Trenton is joining Cami for her family dinner, because the best way to support a friend during a dysfunctional family gathering is to invite yourself to it. Cami’s dad provides an unintentionally on-point summary of the scene:
“Who the fuck is this jackass?” Dad said.
This would seemingly make Cami’s dad our immediate new favorite character, but he very quickly becomes a rude, abusive character who’s so over-the-top, it’s amazing he isn’t cracking a whip and twirling a handlebar mustache. Remember all I’ve been saying recently about unlikeable characters, and that the characters are unlikeable isn’t what makes these books “bad”, but the shallow, ridiculous, and cliched ways they’re unlikeable are?
“Pass the salt,” Dad said, […] “Damn it, Susan. You never put in enough salt. How many times have I told you?”
“You can add the salt, Dad,” Clark said. “This way it’s not too salty for the rest of us.”
“Too salty? This is my goddamn house. She’s my wife! She cooks for me! She cooks the way I like it, not the way you like it!”
“Don’t rile yourself up, honey,” Mom said.
Dad slammed the side of his fist on the table. “I’m not riled up!”
Now, I’m not doubting that this couldn’t conceivably be the controlling and childish behavior of an abusive man. Some asshole in the history of time has probably yelled at his family for something as stupid as food not being salty enough, even if the inherent ridiculousness of it compromises the versimilitude somewhat. But then
“For fuck’s sake, Susan, you didn’t even know [Trenton’s mom],” Dad chided. “Why does everyone who dies have to turn into a goddamn saint?”
“She was pretty close,” Trenton said.
Dad looked up, unappreciative of Trenton’s tone. “And how would you know? Weren’t you a toddler when she died?”
In case the dialogue doesn’t speak for itself for some reason (maybe you skimmed it, or are eating a distractingly-delicious burrito), Cami’s dad is insulting a stranger’s dead mother he (presumably) didn’t know either to his face. This character is too ridiculous to take seriously. That complete lack of dimension makes Cami’s dad a little less nuanced and relatable and a little more, say…
Yet somehow, the most telling example of what’s wrong with this book may be the one start kicks off the meal:
“All right, all right,” Dad said. “Sit down so we can get to eat already.”
Trenton’s eye twitched.
Why the hell is Trenton here? Remember that time Trenton threatened to physically assault a man who was being a jerk to his son, and we were expected to believe this magically solved all their problems even though (as Ariel rather perfectly broke it down) it was really endlessly disturbing? It’s the same bullshit here! Is the promise of Trenton’s magical fists supposed to make Cami’s dysfunctional family life better? Are we supposed to believe that the possibility of violence from someone with no previous experience with this family is going to solve their problems? Because this is about as immature a way to handle a story about an abusive husband/father as going into a rage over salty food is.
By this point you might be wondering if this chapter can get worse.
How about Cami decides that she’s going to hide her new finger tattoos from her dad? Forever? Somehow?
“What the hell is all that on your fingers?” Dad asked me.
“Uh…” I held up my hands for a moment, trying to think of a lie.
How about Cami’s brother inexplicably starting shit he has no conceivable motivation for?
“Didn’t you say you were working a second job?” Chase asked.
I pressed my palms flat against the table. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
And don’t forget we still have Cami’s dad’s increasingly all-fucking-over-the-place rants through all this like Jamie McGuire is getting paid per terrible father cliche.
“What? You can’t pay your bills? You said that bartending job makes you a month’s work in one weekend! […] So you’re spending more than you’re making? What did I tell you about being responsible? Damn it, Camille! How many times have I told you not to get the credit cards? […] I didn’t whip your ass enough as a child!”
And most nonsensical of all, Cami’s utterly inscrutable motivation for covering up for Coby:
“My parents have always treated Coby like he could do no wrong. […] Someone needed to take the blame for it.”
It was quiet for a few moments, and then Trenton grumbled, “Coby sounds like a good candidate.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but I just need one of us to think they’re good parents.”
Like anyone who actually read this fucking chapter would believe that for a second.
“What?” Coby said, his voice raised an octave. “No, dad, what the fuck?”
“You’re on that shit again, and your sister is paying your bills? Are you out of your fucking mind?”
This is what this book is doing right now:
Anyway, remember that thing I was saying earlier about how the only reason Trenton is here is because we’re supposed to believe (lots of “supposed to believe” in this chapter) that his comforting, violent presence is going to make everything better?
“I’m paying Coby back.” [I lied.]
Dad took a step toward me. “You couldn’t say anything until now? Let your brother take the blame for your irresponsibility?” He took another step. Trenton turned his entire torso toward my dad, shielding me.
“I think you need to sit down, sir,” Trenton said.
Dad’s face morphed from anger to rage, and Coby and Clark held onto him. “Did you just tell me to sit down in my own fucking house?”
What’s weird is that in any other book, I might have liked this part of the scene, because things are coming to a head. Of course, they’re coming to a head after we were introduced to them a dozen pages ago, and with characters with motives that are either absent, contradict other information in the narrative, or… whatever Trenton’s problem is.
“When were you going to tell us that you were mooching off your brother, Camille?” […]
Having Trenton beside me made me feel a surge in confidence I’d never felt around my father. “When I thought you would behave like a mature adult about it.”
Cami storms out, ignoring her dad yelling at her. Trenton drives her home, and shortly afterwards Coby shows us, sobbing and apologizing to Cami. We also learn that Trenton is planning on saving money so he can move out and get a place of his own, because Trenton’s in this scene too.
Amidst the obligatory “Coby asks what’s going on with Cami and Trenton” dialogue, we get maybe the first moment in this book about human emotions that feels like a human emotion.
“You’re going to stay here?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Coby said. “If that’s okay. […] I’m not staying long. Just maybe until Dad goes to sleep.”
“Okay. Call me tomorrow.”
“Yeah?” I said […]
“I love you.”
Cami goes to work, where we get caught up on the Raegan+Kody drama. Remember Kody is not Coby. That will help you a lot.
“We’re sort of… on a break. […]”
“Then where were you all day?”
“I stopped by Sig Tau. Just for a few hours before work.”
“Sig Tau?” It took my brain a little bit to catch up. [“Brazil] called you, didn’t he?”
Raegan grimaced. “I’m not talking about this here.”
Then why did she bring it up?
As the scene continues, Cami pours a pitcher of beer on Brazil, and Cami and Raegan have a fight where they accuse each other of being “a heartless bitch”. Weirdly, even this ends with one of the only subplots that sparked a hint of genuine interest for me.
Raegan looked up at me, her eyes red and puffy. “Have you ever loved two people at the same time?” she asked.
Even if we have no idea where it’s coming from. Aside from setting up an ironic punchline.
I held out my hand. “If I ever try, slap me, okay?”
Question of the day! Who do you think Trenton will beat up to solve Cami’s problems next?