Good books make you ask questions - but sometimes, bad books make you ask questions, too. Questions like, "Why is this book so long?" "How did this even get published?" And, most pressingly, "What is it about this book that people actually like?"
I read SEMPRE for our book of the month over at URR, and am only just now finishing it because of how awful it was. It wasn't even spectacularly awful - just dismally so. Everything about this book dragged. Most of those 500 pages? They're all padding. The story, without all that fluff, is pretty simple. Haven is a teenage slave. Carmine's father buys her. He falls in love with his slave, and she falls in love with him, and it's all hearts and cuddles and tender moments - until the mafia steps in and says, "Hell no."
I hate to say it, but I was on the mafia's side in this one. I was like, "Hell no," too.
Here's my biggest issue. SEMPRE reads like the author wanted to write fanfic of Goodfellas, Godfather, and Sopranos, but she also really wanted to write a disgustingly fluffy book like Stephanie Perkins, but she also wanted to write a really edgy new adult book with SEX, but she also really wanted her hero to be a Nice Guy, but she also really wanted her heroine to be pure and virtuous.
Even though, you know, she grew up in a world of sex trafficking.
So what we have is a PG-13 mafia/human trafficking book where most of the book takes place in high school and there's a few random scenes that seem to be heavily inspired by the three mafia books I mentioned, all written from Carmine's father's POV. Haven is a slave, whose mother is basically a sex slave, but Haven herself is used for cooking and cleaning and that's it. She's innocent about everything, and even asks, in all seriousness, whether there are colleges in California.
I mean, there's sheltered, and then there's how-the-hell-did-you-not-know-that.
Carmine is everything I hate in a hero. He swears a lot and punches people out to show how tough he is, and Darhower desperately tries to make him the good guy by punching out these people on Haven's behalf and having all these forced intimate moments with her. Forced in the technical sense, that is: not the rapey sense. And Haven is so naive that she makes me sick. You can tell that she's just supposed to be so adorable because she nibbles at food, nuzzles at people, peers up at people, and chases fireflies while the adoring Carmine just sits there and smiles in vacant admiration because that's what people do when they watch cat videos, and Haven is basically supposed to be the human equivalent of a cat video - only for some reason, it's not cute when a person does it, just disturbing.
I'm still blown away by how boring and terrible this was, and that it has a 4.2 average rating on Goodreads (did we read different books?). SEMPRE took a dar topic and tried to make it a cute love story. The result is a book that comes across as both tone deaf and ridiculous.
1 out of 5 stars