Be My Downfall

Be My Downfall - Lyla Payne 3.5 stars

I fought against this one, I didn't want to like it but in the end...I did. This is SOLIDLY new adult. That means if you like this genre as a whole, this one will be right up your tree. It's all angsty, emotional and character driven. I sense the rest of this series is not so, because the rest of the side characters are all very college. They drink, they do dumb things, they sometime go to class and they sleep with each other. It felt a bit weird to me in that in the midst of all this debauchery we had these two brooding, tormented people falling in love. The tone of the love story and the tone of the setting were dissonant.

However, I did like it.

I wanted to feel like Toby went over board with his issues, all stemming from his brother, the addict who disappeared into druglandia never to be seen or heard from again...but it ended up being completely necessary to the story line. Toby talks about his issues with his family a lot. At first it felt annoying, but I grew to like him and his family issues by the middle of the book. Toby definitely has some dad tendencies. He wants to protect, to care for, and to protect. He also sometimes spoke like a forty year-old man. He kept talking about "taking her to bed" and he was way too self-aware about everything from drinking to his prospective career in film. And he did mention his hair gel and outfits more than I thought was strictly relevant for a male narrator. Taking on the male first person perspective is definitely a risk for any female author in this genre. I'm not sure the author 100% pulled it off, but it was believable enough because Toby as a character was such a caretaker and so much more mature than his peers. Though the whole thing might have worked better if he wasn't a rich, frat boy, living in his fraternity's basement. I could have believed that he was one of those people that is just born 40, all sedate and thoughtful if he lived off campus in a pristine apartment and spent his days sipping espresso and reading the New York times, but given his circumstances there were definitely some inconsistencies.

I also wanted to feel like Kennedy was another obnoxious, party-girl with more money than sense, but she wasn't. She was actually a really interesting character and though she did teeter on the edge of woe-is-me at times, there was a sort of raw believability to her struggles with grief and alcoholism. Payne didn't over-write Kennedy. She hit spot on with the sort of messed up, changeable nature of someone with a deep, dark past like Kennedy without writing her into crazy partytown and making her into a caricature. The only aspect of Kennedy's character tha t pushed it toward the over-the-top dramatic was the cruel grandmother on top of the loss of her whole family as 12 year-old. Was that necessary? Is it plausible that she could have had a nasty gram? Yes, but it felt like one too many buttons that the author was trying push to get the reader to "feel" for the character. The portrayal was done well enough that the reader didn't need that extra awfulness to understand and appreciate Kennedy. Sometimes a character doesn't need more problems to make their spiral into chaos work, but rather just a bit more nuance.

As I was reading there times when I thought this might be a two star book. It was pretty generic in tone (as a I said), Toby occasionally bugged me. But the ending pulled things together. Payne finally got to the heart of the idea of addiction and forces her characters to deal with it head on. Toby does the right thing-- not the romantic, let-me-save-you-beautiful-lady-thing-- but the right thing. And of course we get an HEA, but in the right way. Had the novel gone the other way-- instead of Toby realizing like Kennedy would need to save herself, had he swooped in an banished her demons with nothing but his great abs and strong moral fortitude-- it would have been a two star. Ultimately the deep understanding that developed between the two characters and their journey to get there pulled it up to almost four stars.

There was one thing that drove me banana-pancakes crazy: the therapist. It seems like there is another book that the author is going to write regarding the therapist and one of his patients, Annette, who keeps running out of the office every time Toby shows up looking harried, but anyway! The therapist is described as being only in his late twenties, not much older that Toby it says, yet he talks like some sort of made-for-TV shrink in his sixties. He refers to Toby as Tobias at all time, even though Toby says he doesn't like, which was irritating by itself. Then, he flat out tells Toby to stay away from Kennedy in the beginning, which didn't feel very therapist-like to me. Therapists are all about listening to you and offering ideas about how things might work by talking through options, or helping you understand the world in which you find yourself. They don't spend a lot of time telling you who not to date or laying down ultimatums about why something you are going to do is a Very Bad Idea.