Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson || Review + Rant [CC]

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson || Review + Rant [CC]

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Hello everybody, my name is Cara, and
today I’m here with my spoiler free review, and possibly a rant, for Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson. *text on screen* I just had a lot of feelings and things
I needed to talk about with this book and I haven’t even filmed my wrap-up yet
and I just know that *laughs* I have a lot of things to say and I didn’t want to try
and fit that all into a wrap-up video, so here we go!
Technically, You Started It is a contemporary novel that is told entirely
in text messages between two characters. One of the main characters is Hayley and
one day she gets a text from a boy in her class named Martin and there’s two
boys in her class who have the exact same name and she assumes that she knows
which one it is, and she answers back assuming it’s this
other person and they start messaging back and forth and this develops into a
friendship but the problem is that Haley doesn’t actually know which
Martin she’s talking to – she thinks she does, and Martin doesn’t know that she
doesn’t know who he is. Because one of the Martins in her class is somebody
that she actually hates and so everything kind of develops from there.
This is not a book that I think everybody is going to hate; I’m actually
kind of surprised that I disliked it as much as I did because I had heard
some kind of like *ehh noise* like not great reviews for it, but I thought that if I didn’t
like it it would just be kind of one of those like mediocre, like ‘it was fine but
I’m never gonna think about it again’ books and I actually really really
disliked this book. So starting off with the writing and general formatting stuff
of this book: right off the bat this book made a really interesting choice because
for the first chunk, like 90% of their interactions and humor and banter came
from like incredibly specific references to an AP US history class, and I don’t
know about y’all but it’s been a few years since I was in AP US history!
It just seemed odd to me that so much of the humor would be based on a very
particular thing like this? Obviously if you’re at all familiar with United
States history, like you’re gonna pick up on some of it
or maybe even a lot of it, but a lot of their like specific references were for
things where it’s like I don’t know if somebody who’s not currently in an AP US
history class would understand this, and there were quite a few references like
that, so I think that was kind of distancing right from the beginning. And
then the text messages themselves, like the writing of this book I think was
incredibly stilted, and it wasn’t just like ‘oh, no teenager would text like this’;
like I don’t think any *person* would text like this. Like just some of the way that
things were…like were written, like especially with Haley, and it’s like okay,
we’re supposed to think that she’s this person who’s very like precise, like she
always uses complete sentences in text messages, and like, that’s fine, I
understand that. But the thing that was really weird
is the way this was written. It’s like nobody would format a text message like
that, like the way she would insert pauses or things like that, it’s
like that’s how somebody would do it if they were speaking to you? like nobody
would put that in a written format basically, and it just got incredibly
distracting because it happened a lot. And when that’s the entire book, like the
whole book is told in text messages like that, it made it really really hard to
enjoy the writing. And then possibly the most frustrating thing about the writing
or the format is that it made this story so so confusing,
which is kind of amazing because there’s really not a lot happening. Like the plot
is basically these two characters getting to know each other and a little
bit about other relationships that they have, like friendships and like family
drama and stuff like that, so there’s not a lot–like there’s not a huge cast,
there’s not like a really complex plot or anything, and it was still impossible
to follow what was going on sometimes. Like Haley has a few different friends
and like till the end of the book I probably could not tell you which one was
which! like maybe one of them I could describe to you. And okay, um, like these
two characters are texting each other, obviously they know each other, it’s not
like they’re gonna stop and introduce all these people that they already know,
like that would feel very unnatural and clearly just be for the benefit of the
reader. But I think the author should maybe have done something to kind of
catch us up on what was happening, because you’re just thrown into the
middle of all of these relationships and you’re hearing important character stuff
like pages and pages and pages before you know who these people are, so that by
the time you do figure out who this person is, I feel like you’ve already
forgotten a lot of the stuff you were supposed to know about them. And then
another big plot thing I didn’t like is this whole secret or like identity
misunderstanding, the pacing of that and the reveal was so long and frustrating.
Like you know how usually when there’s this kind of mistaken identity plotline
there’ll be like that classic like, almost- reveal moment? The character’s like ‘oh I
have to tell you something!’ and then they never do? That happened like four times
in this book, and I hated it. Like this book could have been so much shorter
than it was; I don’t remember how long it was ’cause I got it from the library but
this book could have been cut a lot if we just took out all of the unnecessary
like false starts with the identity thing. I also want to mention that
Haley’s supposed to be like an incredibly brilliant person, and I
understand that doesn’t mean that you’re gonna–like you’re gonna know
everything right away, but there were so many times where like all
of the clues were there and she just like, did not understand what was
happening. Like it didn’t even feel like she was in denial about it, it was like
she really couldn’t put the pieces together even when it was
extraordinarily obvious. And then moving on to the characters, um, there are a
couple of things that I did like with them *laughs* and I want to mention those
first. Martin himself, like the other main character, I actually really liked
him. I found him really funny and charming and like, just like a nice
person. Like it was really interesting getting to know him and kind of his
family situation and how that has affected him; like he just seems like a very
nice person that I would like want to be friends with so that was nice. I mean by
the end I was getting kind of frustrated with him because again of that whole
like identity reveal thing. And then another character positive is there is
some good representation in this book. Martin is bisexual and is stated on page,
and Haley is I believe demiromantic? um, I don’t remember if she uses the word demiromantic or demisexual but that is also explicitly stated on page, and she
also has anxiety. And I feel like the anxiety rep seemed to be done pretty
well, so those right there were really nice to see, but there were a lot more
things about the characters that I really really didn’t like. It is so hard
