m pretty certain there’s no Ellen Town. There is an Allentown though. I don’t know if the purpose there was to make it more fictional? That story also calls 33 a “rotten age” to be pregnant. I’m not sure how offensive or accurate that might be, so I don’t know how exactly to feel about that. In the story, someone knocks at the basement door. The bizarreness of that is never addressed. The basement door? We’re not going to see a reaction, a mention, to that? Especially given the reason for the knocking. I had an eye-twitch from that because it was so odd, and no one acted like it was, and the story ended without it ever being relevant. Why was it the basement door and not the front door? Or even a back door? Or a window! It never gets addressed.

I didn’t especially care for Wyatt. Even with a woman in his head, he still seems to turn into a misogynist. (Though there is some debate over if his feelings are his own.) “He was drawn. Pulled. Hocked. {sic} He had to have her. To make him {sic} his.” I take issue with the level of possessiveness. It sounds like Wyatt viewed another human as property. (Again, the copy I read was unedited.) Also, he visits a mansion and thinks the land it’s on is an acre, which he considers big. That baffled me considering the setting he grew up in, I would assume he’d think an acre to be small and any residence on it– no matter how opulent or expensive– to not be large enough to qualify as a mansion. Plus, he thinks a one-karot {sic} (carat) diamond is “mammoth.” Again making it seem that he’s from a much poorer background than the book showed. But he also, as an adult, worries that if his mother moves to Europe, he’d have no one nearby to spend the holidays. It doesn’t even dawn on him to spend them alone, to take a vacation or something. Wyatt just didn’t “fit in” with any of the real guys I know who have had similar upbringings and backgrounds. The kicker for me was, despite being an alcoholic, he still gets trashed after only five bottles or glasses of beer.

I thought there would be more in the story about Abu Shakush after he was mentioned. I did not figure out who committed the murder before the reveal, which is odd for me, as I generally am able to guess that when I read mystery books. The book talks about a terrorist group, Al Ghazwa, who I believe is from the fictional future. The group overshadows ISIS (which might be related to Al-Qaeda). The book is also set in the fictional near-future of 2026, where the Republicans have ruled America for ten years.

The character Elias, her first boyfriend, Siwar describes as dumb, short, and overweight. The description of the huge black mole on his left cheek indicates she thought he was ugly. She hates that he doesn’t read much. But because he makes a move and calls her pretty, she just opts to date him. It’s so unempowering that her desire to be wanted outweighed her longing for love, passion, or romance. It lasts for months and she naively thinks he’ll change. And even though he’s clearly using her, she thinks he’s being a gentleman. I wanted to reach through the book and pat her on the head. But the society she’s in is so repressive that she doesn’t even know how ignorant she’s being. Then she doesn’t want to share him, she gets overly possessive. It makes me wonder if that, her influence, is why Wyatt comes off as a misogynist.

I very much like that several of the characters in the book actually read books. That’s one of my favorite activities to see in a novel. The book reminds me of the movie “The Sixth Sense,” if that movie were more diverse and Dr. Malcolm Crowe knew the ‘big twist’ from the beginning and made Cole help him instead of him trying to help Cole.

Adam was the only character who I wasn’t sure what his goals or motivations were. He seemed odd to me for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.

“They Called Me Wyatt” is a tragedy that’s somewhat controversial, at times is chilling, and has some complex parts. The cover with Siwar’s face and the shattering scene as her body falls is interesting. The title makes sense very early on. I think the theme was about living life, appreciating it while it lasts because you never know when it’ll be your last day. Which is interesting considering how much of Wyatt’s life she takes up and uses for her own purpose, so he can’t or doesn’t really live his life, and is often too drunk or zoned out on prescriptions to really appreciate or live. In some ways, he is her obstacle, especially for his first few years. Sometimes Siwar and Wyatt share the role of the protagonist, and sometimes she is his antagonist. The plot, the order the book was told in, at times differed from what I am used to. But some of the settings were really good, with fun details to make the places real.

I did interview Natasha Tynes for the Debut Author Spotlight at the Operation Awesome blog, but we do not know each other beyond that brief exchange.

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