Caraval by Stephanie Garber | Book Review (Spoilers)

Title: Caraval
Author: Stephanie Garber
Publisher/Date: Flatiron Books/January 31, 2017
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
Pages: Hardcover, 407 pages
Start/finish date: May 10, 2017/May 12, 2017
Rating: .5 stars
Sources/Blurb (from Goodreads):

Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

Overall, Caraval was a quick read. It took me less than 48 hours, and I was immediately hooked from the first chapter. However, I have mixed opinions about this novel. While Stephanie Garber managed to create a very complex plot that drags the reader through, there’s a lot of obstacles that completely dragged down the potential this book had.

A quick note: Spoilers mentioned. Fair warning, this novel includes sexual assault/rape, abuse, a portrayal of suicide, terrible writing, and extremely idiotic characters. Therefore, these topics may be mentioned.

Let’s get started.

This book isn’t a dream. It’s a joke.

First of all, I found the world building to be near pathetic. There was definitely an attempt at Garber trying to give a glimpse of the world, but that was exactly what it was—a glimpse. The novel could have used a lot more structure and development in not only the islands and the outside world beyond the game, but inside the realm of the game, as well. I feel like Garber was constantly repeating herself in the way the game’s location looked, and that we really didn’t get a clear image of what the setting was actually like. It was completely jumbled, and I found it impossible to create a map with everything from the book simply because it wasn’t clear enough. It felt like Garber was just making excuses to avoid talking about her world unless it was beautiful and magnificent.

Second, Caraval is very character driven. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story with strong characters and fierce leads, but the characters in this book annoyed me frequently. I HATED Scarlett. I thought she was boring and irritating. She didn’t have any other true goal except to find her sister (who she was literally comparing her love of with the love she had for a guy she just met), and I think she might’ve been a better character if she hadn’t just whined about her nearly the entire time…and when she wasn’t whining about Tella, she was complaining about/checking out Julian. She was clueless, and I wanted to punch her this entire novel. She never listened to anything anyone said because she TOTALLY had more experience (not) and she was gullible. There was no connecting with her. I mean, even though she wanted a new life, she was helplessly okay with a lot of things. I also couldn’t stand Tella. She was rash, ignorant, careless, and an overall bothersome person. She didn’t care about how what she did affected others, even if it was “just a game”. She was such a weak and powerless character, and she did a myriad of things that were unnecessary. To be honest, the only character I ever even felt something for was Julian, and I still hated him at first and throughout certain points in the book because he was problematic. He started off as a liar who was using Tella to get to Caraval, and throughout this novel, he lied to Scarlett constantly just so he could play the “mysterious, ‘you should be scared of my story'” trope. Not only that, but he has no idea what the word “no” means. Even after Scarlett tells him to stop, he keeps touching her and making suggestive comments. HOW IS THIS OKAY? IT’S NOT APPEALING, AND IT’S A TERRIBLE MESSAGE TO SEND OUT TO EASILY INFLUENCED TEENS READING THIS NOVEL DIRECTED FOR YOUNG ADULTS, BECAUSE IT ENCOURAGES THIS BEHAVIOR SIMPLY DUE TO THE FACT THAT HE’S ATTRACTIVE. (I have a lot more to say about the sexual assault and advances in this novel, so just you wait.) I felt that every character followed a cheesy, overused stereotype rather than a well thought out archetype (the abusive father in power that “only wants the best,” the innocent virgin that’s supposed to get married but has other plans, the reckless sister that never listens, the slutty, stubborn, irritating male love interest that’s too edgy and dangerous to tell his story)…

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And let’s not forget the relationships in this story. The hypocrisy between Scarlett and Donatella about instant love, the inability for the two to communicate appropriately (which would save us so much time), the lies and general rudeness both characters give off… Their relationship was an actual train wreck. I have an older sister who tries to protect me, but in no way shape or form is it as destructive as their relationship. She’s saved me so many times, in ways that Scarlett tried to save Tella, and we build off of that. We help each other, which, in my opinion, is what sisterhood is truly about. Scarlett and Tella spent the entire novel either fucking around (literally and figuratively, the literally in which Scarlett TRIED TO SLUT SHAME HER OWN SISTER FOR), flinging themselves off of high areas, acting ignorant, and not listening—especially to each other. This book is not about sisterhood. It’s about competition.