when you have a format like this, like you know the mistaken identity and
characters only interacting in a very specific way [in this case text messages], it’s really really hard to have character development or relationship development. Like I
understand that, but there are books who get it right. If you guys are interested
in one that I feel does get it right, Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
is a fantastic example of how you can have a like mysterious or mistaken
identity type thing where the characters still feel like they get to know each
other believably in person and then through whatever form of messaging they
are communicating through, but with this book I don’t feel like any of that
happened, because you set up a situation where the characters don’t know who
they’re talking to and so then if they ever do find out who they’re talking to,
it’s like we’re supposed to believe that they can just transfer all of their
emotional attachment to somebody who they thought was a completely different
person, and then put that on this completely other person, and I just don’t
find that believable, especially given the fact that Haley over and over and
over talks about how much she hates this other Martin guy, and so like given how
much she hates him and how much she hates their in-person interactions,
it is so unbelievable to me that she would be able to just completely
transfer her feelings from one person to another:
I just didn’t buy it. And speaking of Haley, uh, I think she was my least
favorite part of this book. I did mention that I think the anxiety rep was
done well and there were some things about her life and her personality that
I found very relatable and very…I guess well portrayed or very understandable,
like her loyalty in friendships I thought was very believable and in some
cases very admirable, and then also the way her anxiety affected the way she
interacted with people: like the fact that she was constantly seeking reassurance or
she needed to be told over and over that she mattered to people or that she was
important, like I understand that, I have been through that, I think a lot of us
have been through some semblance of that, so I–so that was fine…
but as a person? She is awful. Like I just really really didn’t like her. Like she
was one of those classic like ‘not like other girls’ / ‘I’m the only nerd
girl in the world’, and I hated it. Do you guys want to know why Haley is not like
other girls? She’s nerdy, um, she listens to podcasts,
she reads articles, which you know clearly no other girl has ever done, she
chose to do an essay question on Richard Nixon which no one else in the class did,
and she also thinks she’s too good for the Eiffel Tower. *laughs* Like those are all real
examples of why Haley is supposed to be such an interesting and unique main
character! and I just found it so irritating, and even like the ‘not like
other girls thing aside’, even though I really hate that, if we set that aside
for a moment: for somebody who is supposed to be so intelligent and
knowledgeable, she is one of the most judgmental and ignorant characters I
have ever read about. And she’s basically never called on it, except in like a
really casual kind of joking way, and it happened a lot throughout the book. For
example Martin mentions that he goes to church: she automatically assumes that he
is a creationist and he has to correct her about that. She also seems to think
that if she can’t tell from looking at somebody what is going on with their
life, then they must have no problems. Like she can be the only person in the
world who has real problems! And then also going back to the not like other
girls thing: she automatically judges every single girl who does not think and
act and look exactly like her. Like if you–if you have different things that are important to you, then [as far as] Haley [is concerned] you’re out of luck, she doesn’t think you’re a
good person. There’s also this
side character named Jack who kind of got a redemption arc near the end, and…I
didn’t want it? um, he like threatened Hayley and he repeatedly called her
stupid and he just seems like he would be an awful boyfriend, or friend, or just
acquaintance! And I kind of hated that we’re supposed to feel like ‘oh well she
was mean to him! like she’s really the one in the wrong here.’ Like I don’t like
Hayley, but the way[s] that Jack talked to her or about her or interacted with her
were awful. And then finally, I sort of touched on this a little bit with the
character stuff, but the relationship between Hayley and Martin was I think
really unconvincingly developed, and it was also extremely unequal and actually
very unpleasant to read about. Like over and over Hayley makes fun of the things
that are important to him; never takes his problems seriously, and in fact tells
him over and over that he doesn’t have any problems, even though he is clearly
going through a really hard time at home. I mean he tries to deal with it in a kind of a
humorous way and I acknowledge that he is very privileged, he–*he* acknowledges
that too, that he is very lucky to have a very wealthy family and all of that, but
the things that he is talking about are still real things that he is going
through, and Hayley does not accept that. And also Hayley hates on him to his face!
or I guess, you know, through text messages. And she doesn’t actually know
that she is talking about him because there’s–again there’s the whole Martin
confusion thing, she thinks she’s talking to the other one when she’s talking
about how awful his cousin is and she’s actually talking about how awful he is,
and I understand that she didn’t know that, but the fact that this happened so
many times makes their relationship even less believable. Because like how could–
like how could somebody hear someone talk about how much they hate them over
and over – because she does interact with him in person, thinking that he is a
different person – like how can someone hear that and still be okay with that?!
like still be okay being their friend or being interested in them in any way? Like
I just, I didn’t like that. Whereas Martin on the other hand, he is an incredibly
emotionally supportive person; he’s always ready to talk to Hayley and to
make sure she’s okay; he makes the effort to share her interests, like obviously in
person she doesn’t know that it’s him doing it but even over their text
messages he asks about the things that she’s interested in, like if he doesn’t
understand something or if he wants to know more about it, he makes the effort
to care about it because she cares about it. Hayley never does that with anything
that Martin likes or cares about or is interested in, and in fact she usually
makes fun of those things TO him. I just, I didn’t think it was cute. I gave Technically, You Started It 1.5 stars. Again, kind of surprised I
hated this so much?! *laughs* I’ve seen other reviews from people who thought this was
really cute but clearly it just was not for me. Let me know if you guys have read
this book what you thought of it or if you will be picking it up. I would be
very interested to hear what you think of it afterwards, because I mean clearly
there are a lot of people who loved it and it just didn’t work for me. Thank you
guys so much for watching, I will see you soon with another video, and I hope you love
the next book you read. Bye!

