Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Tape by Steven Camden

Title: Tape
Author: Steven Camden
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
Release date: September 23rd 2014
Pages: 363
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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In 1993, Ryan records a diary on an old tape. He talks about his mother’s death, about his dreams, about his love for a new girl at school who doesn’t even know he exists.
In 2013, Ameliah moves in with her grandmother after her parents die. There, she finds a tape in the spare room. A tape with a boy’s voice on it – a voice she can’t quite hear, but which seems to be speaking to her.
Ryan and Ameliah are connected by more than just a tape.
This is their story.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I haven't DNFed a book in over a year, but I wanted to DNF Tape multiple times. The reason that I rarely DNF books is that I like reading good books (for obvious reasons) but also like reading bad books because they give me something to complain about (I'm really good at anger). (Someone please tell me I'm not the only person who likes reading bad books so they can complain.) But Tape gave me neither the pure form of enjoyment nor the anger-enjoyment, because I just felt indifferent about it throughout. I couldn't tell if there was anything technically wrong with the story, but for some reason I just couldn't connect with it. The story bored me, and I couldn't get myself to care about any of the characters, so Tape was a hard book for me to get through.

Part of why Tape was so hard for me to read is the writing style. For some reason, the author used dashes instead of quotation marks throughout the whole novel. I know that shouldn't really be a big deal, but it was really hard for me to get used to this, and it also made me feel kind of removed from the story, since the dialogue isn't properly embedded in the narrative. Asides from this smaller issue, the writing is just very simplistic and basic; a lot of it read like it would be better suited for the middle grade audience. (Which would make sense, since with 13-year-old main characters, Tape is right on the border of MG and YA.) But even if it's meant for younger readers, I didn't find the writing to be all that engaging; it just never drew me in.

As for the plot, the problem is that... there is no plot; nothing really happens until the very end. The whole story moves incredibly slowly and just drags so much. 90% of this story is just the main characters complaining about how annoying their families are; I really can't remember anything else that happens in the first 200 pages. Towards the end, there are two plot twists. One of these I found very predictable; we know from the description that there's some kind of connection between Ryan and Ameliah, and it's hinted at throughout, so the way they turn out to be connected is not all that surprising. The other plot twist, regarding a character in Ameliah's life, I hadn't expected, so I guess that was good. But since I didn't really care about the characters, I couldn't get myself to care about this revelation, either.

If a novel is lacking a plot, I'd assume it'd at least have good characters so it can be more of a character-driven story. But... no. I never connected with these characters. Ameliah and Ryan are really similar characters in really similar situations - they're both dealing with a death in the family and adjusting to a new family arrangement, and that's really all that's happening. Their voices are very similar and hard to tell apart, at times. Since Ryan's story is set 20 years before Ameliah's, I had thought their voices would be different and adapted to their respective time periods, but that's not really the case. In Ameliah's world, everyone has cell phones, but that was the only difference I could see; I wanted to see more of a difference in the way they speak and act. I just didn't have any kind of connection with either of the main characters.

The secondary characters are very one-dimensional. I was especially disappointed by Eve's character. Considering she's so central to the whole story, I feel like she should have had some sort of personality, but we never really got to know her. Ryan and Eve's romance should have been hugely epic, since it brings the whole book together, but we only get a couple of short conversations, lots of insta-love, and nothing else. Everything about the romance is cliched, melodramatic, and not very realistic.

I really liked the idea of the tape connecting these two stories with its time-travel-esque features. But that turned out to just be a whole lot of wasted potential. The tape thing could have made this story stand out, but it didn't even turn out to be all that important. These two characters being connected via the tape could have had so many implications for their futures and could have really changed the course of these stories (sorry for being so vague; I don't want to give anything away), but the characters don't really use this connection for anything, which was really disappointing.

Tape really just didn't have any redeeming qualities for me. The plot is non-existent, the characters are flat, and the romance is melodramatic. Maybe Steven Camden's writing just isn't for me; it never drew me in, and I felt removed from the story throughout. Maybe it would be a better fit for younger readers, but even then... I just can't recommend Tape.


  1. I personally appreciate that you like to read the bad along with the good... because that way I can read your reviews and skip the bad ones altogether. The premise of this books sounds interesting, and I might have been enticed into reading it, but thanks to this review, I will definitely steer clear!

  2. I was not able to finish this book either. As a matter of fact, I read so little of it, I couldn't even review it. What do you do with your DNF books? Do you try to read them later?

  3. Oh, i didn't actually DNF this one - I wanted to, but I was on a train with no entertainment but this book, so I finished it...

    With DNF books, though, it really depends. If they're just bad, like I thought this one was, I probably won't try again. If there's a real reason, though - like when a book isn't what I'm in the mood for, or if I can't get into a book because I'm reading too slowly (which sometimes happens during the semester), I usually will pick it up again. What about you?


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