Moving prep and general end of summer laziness kept me from reading very much, so I only read two books in September. Both reviews have abundant spoilers.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston
GIRL, WASH YOUR FACE BY RACHEL HOLLIS
I’m not even going to bother with a quick summary of this book. Does that tell you anything about how I felt about it? All my energy went into this negative review.
When Girl, Wash Your Face first came out, I saw it all over Instagram but had no desire to read it. I forgot about it for ages, but recently came across a couple reviews on Goodreads that made me curious so I got it on Overdrive.
Note: At this point I stopped reading reviews. As a general rule I wait to read reviews until I’ve read the book and written my own thoughts. After I wrote this, I googled Hollis and starting reading more about her, because prior to reading this I had no idea what she does. It seems I’m not her only accuser of plagiarism and bad advice. Plus there are some delightful one star reviews on Goodreads that complain about the same problems I had, and go into the things I skipped because of how long this blog post was getting. I made about 60 bookmarks on Kindle as I read and ended up not referencing about half of them.
Before I get started on the negatives, I will be fair and go a bit more into the positives of the book. I don’t think Hollis is necessarily a bad person and she’s a pretty good writer. I’m just a bit confused as to why she thinks she was qualified for this book. Sure, she’s dealt with some traumatizing stuff (most chapters weren’t even on that) but she’s not a therapist. She could’ve just written this as more of a short memoir and then I’d have way more respect for it.
Hollis’ openness with the trauma in her life was the sole redeeming positive element of this book. Her brother’s suicide was sad to read about. I truly can’t imagine how hard it would be to find your sibling’s body at age fourteen and I respect her for moving forward with her life. She also talked about how that affected her relationship with her dad. I can also appreciate her honesty and growth about that; parental relationships can be hard to talk about. But I think the part I most appreciated her sharing was the experience as a foster and adoptive parent. That’s really the main thing that kept me from rating this as low as 0.5. She showed a dark side to a process that people hold up as worthwhile and honorable. As they should! Fostering and adopting is amazing work. Everyone knows it’s hard, and it’s important to know what makes it hard so I do appreciate Hollis’ transparency there.
Okay. Now for the negative stuff that makes me wonder why so many of my friends follow her on Instagram:
This is a straight up bad self-help book.
There is absolutely nothing here of any substance in that regard. It’s not original, it’s not helpful. It’s “tough love” smothered in privilege. It’s rehashed ideas that I’ve seen on Pinterest hundreds of time.
An example is on page 34: “Comparison is the death of joy, and the only person you need to be better than is the one you were yesterday.” Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saying “Comparison is the thief of joy” so maybe give him a shout out there, Rachel. And I’m pretty sure there are many similarly worded Bible verses. Please, anyone, let me know if you’ve never heard the second half of the quote (“be better today than yesterday”) because I’ll be shocked.
Her life advice was often immature. I’m not even 30 yet and I’ve learned that the quotes she spouts are not how life works. I mean, she references Tony Robbins. If that’s not a sign of weird, prosperity-gospel type “pay me $2,000 for a seminar and all your dreams will come true” advice to RUN from, I don’t know what is. (Edit: After I read up on her, I learned she speaks at a lot of MLM conferences. YIKES.)
Hollis has an inflated sense of her own importance.
On page 17, she says “I suppose if I’d been into homeschooling or knitting or photography or macrame, I would have used those things to try and better myself and boost up my friends. But I’m not into those things. I’m into lifestyle stuff, so I focus on creating content that falls under the banner of lifestyle media.”
So is she saying that hobbies aren’t part of a lifestyle? How is homeschooling not a lifestyle? Are only things she likes worth of the “lifestyle” label? What exactly is her definition of lifestyle, is it only working out and running a business? She never acknowledged the importance of all the things she’s not personally into.
Another example of her self-perceived importance was on page 94. “‘Hi, Rachel,’ they’d always begin (because apparently we call adults by their first names like hippies)!” This made me SO mad. She was talking about when she first started getting invited to speak at colleges around 2012, or maybe a little earlier (I couldn’t find the exact date) and people would use her first name to ask her questions. So she would’ve been 28-29? And she was upset that people around 20-21 called her by her first name? Oh my God, get over it. You weren’t their professor. I’m 29 and I would never expect someone in their early twenties to “respect” me like that. How fucking awkward.
On page 24 she said “I am 1,000 percent one of the nerdiest people you’re likely to meet.” Referencing the Jedi twice doesn’t make you nerdy. Telling me multiple times how nerdy and relatable you are (congratulations on shaving your toes there Rachel) doesn’t make you nerdy and relatable. I lost count of how many times she told the reader how good she is at running at a business.
Hollis’ goals showed her privilege.
Her number one goal after starting her own business was to buy some bag that cost a thousand dollars. I don’t have a problem with that goal itself even though it’s not my style, but she fixated on that bag for years. YEARS. Most women don’t do that. They’re trying to pay down debt or build up a rainy day fund. She’s very privileged and ignored that fact constantly. And apparently her newest goal is a house in Hawaii by the time she’s 40 or something. So relatable.
The story about her first year of dating her husband disturbs me.
