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If You Look For Perfection, You’ll Never Be Content

Kathryn Ormsbee’s Tash Hearts Tolstoy examines asexualism through adaptation.

If You Look For Perfection, You’ll Never Be Content

BOOK REPORT for Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

Cover Story: *Scowl*
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Realistic
Bonus Factors: Puts the A in LGBTQIA, Literary Webseries
Anti-Bonus Factor: Jerks
Relationship Status: Better For Knowing You

Cover Story: *Scowl*

The main character of Tash Hearts Tolstoy has a large poster of Leo Tolstoy—her literary boyfriend—hanging on her bedroom wall. She talks to said poster, but he rarely replies, other than to scowl at her. This cover, although it features a much older Tolstoy*, portrays well the idea of a teenage crush on the author.

*In case you’re curious, this is Tolstoy at 20.

The Deal:

Natasha “Tash” Zelenka loves Leo Tolstoy. So much so that she and her best friend Jack decided to create a webseries adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina called Unhappy Families. Although the girls are super proud of their work, the production isn’t seeing a lot of traffic—until a famous YouTuber gives the series a shout out on her own channel. Soon, Tash and Jack can barely keep up with the growing fanbase, and they’re forced to deal with all that comes with “fame,” lovers and haters, both.

One perk of the sudden rise in popularity is a personal connection to another YouTube star, Thom, whom Tash quickly develops a crush on, and who seems to return the feelings. When Unhappy Families is nominated for an award, Tash is excited to attend the ceremony, where she’ll finally get to meet Thom in person, but she’s also nervous what her somewhat recent discovery about her sexuality—she’s romantic asexual—might mean for said meeting, and any sort of relationship the two might have.

BFF Charm: Maybe

Tash is a dedicated, driven individual, which I admire. So much of her free time goes into the creation of Unhappy Families, and she’s a perfectionist when it comes to the production. She’s somewhat single-minded at times, which can be good for a director, but doesn’t make for the best of friends. She’s almost too focused on the webseries, which causes her to miss cues when things that are going on with her friends and family. She tends to blame others for issues, and can be super defensive when things aren’t going her way.

That said, this is all quite normal for a teenager. Tash recognizes these faults in herself, and makes efforts to be a better person. The fact that she sees the things she can work on, and tries to be better, is super admirable. I also totally appreciate her crush on a somewhat unexpected figure; I, myself, have a massive crush on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and have a picture of him up in my cubicle that I’ve had (and displayed) since college.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Although Tash is asexual, that doesn’t mean that she can’t have crushes on guys or enjoy flirting with them. There’s a sweet amount of romantic tension in Tash’s text conversations with Thom.

Talky Talk: Realistic

Tash Hearts Tolstoy is a unique book. On the outside, it might not seem like it—it’s a story about a young woman who’s figuring herself and her place in the world out, which is pretty standard YA fare. But Kathryn Ormsbee’s inclusion of an ace character, and the fact that said character isn’t without some serious flaws, makes the book feel real, and nothing like the “issues” books of old. Unhappy Families’ rise to fame also seems believable; videos go viral every day, and it’s no longer out of the realm of possibility for teenagers to create some really impressive and professional content.

There is a slight lack of cohesiveness between the main plot and the many secondary ones; certain threads are introduced, but then never fleshed out, and it felt a little forced for the Unhappy Families thread to be as important in Tash’s sexual identity discovery as it was. However, these complaints are minor, and on the whole Ormsbee meshes a lot of seemingly disparate ideas together well.

Bonus Factor: Puts the A in LGBTQIA

I love that Ormsbee gave Tash a sexual identity that isn’t spoken or written about with much frequency. It took me a little while to understand what Tash felt, in part because she was still figuring it out herself, but I feel like I have a better understanding of asexuality thanks to reading this book. (Thought I completely understand that Tash’s experience and identity isn’t indicative of all ace people.) It’s so important for books, particularly in the YA genre, to feature LGBTQIA characters, both for readers who want to open their minds and readers who deserve to see themselves in the stories that they’re reading.

(If you’re interested, here’s an article in which Ormsbee talks about writing an ace character.)

Bonus Factor: Literary Webseries

I’m a huge fan of clever adaptations of literary classics, such as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, so I’m so here for the idea of Unhappy Families. Ormsbee herself worked on a literary webseries based on some of Shakespeare’s plays (which you can watch here), so she’s no stranger to the world.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Jerks

No spoilers, but someone in Tash’s life turns out to have a face that I’d like to punch.

Casting Call:

Liv Hewson as Tash

Relationship Status: Better For Knowing You

I had a great time with you, Book, and came out of our date feeling better educated on a sexual identity that was previously unfamiliar to me. I love learning new things, and opening my mind to situations that are different than mine, so I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Tash Hearts Tolstoy is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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