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Also on the topic of characters, let me just mention the abusive shithead that is known as Count Nicolas d’Arcy, whose name quite obviously comes from the infamous Mr. Darcy. Can we stop repeating characters in YA novels? I’m so tired of this Mr. Darcy crap. Just stop. I mean, this isn’t even my only problem with the Count. He’s such an arrogant, troublesome character whose actions get brushed off at times even though they’re entirely damaging. For example, when he actually tries to rape Scarlett, she turns against him, as she should’ve. She managed to escape, sure. But this scene is quickly forgotten about. Hell, I don’t even remember a time this was brought back up. It was just kind of placed in there. Scarlett didn’t even truly get revenge for it, she just threw a potion in his face and tied him up. She could’ve killed him or gotten vengeance right then and there (which she should have, in my opinion. At least that would’ve been more interesting than the garbage plot we got here.) All in all, I hate how glamorized his character is, especially in the eyes of his victim. Even knowing that he’s a terrible person, Scarlett still has this hope after he’s introduced that he might be okay. And if I recall correctly, I think Julian justified him at one point.

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Another thing about the main character, Scarlett: she objectifies so many people. The amount of male objectification in this novel is actually shocking. It’s difficult to believe that such a pure, soft girl would have such damaging notions when she’s supposed to be innocent. Her character is not what she’s made out to be in the slightest. She’s another one of those precious, YA virgin female main characters who have absolutely no experience (which is a trope that I’m absolutely sick of), and she’s a character who thinks it’s completely okay to stare at some guy’s brown abs all the time. Double standards? Absolutely.

Finally, Garber’s writing is quite offsetting. Now, while I love a powerful, descriptive voice—for example, Juliette from the Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi, fight me on this one—I felt like Garber was pushing it to the extremes. Her writing was so annoying, so forced, and so absurd. I mean:

And to her horror, rather than feeling distaste, a tingle of periwinkle curiosity prickled her senses.

What is that even supposed to mean? Also, don’t even get me started on the way Scarlett has to be special and see everything in color… It was such a stupid concept that I was amazed that it even made it past the first time it was mentioned. You can quite obviously tell that Garber pulled inspiration from The Great Gatsby (as told in an interview), which was a book I just could not stand. I spent the entire month of April reading, discussing, and writing an essay over Gatsby, and I wanted something fun to read. Of course, the random novel with a nice cover that I chose has to shove this overused color theme down my throat. A tip, YA authors trying way too hard to implement styles like Fitzgerald’s into their own writing: fucking don’t. It’s not fun, and it’s not entertaining. It’s idiotic, overused, and cheesy, and it made me want to rip up this entire, terrible novel.

I have a lot more I could say about Caraval. I mean, lets not even forget the fact that Garber spells her own main character’s name wrong near the end of the book (can’t remember the exact page, but it’s sometime around Julian’s “death”):

He’d risked everything for her by facing her father and then by giving her that pocket watch just before Scarlet would meet Legend.

*glares at Garber and everyone who edited this book*

Overall, Caraval was a quick and fast read. Again, it only took less than two days (mostly because I was listening to a speedy audiobook while reading), but it was definitely a waste. The ending, while it was fast-paced and exciting, was so confusing that I had no idea what was happening. Garber was jumping between wanting to have magic and refusing the idea of magic. She kept saying that it was “just a game” and that magic wasn’t real, and then Donatella (irrelevant, but I hate her name) comes back to life?? And the way she just kills herself… To be honest, it’s such a terrible representation and reaction to even just the notion of suicide. The conclusion makes it sound like it’s completely okay because, in dreamland, you always come back. For readers living in their own world, reading Donatella’s death could be triggering to the point of being fatal. YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH, AND THIS CONCEPT IS DAMAGING TO YOUNG MINDS. I DO NOT RECOMMEND READING THIS BOOK IF YOU HAVE EVER BEEN EASILY INFLUENCED INTO SOMETHING LIKE SELF HARM, OR IF YOU HAVE A PAST HISTORY OF SUICIDAL TENDENCIES.

This entire novel, I just wanted to burn the copy I was using. I couldn’t, of course, because it was my English teacher’s (and the cover is so soft oh my hEAVENS). I think I actually hated this novel as much as I hated The Importance of Being Earnest, which is saying a lot. There was so much about this novel that I hated and I didn’t even understand. The ending was so confusing with there being a Legend but all the Legends before weren’t the real Legend and that the real Legend was somewhere doing stuff that we didn’t even get to know? The villain in this novel was absolutely pointless and obviously inspired by the Legend trilogy (also stated in the same interview). To be completely honest, this entire novel was just a jumbled, unified form of some of the most popular YA novels, and while I loved the originals, Garber’s Caraval was utter trash. I do not recommend it at all, unless all you care about is a pretty cover.

Thank you for reading! If you’ve read this novel and have any opinions, leave them down in the comments below! I wrote this review back in May, so of course, possible statements/opinions I had may have changed by now, but I’m sticking to what I wrote since I don’t remember specific moments in this novel anymore.

Adieu,

Mia

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