This might be my #1 problem with the book. Now, to be clear, I do respect the fact that she and her husband were willing to be open about a time when he was not great to her. That’s brave, especially for him. And it does seem like he later grew up and became a good partner. My problem is with the way she told the story. She talked about the emotional abuse, how he let his friends be rude to her, how she was basically just a booty call for a year, and how she gave her virginity to him so he would stay but he left...then it all ended when she finally had enough and stood up for herself one time. And then that’s it, that’s where she stops the story and essentially says “then it was all better, yay!”
That is absolutely NOT how you leave that story for an impressionable audience. What if there’s some twenty-year-old reading it, saying to herself “That will be me, I can tolerate his treatment of me because one day it will get better”? I can ask that because ten years ago, I would have said that. I tolerated an emotionally shitty partner for years and at the time I looked for any excuse to justify it. Reading this would’ve just been proof to me that I was right. She even acknowledges this with “I hesitate to even tell you the ending because I don’t want anyone to stay in an unhealthy relationship with the hopes that it will become healthy.” (Pg. 92) Well Rachel, I can assure you that someone is doing this, because you failed to complete the story.
Hollis really, and I mean REALLY, needed to delve into the work she and her husband had to do to get to a place of emotional respect. She needed to explain what new behaviors she expected from her husband and how he worked to prove that he would be different with his second chance. Because he either 1) had to change and grow up and work hard at it or 2) he had the capability to be a decent human the whole time, he just wasn’t doing it until she was over him. If it was the first option, readers need to know more. If it was the second option, then I can see why she didn’t go into how easy it was to move on because that makes his initial behavior extra shitty. (And no, a chapter about their sex life does NOT count as a way to tell readers how the emotional abuse stopped.)
Hollis credits her success to the fact that she refused to take no for an answer.
I believe that’s part of it, but she conveniently ignores luck. There are a million women out there just as talented and determined at what she does, but the only reason she succeeded while they didn’t is luck and privilege. (Besides, succeeding looks different for everyone and she doesn’t acknowledge that. Most people are happy with their careers and don’t need a million Instagram followers.) Anyone at the top of any industry has worked unbelievably hard, yes, but you don’t get things simply through hard work and wishing. Sometimes all the pieces just happen to fall into place. (Another hindsight edit: Her husband was some Disney executive. I can’t believe that her success came only from refusing to take no’s and not connections made in the industry.)
There you have it. I actually left a few points out simply because I was tired of talking about her. Other reviews on Goodreads have addressed the white privilege, body shaming, and vaguely self-serving Christianity if you want to read more. I’m perplexed at Hollis’ popularity and I definitely won’t be reading any more of her books.
Rating: 1.5/5 (I originally rounded to 2 stars but I ended up lowering it to 1 on Goodreads because I got more and more annoyed with it as I wrote out my thoughts.)
QUEEN’S SHADOW BY E.K. JOHNSTON
Queen’s Shadow is in the new Star Wars canon and takes place before Episode II, when Padme Amidala is transitioning from her role as Queen of Naboo to Galactic Senator.
I might’ve liked this book a little better if I didn’t just read Dark Disciple. That one is my new gold standard for Star Wars books, so Queen’s Shadow had a lot to live up to and didn’t quite make it.
There were parts I really enjoyed. I liked seeing Padme adjust to Senator life, I loved her developing relationship with Bail Organa, and I appreciated that she tried to go to back to Tatooine when her term was over and save Shmi. (Is there a canon conversation out there of Padme telling Anakin that? I need to read/see it.) It also made me really happy when Padme remembered Qui-Gon’s sacrifice.
I thought the world-building was a little inconsistent at times. That was the biggest issue to me. I have two examples for you:
First, Sabe’s sexuality: “...Sabe found herself mesmerized by Kooib-s’s appearance. She didn’t always go for nonhumans, but it happened on occasion, particularly with interesting females.” Okay, so Sabe is bisexual and likes the occasional female with blue skin. That’s totally fine. The thing that didn’t line up, in my opinion, is that she’s just 18. Being 18 isn’t the issue - the issue is the timing. Johnston constantly impressed on the reader just how much training the handmaids had and how they were always with Padme. Sabe had spent the past four years of her life serving Padme ON Naboo where everyone is either human or Gungan, and before that had gone through years of training. So...when did she even have time to experiment? Maybe on her brief Tatooine mission, but it also sounded like she was constantly working? And she was living with Padme’s officer that she was just starting to like. It was just inconsistent and would jolt me out of the story. There were lots of little quotes like that, but this was my biggest “wait, what?” moment that I sat there trying to figure out the timeline. (I am ALL FOR more adult content/representation in Star Wars media, so I swear I’m not being a prude here.)
Another example: Johnston made it seem as though Padme’s decoy thing was still very useful. But...it wasn’t? In The Phantom Menace, Padme revealed herself to Boss Nass and there were dozens of people around. Gungans, Jedi, and her own top military leaders. Nute Gunray even learned about it by the end of Episode I. And in Episode II, the decoy thing did work long enough to save her life from Jango and Zam, but they immediately knew it was a decoy. So even if Padme and her handmaidens were very good at looking identical, that doesn’t mean it was some top-secret, highest-clearance-possible level stuff.
I dunno. I guess it was just a bit forced all throughout the book as being this huge part of Padme’s political life, when the movies made it seem like she only used it during events like invasion and possible assassination. It just goes back to the world-building not being seamless.
The ending seemed to leave the possibility of a follow-up book open, which I would of course read.