10 thoughts on “Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson || Review + Rant [CC]”

  1. I just read this book, too, and I definitely thought it was one of those "It was ok but I'll never think about it again" books, but I actually really agree with a lot of what you're saying, too.
    I totally get your whole thing about the references to US History, because not only are they so specific to that class assignment, they're actually pretty obscure. One thing I was amused by is the reference to G Gordon Liddy, because even my highschool US history class had no idea who he was. I was directing a play as part of drama class, that made a reference to him, and I kept wondering who on earth that was, so I asked my Government teacher, and she said he was one of the guys who broke into Watergate, but she still couldn't help me with why he was referenced in a play about a guy accidentally burning himself on a candle. It wasn't until we watched that one movie about Woodward and Bernstein that I figured it out, and even then, it was only briefly referenced to on screen. So yeah, not something the typical student would know, let alone anyone who has been out of school for awhile, lives in another country, or hasn't taken US History.
    What I also thought was weird was that Hayley's parents are "old school nerds" who use terms like "noob" and "pwned" that "no one" uses anymore, but by that logic, they'd only be around my age, not old enough to have a 17-year-old.
    And I also agree about the mistaken identity being drawn out too much but also resolved too quickly at the same time, since she had been telling him she hated him not knowing who she was talking about. You'd have thought she'd have felt a lot more awkward about that.

  2. This was that mediocre book for me. I enjoyed it fine, but nothing special. The text message formatting probably didn’t bother me because I listened to the audiobook, and with two narrators, it just felt like a verbal conversation.
    I agree the character development wasn’t there. I said in my review the same thing that other letter writing books (like Letters to the Lost) do it better because we get that in person interaction.
    This one I didn’t feel as strongly as you, but I’m sure I will have completely forgotten it in a couple months.

  3. I'm ready for this and I kind of needed to watch something like this today haha.
    That format can be such a difficult thing to do.
    Also I love your shirt! It's so cute!
    Oh that's interesting! I feel like I've only heard good things about this book.
    I was never in APUSH, but probably would've been ok with the references if they were historically based?
    I'm kind of interested to see an example of the way she wrote the messages.
    Is that Petey I hear in the background again? Hi Petey!
    It's nice to hear that there seemed to be decent rep, but a book is more than representation I think.
    You're really making me want to consider reading Letters to the Lost!
    Sigh I'm so tired of the "not like other girls" "nerdy girls" tropes.

    No. No. Nope. Don't just look at people and think you know them! What is that?!
    This book doesn't sound like a good time at all…
    Ok I'm sold on not reading it.
    Great review Cara.

  4. I’m ready for the rant!! 💜💜 those AP history references huh!! That’s so interesting how it hard to follow .. letters to the lost is amazing!! 💜💜 awe yes I too am too good for the Eiffel Tower. I’m too sensitive for people to talk about the things they hate about me.

    Also is that a community poster in the background??

  5. I felt super meh about this book when I read it this summer, with a bit of joy when I saw bisexual and demisexual written out on page which boosted it for me, but just because of the formatting it was really slow. We got info about events after the fact and it was all tell, no show. And you're right about the texting not reading the way young people/teens would text, which did take away from the suspension of disbelief.
    And it was weird to me that Martin hung out irl with a girl who HE KNEW hated him without telling her "hey uh… mistaken identity friendo". And Hailey is freaking annoying…
    Wow. Maybe the on page demi and bi rep boosted my rating A LOT more than I thought at first hahaha
    I don't think I'll be rereading this book after listening to this review, but just rethinking my feelings while reading through your lens has left a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta amend that goodreads review, it seems….
    Awesome review Cara!

  6. Ahh it is always so cringe when they get texting wrong and it must have been all the more impactful if it was the whole narrative of the story ;.; It does sound a little confusing and the not like other girls trope is absolutely exhausting. I can't wait for that trope to die out. I am glad that at least, you could like Martin as a character. And I'll make sure to read Letters to the Lost at some point!

  7. Ohh no. How could writing an essay on Nixon and being too good for the Eiffle Tower make you unique?? I can’t believe that those things were in a book published in 2019.

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