Literally nothing happens in this book…nothing at all.
“‘What do you want, Molly Barlow?’ he asks, and he sounds so tired of me. ‘I mean it, what could you possibly want from me?’”
I just finished reading Katie Cotugno’s young adult romance novel 99 Days and I have to say immediately that I am disappointed. When I read Cotugno’s first novel, How To Love, last year, I was very impressed by her unique writing style and the way her character’s narrative voice instantly sucked me in and made me empathize with her. With 99 Days, I felt like the uniqueness and strength of Cotugno’s voice was missing, and the novel felt like 300-plus pages of a bunch of self-centered, bland, nothing-special teenagers doing absolutely nothing. I wasn’t thrilled by or even remotely interested in it.
99 Days follows recent high school graduate Molly Barlow during 99 days of summer when she returns to her hometown before leaving for college. She left her hometown for senior year because of a bunch of drama between her, her now ex-boyfriend and her ex’s brother. Obviously, a love triangle is established, and I understand exactly what Cotugno was trying to do with her story: she was trying to present this coming of age story in which a group of friends who grew up together and were inseparable are challenged by the complicated feelings of infatuation, love and lust that emerge as they enter into adulthood. I get it…but unfortunately, I don’t think Cotugno tackles these concepts well whatsoever in 99 Days.
As I said before, nothing happens in this novel…like seriously, there is no climax, no monumental point of clarity, no excitement or intrigue whatsoever. It literally was like reading a teenage girl’s diary, documenting a summer when she goes to work, occasionally makes out with a hot guy, then makes out with his brother, runs every morning, watches a few documentaries on Netflix, maybe hangs out with her girlfriends for a few hours…and that’s it. I get that that sounds like a lot of things happening, which in theory it is, but it’s not enough to make a novel out of. This was one of the most mundane, boring stories I’ve ever read because it felt just as repetitive as an actual summer in high school, when you’re not old or independent enough to go anywhere or have any adventures, so you basically just hang around the house, binge-watching TV shows and movies and creeping your hot classmates on Facebook or Instagram with your friends. If Cotugno was hoping to make 99 Days more of a character study than a plot-driven novel, unfortunately none of her characters are strong enough to accomplish this. Molly, Patrick and Gabe Donnelly, and all the other cast of characters, were the most average teenagers I’ve ever come across in literature, and none of them go through any real process of maturing or developing emotionally. They are very flat characters, and I was left at the end with this feeling that I had wasted a bunch of my time following an unspectacular cast doing unspectacular things.
“I’m ashamed of myself, truly. It’s inexcusable, what I did to Tess.”
I also found it impossible to like Molly at all, which was really unfortunate considering she’s the story’s narrator. Molly is positively insufferable, and even the other characters in the novel are sick of her by the end of it, with very good reason. Molly is incredibly selfish, egotistical and totally unaware of what a destructive personality she has. Even when she says she’s embarrassed about something or feels badly about it, she still does it, and honestly, she goes all the way with these terrible acts…not halfway, not kind of doing something and then stopping because she realizes what a mistake it is…ALL THE WAY, EVERY TIME. I understand that being a teenager is tough, and I’m sympathetic to that – I certainly don’t expect Molly to be this perfect angel because that wouldn’t be interesting either. But, there are certain lines that it’s pretty clear you shouldn’t cross in life and in love, and Molly crosses every single one of them, emerging on the other side as this totally awful friend and person. What’s most frustrating is that she recognizes how awful she is being to the people around her, and yet she does all these horrible things anyway, even asking herself on multiple occasions what she’s thinking or what she’s doing, but not stopping. It’s irritating at best and totally, beyond-belief frustrating and off-putting at worst. I couldn’t warm up to Molly, didn’t want to, to be honest, and I never ever would want her as a friend. So, from page one, I wasn’t off to a good start with her.
“I head over to the Donnellys’ the next evening to watch some weird Canadian import show Gabe can’t get enough of, everybody dressed in plaid and saying ‘aboot’ all the time.”
The quote above is actually one of the most annoying sentences I have ever read in a book in my entire life – call me a die-hard Canadian or whatever, but this is just simply poor and lazy writing. I get that maybe Cotugno is trying to be satirical and ironic, but in this particular sentence, it doesn’t come across that way, and on the contrary, this tasteless joke about “Canadian culture” comes across as narrow-minded and offensive. I wouldn’t be so put-off by this sort of thing normally, but the whole novel is full of lazy jokes and sarcasm and references to pop culture that Cotugno seems to use to just make herself look smart. She mentions Bon Iver playing on iPod speakers, she brings up Paul Newman randomly, she has Molly watching documentaries about Mary Shelley, she makes Molly’s best friend Imogen an expert at reading tarot cards, Molly’s mother is a bestselling author…okay, Cotugno is trying to make her characters diverse and versatile and well-rounded and unique, but nothing in their actions, manner of speaking or actual personalities is any of these things, so the references just come across as humble brags and pats on the back rather than any sort of character development tools. And then this jab at Canadian television came and it all just felt too forced, too over-the-top sarcastic and dry and not at all witty or well done. This is probably what disappointed me the most about 99 Days because I found Cotugno’s writing to be so refreshing when I read How To Love because in that case the pop culture references worked really well and the characters were fresh and exciting to read about. I don’t know if Cotugno lost a bit of her edge or if this subject matter just wasn’t doing it for me, but I was seriously let down by this second foray into her catalogue.
Bottom line, there is one more novel by Katie Cotugno that I have lined up to read this year, and I’m going to in the hopes that 99 Days was just a misstep or that it just didn’t jive well with me. I want to give Cotugno’s writing another chance because I enjoyed How To Love…but 99 Days I would have to say was a miss.
❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart