Carry the Ocean – Heidi Cullinan
I really wanted to like this book. It is not often you get an autistic main character in a fiction book and it’s even less often you get a gay, autistic main character. So I was really hopeful for this book. Which made the disappointment I felt reading it even worse.
Perhaps my expectations were a bit high and that is what made it seem worse to me than it really was. Objectively looking at it, I think that it is probably an average gay romance novel. The problem for me is the tone and stereotypes throughout the whole book.
The book opens with painting Emmett as the ultimate autistic stereotype. You know the regular complaint that all autistic characters are white boys who love trains, computers and maths and speak like robots? Well Emmett is exactly that stereotype. Plus he has savant like knowledge about everything and the author frequently abuses the autistic stereotype to “infodump” on the reader via Emmett. Jeremey is a better character, more well-rounded and realistic in his reaction to finding out he has depression and anxiety. Better but not great.
He’s just being polite. Maybe his mom made him come to the picnic too, and told him to go be social. The thought relaxed me a little. Obviously Emmett was special needs. Would it kill me to be nice to him?
“H-hi.” I blushed, embarrassed at my own ineptitude. Who’s special needs now, idiot?
A lot of the interactions between Jeremey and Emmett are awkward and made me want to skip over sections of dialogue because they made me cringe. There is a section where they confess their attraction to each other which basically goes: Emmett gets upset over something, Jeremey has a panic attack because Emmett is upset, Emmett comforts Jeremey whilst getting an erection, and they confess attraction. It was possibly the most awkward part of the whole book. Other characters, particularly Jeremey’s parents, are also quite two-dimensional – Jeremey’s parents are portrayed as uncaring bigots who speak badly of those with disabilities. Except later in the book we’re meant to believe that Jeremey’s mother has experienced either depression or anxiety or both, based on a single paragraph of information. Which might be believable if she hadn’t been written as “stereotypical awful mother” with no redeemable features.
The book throws in some name dropping of autistic people, and tries it’s hand at a bit of self-diagnosis of characters, and there is also a lot of awkwardly placed buzzwording which is not always used accurately, and even a cameo from a reddit post discussing whether autism should be cured. Basically every thing that the author could include to pander to the neurodiversity movement is in this book, and that contrasts quite oddly with some of the things written that are quite unpleasant about more visibly autistic or disabled people. There is even an awful flash-mob where Emmett, Jeremey and some other characters dance to “Happy” in Target and get a round of applause from the members of the public.
To be blunt, the other men and women at Icarus were a mess, and it shocked me to think these were my peers. Sometimes their disabilities were starkly, physically obvious, from vacant stares and odd postures to loud noises and inappropriate gestures and comments. Some of them appeared normal until you tried to talk to them.
I was horribly disappointed with Emmett’s portrayal – being autistic, his character was what meant the most to me and him basically being a slightly padded out stereotype was disappointing. However, David is a brilliant character. Disabled after a vehicular accident, David is angry and brash and rude and fed up with the whole world. His anger and frustration feels real when you read it. His character is also nuanced and has different layers, he is perhaps the most fleshed out character in the book. I would actually really enjoy reading a book with David as the main character.
The problem is I could see there was a lot of potential when I was reading this book, and it does cover some incredibly important topics such as discrimination, suicide, the fact that people don’t want to consider the possibility of relationships (particularly sexual ones) between disabled people, and how important supported living is in obtaining independence. Unfortunately the clumsy reliance on stereotypes and the two-dimensional characters prevented it from ever getting past average.
I don’t know. I was horribly disappointed, but I am also not prone to reading romantic novels or young adult fiction, categories that this book firmly falls into. You could always try reading the first chapter for free on Kindle – if you enjoy the first chapter you will probably like the rest.
Value for money?
Yes actually, even if I did not enjoy it – £2.84 on Kindle is an incredibly reasonable price for a book this size.