Review: Social Skills by Sara Alva – I’m probably the only reader that likes Jared more than Connor.

Social SkillsSocial Skills by Sara Alva

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok – Jared is not the ass everyone seems to think he is.
I picked this one up randomly on audiobook and found it very readable, or listenable (?). The story is decent with some expected turns and I liked seeing young adults act in immature but age appropriate ways. I thought the narrator, Andrew Eiden, was really incredible. He managed to capture Connor’s painful shyness very well with just the right breaks in his voice and hesitation. He also gave the other characters enough differentiation in the voices and inflection that I never got confused between dialogue and internal musings, which can happen with a lot of audiobooks. Mostly I was pleasantly surprised with this one and although it’s not necessarily a story I’d want to read/listen to again, I’m glad I read it.

Connor is a violinist and freshman at college. He’s painfully, almost pathologically shy and introverted so he has serious trouble making friends. He prefers to hide in the safety of his room or the back areas of the library so he’s taken aback when his favorite instructor asks him to tutor some of the football players in an introductory anthropology course. Not wanting to get on the bad side of the teacher, Connor agrees and soon meets Jared. Jared is a handsome, popular, outgoing, and confident fourth string football player and an all around nice guy. He and Connor hit it off and soon they’re hooking up in the safety of Connor’s room. Unfortunately Jared isn’t out and he doesn’t know if he ever will be – given his life and how he grew up. This initially is fine with Connor until Connor begins to find his own confidence and realizes he wants more than a secret relationship.

I read several reviews of this book before I listened to it and was expecting Jared to be a total ass, since almost everyone commented on that. However as typical with my reading, I didn’t think that way at all. I found Jared to be completely sympathetic and engaging. He’s 18, lost his father, and trying to be the man he imagined his father would have wanted. Of course he doesn’t think he can be openly gay and I didn’t doubt his real fear and need to be secretative. To me Jared’s actions made total sense given his age and experience. While many reviewers gave Connor the benefit of the doubt about maturing and growing up, few allowed the same for Jared. To me Jared did the best he could – he even had the rare self awareness to recognize that he was making poor decisions/actions and knew he wasn’t being fair to Connor. I thought that breakup, while of course heartbreaking to Connor, was actually pretty mature on Jared’s end considering his acknowledged fear and conflicted emotions. He cared enough to know that he was treating Connor poorly – what teen has the self-awareness of that, seriously. Not to mention Connor’s wild run to Jared’s dorm made me cringe as it was such the wrong choice to make and kind of a dick move really. Connor was thinking emotionally and selfishly, which is understandable but I also understood Jared’s freakout about it. They were both simply too immature to handle their emotions and relationship so they break up – wow – typical teen relationship. No one is the bad guy.

Furthermore that breakup really initiated Connor’s own growth and maturity. At first his painful shyness was both endearing and annoying. The unending well of insecurity and self hatred was simply hard to read about. He truly thought so little of himself that it was easy to see why he built Jared up unfairly. He expected Jared to be perfect and have all the answers but it was also gratifying to see that Connor eventually matures and becomes his own source of confidence. He recognizes that Jared is just trying to do the best he can as well, making mistakes along the way like Connor did. I felt more for Jared when he was forcibly outed because it was definitely worse than any heartbreak Connor went through. But both young men grew from the experience, changed, and ultimately were mature enough to have a real relationship the second time around. I ended up liking both characters equally and found they had a much more realistic relationship and one that I could see flourishing and even lasting. As opposed to what they had initially, which I knew couldn’t go on like that.

On the flip side I found all of the tears in the last third way too much. I understand that Jared’s outing was an emotional and traumatic event no doubt but there were so. many. tears. Jared, and Connor, seemed to cry constantly and I just wanted them to stop. Some of their dialogue edged into cheesy and overly sappy and I found the stuttering comments of Jared’s roommate Ben much more realistic. I liked that the story tried to show complexity with the various side characters and even the “bad” ones such as Veronica and her mom weren’t over the top evil. They had reasons to act the way they did and even if I didn’t like the characters, I appreciated their authenticity without being evil.

I liked this one, more than I expected, but also because I kept waiting for Jared to be a horrible guy and it never happened. I’d be curious to read any sequels about these two.

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