Hi everyone, I thought I would begin this post by saying I have decided to write a review with spoilers. There is no way I could have possibly written a review of this book without spoiling something. There are so many questions I have regarding this book and I wanted to be able to discuss them with those who have read it.
Publication Date: 3 October 2017
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.
Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.
Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.
Warning: There are spoilers in this review!
I really liked how easily this book drew me in. It was a story full of drama, so if you like reading about over-the-top family secrets, you will enjoy reading this book. Some of the secrets were a little crazy, but I’ll unpack them all later on in the review. Although I am going to point out a few of the things that struck me as odd, I thought it was very fun to read and enjoyable overall.
The main character in Without Merit is Merit, a seventeen-year-old girl who has recently stopped going to school. She dislikes most of her family members, as she believes that they do not care about her. In her family, there is her twin sister, Honor, her brother, Utah, her half-brother, Moby, her father, and her mother and step-mother who are both named Victoria. Eventually Sagan, Honor’s friend, and Luck, Merit’s step-uncle, start living in the house too. So Merit lives with a lot of people.
After a while I started to really dislike Merit. She wanted sympathy from the readers, but did things that made it difficult to like her. Everything that came out of her mouth was mean-spirited. She was rude to the guy she liked, rude to all of her family members, and rude to strangers. The people around her also were rude to her, so in a way some of her actions were justified.
Merit started to fall for Honor’s “boyfriend”, Sagan, who was living with the family for a reason that WAS NOT explained. Sagan was a great love interest at first. And then he said, “I didn’t like you the first few weeks we knew each other.” That was a really mean thing to say. I would not be attracted to someone if they said that to me. It would be kind of interesting if it was a hate-to-love kind of relationship, but it wasn’t! That was the only thing that made me roll my eyes at his character. Aside from that, I guess he wasn’t all bad. Luck was also sort of a love interest for Merit, who was her step-uncle. I thought Luck was a despicable character. Firstly, he was twenty whereas Merit was seventeen. I do not condone age gaps like that. So when Merit propositioned him to help her lose her virginity, he should have immediately said no. He said no eventually, but that was after they were naked. I just thought it was a weird scene, and it was out-of-character for Merit to be so concerned about her virginity. It also gives a bad impression on younger readers about the importance of your virginity (kind of like that movie American Pie, which I must admit is a funny movie).
At first, Sagan was supposed to be Honor’s boyfriend. However, a twist near the end of the novel was that he had just been her friend the whole time. WHAT? Honor flat out lied to Merit about Sagan being her boyfriend, which would have been pretty hard to do seeing as he was living with them. I currently live with two family members and a Chinese student who rents out a room. He is a stranger, but he gives us money. Does Luck and Sagan give money for rent? Probably not. I understand that Luck might not, as he is the wife’s brother, but she hardly knows him anyway. I don’t know why Sagan would be living there because he is a nobody, just a teenage daughter’s friend. I guess a church would have a lot of space, but still.
The plot twist in this novel is finding out what each family member’s secret is. When Merit felt sad one evening, she wrote a letter calling everyone out for things they have done. What sparked her annoyance is that she pretended to be Honor and kissed Sagan, but this backfired because Honor and Sagan were just supposed to be friends. Then Merit walked in on Utah and Luck in bed together. This made her really mad because Luck turned down her offer for sex and Utah asked her to keep his secret about being gay when she was already holding onto another one of his secrets. Also, Merit tried to then commit suicide with her mother’s pills, but it turned out that they were “placebo” pills and she was fine. And it was never explained why her mother was taking placebo pills!
Utah did something quite disturbing to her when she was younger. He was confused about his sexuality and forced himself onto Merit when he was twelve. He just kissed her, but this traumatised Merit and made her distance herself from him. His behaviour was basically excused in the novel, as she forgave him and they allowed him back into the house. It was only a kiss, but this made me view him as a predator, someone who could do this to other people. And brushing it off as he was wanting to feel something for a girl was ridiculous. Merit was his sister, not a random girl. Why did he choose his sister to do that to? First we found out he was gay, and then we found out he kissed his sister. It put him in a really bad light and I wish his character was dealt with in a different way.
Something that I was a bit wary about was the discussion of religion. I thought it was very bold to have the father move his entire family into a church just because the dog next door barked throughout the night. An entire family of seven (plus two strangers) literally lived in a church. They kept Jesus in the room and dressed him in outfits. I’m not religious, but even I thought this might be offensive to religious people. I felt strange about the topic of religion, and thought the more religious readers might be turned off by it.
Along with the religious aspect of the book, I was confused by the inclusion of the Syrian refugee crisis. I must admit that I did not really know what that was before reading. I of course know about the war going on in the Middle East, but did not know there was a name for it. It was great of Hoover to include something of importance; however, I thought it was a little bit too random and confusing. It did not make me understand what is going on in Syria. The book already had the topics of mental illness, sexuality, and sexual abuse, and perhaps did not need so many heavy topics in the one book.
I had so many questions when I finished the book. The plot had many sub-plots and parts to it that needed answers. Many things were answered, but there were still several things that were not addressed.
- Why was Merit’s mother taking placebo pills?
- Why wasn’t Wolfgang neutered?
- Why didn’t Honor think there was something wrong with her?
- Why are all the names so weird?
- Why was Sagan always so excited to get phone calls?
- Why did Sagan and Luck just think they could live somewhere rent-free?
- Why didn’t Victoria care that the dad was hooking up with his ex-wife?
- Why were Sagan and Luck included during very private family conversations (i.e. when Utah apologised to Merit).
In conclusion, this book has a plot that is all over the place and fails to make an impact on the heavy topics that it tackles. The only thing going for it is it’s extreme addictiveness. You may be surprised with my rating, as I basically trashed the whole book, but I am not good at giving out 2 or 3 star ratings. Those are reserved for books I truly despise and this was not one of them.
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