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Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

This review has been a hard one for me to sit down and write. Crewel was one of my most anticipated books of this year (I mean, hello, buzzwords!), and I was all ready to be impressed and count it among my favorites. But sadly, it ended up being one of my biggest letdowns...

Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Amazon | Goodreads
Dystopia/Sci-fi, 368 pages
Published October 16th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Incapable. Awkward. Artless.

That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: she wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen as a Spinster is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to embroider the very fabric of life. But if controlling what people eat, where they live and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and wove a moment at testing, and they’re coming for her—tonight.

Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her Dad’s stupid jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because once you become a Spinster, there’s no turning back.

Crewel lured me in almost immediately - the intro was strong and compelling, Adelice's  predicament in trying to hide her talent, and all of the chaos and confusion of the beginning chapters were really effective and interesting. The world that was set up had all of the building blocks for something cool and memorable (though I sometimes had to fight through Albin's occasionally muddled writing to see those building blocks), and Adelice's voice was engaging - basically, the elements were there, and I was ready to love the story.

But then it just kind of fell apart. Albin sets up a world that is very repressive, with very strict rules on pretty much everything, most especially gender roles and norms. There is strict gender segregation in nearly every aspect of life (especially for the young), a limited amount of jobs women can are allowed to perform, and ways in which they are expected to look while performing those jobs. Flirtation and gender-mingling is pretty much non-existent, and talk of sex and sex-related things is, understandably, taboo.  This is the world Adelice has known, so when she's thrust into the world of the Spinsters (which is still really regimented and gender-segregated), and suddenly finds herself moving about in the world of lecherous, creepy Powerful Men, she's pretty shaken. This could have been really, really cool (and sometimes was); it had a Mad Men-esque vibe that made my skin crawl, and I really liked seeing the juxtaposition of naive-in-the-ways-of-the-world Adelice (and all of the other young Spinsters and Spinster-wannabes) with the really, supreme ickiness that men brought into this world. It was reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale (which I love), and it was an element I wasn't expecting, so I was excited.
(Again, there's that but.)

But when these two worlds collided, the characters and the rules became really inconsistent. There was a lot of slang (like, our slang, not slang of the Crewel-world), and attitudes toward sex/boys/attraction that just didn't gel with the world that had been set up. It was really hard to believe that all of these girls who had been raised with strict gender segregation and hardcore rules about sex would suddenly speak very freely about sex and teh hawties, that they'd be borderline predatory - and catty, and jealous, and vapid, and a million other things that just didn't suit - and that nobody would bat an eye. I suddenly found I didn't buy the characters or how they fit into their world - who they are and how they interact, relative to the world, caused a huge disconnect, the world was weakened, and I felt cheated. Things just didn't work with the world as it was set up. They could have* - it would have only taken minor tweaks - but instead things were contradictory and discordant, and they kept shaking me out of my WSOD. I felt deprived of what could have been a really interesting world - but a world very different from our own with characters like us superimposed on it just doesn't work. It feels phony and almost lazy.

Also - this had a serious case of the Typical YA Romance blahs. A touch of romance potential (a lingering look, a fastly-beating heart, a burgeoning curiosity**) to be built up over the length of the series, pitted against the icky aspects of Mad Men-style sexualization would have been much more interesting and believable. Instead, it was all Insta-Love-Triangles™ all over the place, and again, I felt cheated of the build-up and the potential power. Add to this all the jealousies and plots and it all became a little too soap opera for me. It did have some interesting dynamics I'd like to see explored more, but I want to see them explored as I think characters from this world would explore them, and not characters from our world. If you're going to tackle sexualization, sexual intimidation, homosexuality, gender roles, etc., please, Ms. Albin, do it as these characters from this world with this set of experiences would do. That has the potential to be so much more fascinating and powerful and memorable than Crewel as it is now, which unfortunately faded pretty quickly from my mind.

Essentially, I was looking for impact, but I got write-by-numbers - stock characters, lack of believability, and everything built on a foundation of sand. But maybe it wouldn't be such a letdown if I didn't see potential. Then, I could just write it off and be done with it. But the fact that it sort of actively disappointed me means that I saw where it could have been incredible (especially after that strong beginning), and it was so close, that I was left feeling cheated - but also hopeful that the series can somehow get back on track and leave me feeling more fulfilled than this book did. I guess only time will tell.

If you're curious, you can read chapters 1-5 here for free.

*A case can be made that the girls - even in their gender-segregated lives - were raised to be this way. And I would buy that - if it had been shown. There are touches (like girls growing up knowing that they can be only a handful of things, or like the girlish fantasy of being a Glamorous Spinster) that would begin to make a case for...hmm, indoctrination, I guess? into this type of role/behavior. But more was needed if that's the way this story was going to go.

**But good god, nothing so purple-prosey as that. =P


  1. The synopsis sounded amazing, but I can tell that I would be bothered by the same things as you. That is too bad. I only just found out about this book in the last week. I suppose I might take it out of the library, but I have too much going on right now. I appreciate your honest reviews, Misty.

  2. Yep....I have a feeling this book will disappoint me.

  3. It's really nice to see someone else who had problems with this book- my review is pretty scathing too and I think it was partly due to how cheated and disappointed I felt after all the hype. IT LETTED ME DOWN. For me, Adelice was such a spoilt brat and the love interests were so icky. I was expecting a 'Shadow and Bone' style turnaround with one of the love interests...that it was all an act and he was evil the whole time. I was quite appalled when he wasn't.

  4. Haha, it letted me down too, Anna. I was bummed about that, I was really looking forward to it and there WAS so much potential, so many places it could have turned around, and it just... didn't. =(

    Crystal, I'd say the library would be a good call (but then, there are people who absolutely loved this, so...). And thanks! I hate to write a really negative review, and I'd hate for an author to stumble across it and be all sad panda as a result, but I'm never NOT going to be honest.

    Reading Wolf - I'd suggest you take Crystal's route and get it from the library... (if at all)

  5. I'm sorry this was such a disappointment for you, but I'm so glad you did write the review, because you are one of the only people who had a similar reaction to this book I did. Most of my friends rated it five stars and I was like 'did I read something different?' I really don't know how they weren't bothered by the love triangle, which was one of the most obnoxious I've encountered, even before the twist at the end where you discover they're freaking brothers. Pardon me while I hurl.

    There were some good things, but mostly I didn't like it at all.

  6. Ugh. I figured out the brother thing really early on, and just spent the book dreading how/when it would be revealed. And you're right, it is one of the worst triangles I've ever encountered, though I don't even know if it can be called a triangle... there are a lot of icky sides in that love-shape.

  7. Adelice really bothered me in this book. I agree that some of the slang that was used in the book just didn't fit with the overall world. Not the best dystopian, but I don't think it's the worst. I don't think I was as let down overall as you were though.


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