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Jacob, I’ll Always Let You Have the Last Strawberry Wafer

A review of the starkly beautiful and darkly compelling The Patterns of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone.

Jacob, I’ll Always Let You Have the Last Strawberry Wafer

BOOK REPORT for The Patterns of Paper Monsters by Emma Rathbone

BFF Charm: I'd Try, But He Wouldn't Take It.
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Straight Up Raw with a Splash of Beauty
Bonus Factors: Mysterious Loner Dude, Murderer Convention, Adult Cover
Relationship Status: Strangers Brought Together By Saturday Detention

The Deal:

I'll be the first to admit that, when it comes to YA, I am all about the romanticization of bad boys. A mysterious loner with a checkered past? A misunderstood criminal straight outta juvie? I will GLADLY volunteer to contribute my time, energy, and sweet sweet lovin' to their inevitable rehabilitation. But when I met Jacob Higgins, I realized that he was not yr average leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding heartthrob. Far from it, actually. And that is exactly why I fell so hard for his story.

See, Jacob's locked up in the Braddock County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), where teenage souls go to die a slow, banal death. His daily existence is a dreary blur of meaningless routines, patronizing piles of rules and, the worst part, totally gross cafeteria food (seriously, isn't that punishment enough?!). Jacob spends most of his time trying to stay warm and zone out under the freezing florescents, his silent haze interrupted occasionally by minute flickers of happiness-- the strawberry wafers at the snack table, fleeting glances from Andrea, a new girl on the (cell) block. His only goal is to get out of this monotonous hellhole as soon as possible, even though the real life waiting for him outside promises only an alcoholic mother and a violent stepfather. While Jacob successfully avoids entanglements with Lane, his mediocre therapist, and Pastor Todd, the overeager J.C. lover, he unwillingly befriends David, a creepyass mothercusser who may prove to be the the downfall, not only of the JDC, but of Jacob's hope for redemption.

BFF Charm: I'd Try, But He Wouldn't Take It

Oh JACOB, you break my heart. You're so lost and listless, buried under years of delinquency and abuse, exhausted by the simple idea of living. And yet, in spite of yr suffocating situation, you maintain a charming (yet understandably cynical) sense of humor. Take, for instance, yr description of Pastor Todd:

At the center of this campaign is a sneakers-wearing self-proclaimed "code-red procrastinator" who also goes by the name of Pastor Todd, and who has his very own office here, right next to the rec room. When Pastor Todd is not apprising me of the fact that "Jesus was so badass he once knocked over a table," or attempting to high five me in the hallway, he is trying to get me to come to the Bible study classes, which, I would rather eat a mug of ice cream with a bunch of hair in it.

Gah, I wish we were real friends so you could complain to me in person and then we could share a spectacular eye roll in honor of the lame awfulness that is the JDC. Of course, you're incredibly private, so you'd probably never open up to me, esp. given the fact that we have basically no common ground upon which to connect. Instead I'll just live vicariously through yr growing relationship with Andrea, a girl lucky enough to glimpse the potential you go to such great lengths to hide.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Since the JDC is separated by sex, Jacob and Andrea only see each other a few times, and even then, they basically have to steal their intimacy under the watchful eyes of the guards. Of course, this lack of contact only serves to make their connection deeper, their ethereal moments together more intense. Far from yr typical forbidden prison romance (wait, is there a typical forbidden prison romance?), Jacob and Andrea's relationship is a delicate dance of awkward pauses and unspoken questions, a waltz of both insignificant and devastating steps.

Talky Talk: Straight Up Raw with a Splash of Beauty

Can people PLEASE stop writing such amazing first books so I can maintain some semblance of self-esteem?!! GAH EMMA RATHBONE WHY ARE YOU SO TALENTED?!!!!

Seriously, this book is a literary doozy. Not only is Jacob's stark narration completely authentic, it's guaranteed to pierce straight through yr heart. I feel like Rathbone assembled an army of words, and then masterfully executed the perfect strategy to SLAY YOU WITH THEM. Her power lies in her ability to maintain the deadened fog of Jacob's world while punctuating it with short bursts of vibrant description. For example:

If there was ever a time when I might have actually engaged with Lane, that time was over. I feel like the dead letter in a flickering sign.

Or what about Jacob's one line summation of his well-meaning and super preppy "big brother," Jim:

He looks like someone you would see trying to straighten out a picnic blanket.

After I read that sentence, I had to stop for a minute to celebrate just how amazing it was. This is the kind of book where that happens A LOT.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude

I think it's pretty rare for the mysterious loner dude to actually be the narrator, and that's one of the reasons why this story is so fascinating. Finally, we get to see INSIDE THE MIND of an enigmatic, totally-hot-by-way-of-a-tortured-past boy, and ladies, JACOB DOES NOT DISAPPOINT.

Bonus Factor: Murderer Convention

So I don't want to spoil this by explaining it, but just know that it's a product of Jacob's mind rather than an actual meeting a la the whole serial killer convention in Sandman. I found this idea to be one of the most powerful and surprisingly moving scenes in the book, and considering that the entire novel is one big clustercuss of compelling, that's saying mucho.

Bonus Factor: Adult Cover

Y'all this cover goes to the bank like a mothercussing ADULT!!!! In fact, it's the exact opposite of DNRIP. You can read this book in public with PRIDE, causing casual observers to assume you're extremely intelligent and exceptionally edgy. Which you ARE. Of COURSE.

Casting Call:

Nicholas Hoult as Jacob

I think Nicholas can handle the tough yet withdrawn exterior of Jacob while letting little pieces of his humor and emotional depth shine through.

Relationship Status: Strangers Brought Together By Saturday Detention

When this book first sauntered into the library, I assumed it was just yr average burnout, a loser delinquent. We had absolutely nothing in common, and the best I could hope for was an entertaining story about what it did to land in detention this time around. What I got, instead, was a totally mind-altering encounter with an amazing, beautiful, completely effed up individual. We both knew that, once we left the library, our separate worlds would never merge, but I gave it one of my diamond studs so that it would know how much it mattered to me, so that it would never forget that it is, in fact, extraordinary.

FTC Full Disclosure: My review copy was a free book I received from Little, Brown & Co. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). The Patterns of Paper Monsters is available now.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).