Mariana Zapata's fans are kind of like a cult - they seem to unequivocally adore everything else she does while doing their damnedest to indoctrinate others into the Slow Burn Religion. I resisted for a while because I'm allergic to hype (no, really, my nose is actually pouring like a faucet right now, but on the other hand, that might just be this virus I picked up from an airplane), but curiosity got the better of me and so did the cheap price tag when all of her books inexplicably dropped below the $1.99 mark.
DEAR AARON starts out promisingly enough in epistolary (read: letter-writing) format. Ruby is a twenty-four-year-old seamstress writing to a man named Aaron who's stationed in Afghanistan. He doesn't respond at first, making her think she's done something wrong to offend him, but then they really kick things off and become fast friends.
The first 40% is the best because Aaron and Ruby are so charming while writing to each other. It reminded me of a grown-up version of a story I used to really like in high school, called FROM E TO YOU. Zapata really captures what it's like to forge a connection with someone who is compatible with you, even if they're different from you, and I was blown away by the cuteness. During my recent trip to Ireland + Scotland, I was so exhausted, I hardly did any reading at all, but DEAR AARON managed to ensnare my attention despite that. I was invested.
The last 60% kind of ruins the story, and that's when the story switches format to a typical narrative style (first person, told exclusively in Ruby's voice). For a while, I teetered on whether or not I was still into the story, because Ruby has pretty bad social anxiety, and while I feel that this can probably be chalked up to people feeling more comfortable expressing themselves online than in person when they have anxiety (true facts, BTW, speaking as someone Who Knows), it got really annoying seeing Ruby cry all the time - especially over stupid things. I couldn't figure out if her character just felt poorly done, or if it was because she was making me feel uncomfortable due to my own history with social anxiety and panicking over stupid things, but either way, I really didn't like how that made up the bulk of her personality.
The second problem, which is more objective and less to do with my own biased opinion, is that when she meets Aaron, that deep, personal connection flies out the window and all she can focus on is how hot he is. She spends more time staring at him than Bella did at Edward in the Twilight movies, and we're constantly told, again and again, how hot he is. This is typical of new adult romances but felt especially shallow given that their relationship was initially forged on something so meaningful, and the author appeared to be trying to rectify their relationship by saying, "No, look, they're not sad losers for meeting online because they're both smoking hot!" I got really tired of hearing about Aaron's abs and perfectly chiseled everything and how he would give sculptors erections, etc. Like, please. Either make this a lust-at-first-sight story, or make it a deep, meaningful story about deep personal connections trumping all, but don't try to have your hormone-laced cake and eat it too and tell me that it's all about ~melding personalities~. More like melding something else, if you pardon my wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
The third problem is that Aaron is kind of a tool. I initially loved him with his interactions with Ruby. He had that perfect blend of strong hero with beta tendencies that I love, where he wants to protect the heroine but also enjoys talking with her and sharing meaningful experiences with her. When he meets her, he acts controlling, monitoring her eating, telling her over and over again to stay out of the sun, and at one point, even tells his friends to turn off their porn because "she shouldn't be exposed to that shit" (or something to that effect), acting like she's a pearl-clutching maiden aunt who might get the vapors at the sight of a dong (or in this case, an ass). I was rolling my eyes pretty hard at that point, because gross. He also gives her bad advice, acting all judgy when she tells him that she got a degree against her wishes because her parents thought she should have a back-up plan in case her sewing didn't work out (um, actually that's good advice), and then in the epilogue, he's condescendingly reminding her that it's time to go off her birth control, because don't you know it's breeding time? He does it several times, and I was just like, ew, gross. Stop trying to daddy her.
But the unforgivable kicker is what he does when Ruby confesses that she's not a virgin. When she tells him about her awful sexual experience with a guy she thought she loved, he legitimately has a hissy fit and storms out and then proceeds to ignore her/snub her. Afterwards, he tries to gaslight her and tell her he wasn't angry. No, sorry guy. You don't get to storm off in a fit that someone else beat you to the V-card, only to turn around and say, I was just mad that you were hurt by that other dude. F that misogynistic spiel. What makes it even worse is that Ruby was strong along by this guy for years and it has framed much of her anxiety about the opposite sex. When she finally meets with Aaron for the first time, he keeps telling her they're friends, makes a point of telling his friends that she's not his girlfriend, and even tells her that he thinks of her as a little sister, while also stringing her along, touching her in a very-unsibling like way (unless your last name is Lannister) and giving her more mixed signals than a broken traffic light in the middle of a seizure. This was just disgusting to me because he was doing the EXACT SAME THING that the guy who strung her along did, and he KNEW about that story and how much it hurt her and still treated her the way he did.
I was originally going to give this 3 stars (rounded up from 2.5), but now that I've laid out all my thoughts, I'm remembering how much this book annoyed and disappointed me, because it took a great beginning, laid it out all nice and pretty, and then took a giant, misogynistic dump on it. Honestly, I almost prefer FIFTY SHADES OF GREY to this because at least that guy owned up to being a woman-hating, f-ed up d-bag who liked control a little too much. This guy tries to play the nice guy card while acting every bit as condescending and toxic, and that's no good.
2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars