Blogtober Day 5: Review: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say by Leila Sales
When Spelling Bee champion Winter Halperin tweets an ill-advised joke about the skin colour of the latest winner, she finds herself the most hated person on the Internet… For a little while. But while the rest of the world are infuriated for a couple of days, they quickly move onto the next person to commit an online faux pas. Meanwhile, Winter’s life is shattered: the college of her dreams revokes her acceptance, and the Spelling Bee committee disown her, handing her rightfully earned victory to the boy who came second.
Winter’s mother – mummy blogger extraordinaire, the mind behind Turn Them Towards The Sun – finds her reputation damaged, too. In desperation she suggests hiring a company whose job is to flood the internet with good news stories about people who’ve said bad things, pushing their infamy onto the second or third page of the search results. This doesn’t sit right with Winter: she wants to BE better, not just LOOK better.
That’s how Winter finds a Reputation Rehabilitation Retreat. While all of her friends are packing for their first semester in a new town, Winter heads to Revive in the hopes that she can look inside herself and discover how she could be mean enough to say that in the first place.
I LOVED Leila Sales’ Tonight The Streets Are Ours, so when I saw her latest offering in the library eBook catalogue I hit the borrow button in the blink of an eye. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say sounded like it was going to be a relevant examination of the outrage culture we’ve all experienced in some way, shape or form, and I felt certain that I was going to be on Winter’s side. If you’re hoping to show the bad side of internet shaming, you need to have a cast of characters who are sympathetic and easy to relate to, right?
This book is the definition of great concept, poor execution.
First of all, it’s hard to write a book like this when you’re explicitly stating the tweet that your character put out, rather than simply alluding to its poor taste. You can’t say anything too risqué, because there’s a chance you could damage your own reputation as an author, so you need to put a dash of terrible alongside a whole heap of not that bad. Due to this, Winter’s tweet is vanilla. I’ve only been on Twitter for five minutes this morning and I’ve seen a couple of tweets worse than Winter’s, so the internet exploding and her life imploding doesn’t seem realistic. Honestly, I think most people would accept Winter’s explanation – all be it begrudgingly – and move on.
Sales’ message is further undermined by the motley crew of characters Winter meets in Revive. Half of them shouldn’t be focusing on rehabilitating their reputations but should instead be taking legal action against the people who wronged them (particularly apparent in the case of the politician whose relationship was ruined by a data leak á la Ashley Madison, or the young girl coerced to give sexual favours to a band in return for them making her a member), while a couple of other characters seem like they need actual rehab, not just a place that will shift the way other people view them.
The last chapter is the most infuriating bit of the novel, so if you don’t want spoilers look away now. I was enjoying the story, even if I didn’t completely agree with the way that Leila Sales had chosen to deliver her message, and then came Winter’s big revelation. She decides to start offering her support to those who receive the same internet hatred that she did, sending emails telling people that things will get better. This sounds nice and harmless… Until Winter emails a journalist who catfished and outed gay politicians, saying that everything will get better and he’s not really a horrible person. Yeah… Nah. That guy is the WORST. Pretending to be gay and outing people is a heinous crime, and one that deserves immense levels of hatred.
That was the final nail in the coffin for me. I’d been questioning aspects of If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, but I’d still been enjoying Leila Sales’ writing technique, so I thought I’d found enough to merit giving it three – or possibly four – stars. I was so close to dropping this to one star due after that inclusion.
It feels as though Sales knew what she wanted to say, but couldn’t think of the right examples to give her a good reason to say it. Perhaps the moral of this story should be: if you don’t have anything to add to a conversation, don’t say anything at all.
If you’re interested in learning more about If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!