It's 2016; can we stop pretending we don't judge books by their cover? Remix has amazing cover art—in particular, the way the back cover copy is arranged is a thing of beauty. Just look at it. If I hadn’t already wanted to read Remix after reading Non Pratt’s debut, Trouble, that back cover would change my mind.
I love that Remix is, at its core, about the best friendship between two girls. Yes, there is sex and romance and relationship drama. At the end of the day, though, this is about Kaz and Ruby. They are such distinctive people who nevertheless care deeply about each other, and even though one weekend at a music festival seems to drive them apart, their friendship is a resilient one. And I'm probably going to spend the rest of this review unpacking that last sentence, because that’s this novel in a nutshell.
Like Trouble, Remix features two narrators. This time the book also changes up the typeface with each narrator: Kaz is your standard serif; Ruby is a smooth, stream-of-consciousness sans-serif. I love this little extra degree of differentiation—regrettably, the fact that almost all books are ordinary serif means that Kaz’s typeface looks “normal” while Ruby’s is more extraordinary. In actuality, Pratt manages to portray both girls as interesting but individual voices. So really, when you read this book, you get two great protagonists for the price of one.
I could go into stereotypes to summarize their differences. Kaz is the sensible, no-nonsense, down-to-earth girl who doesn't see the boys flirting with her and has eyes only for the one guy she loves. Ruby is the wild child who doesn’t do great in school, likes having sex, and knows what she wants. Yet this type of classification is reductive, because each girl has elements of the other in her—Kaz has desires and yearnings she explores here, and Ruby must confront some of her emotional denial.
Although Remix emphasizes friendship, it’s not to the detriment of other important relationships. For example, Pratt illustrates how our interactions with parents influence us: Kaz’s mother is an encouraging, progressive role model when it comes to activities like sex, but she’s hopeless with cooking or home maintenance, forcing Kaz to step up and be more responsible than your average 16-year-old. In contrast, Ruby’s parents have high academic expectations for her that she never seems to meet; they are deliberately unseen and, aside from notes, unheard here, to emphasize their distance from their daughter.
And then, of course, there’s sex and dating. Or “going out with” as Ruby might put it, since she thinks dating is an icky word.
She has a point: dating has two connotations, one far more juvenile than what’s happening here (like you’re in Grade 7 and you have a “girlfriend”) and one far more adult. Another thing I love about Remix is that it holds no illusions about what teens are up to. Kaz and Ruby are 16, and they and their similarly-aged friends are drinking, sexing, and rock-n-rolling. They talk like teenagers, and they have the same flimsy but oh-so-confident worldviews that teenagers have.
The fun, if you will, in this book is watching Kaz and Ruby’s desires and decisions conflict and lead them to make bad choices. There’s an “oh no she didn’t” vibe to much of the story, with one or the other doing something in the heat of the moment that seems to propel the other one further away. Both realize it’s happening and realize it’s stupid, and Pratt perfectly captures that strong-headed teenage attitude that often prevents people (even well into adulthood) from simply stopping and saying, “We're being dumb.” I wanted things to work so badly for Kaz and Ruby, but it’s easy to see why it keeps going wrong. As I mentioned in my review of Trouble, my disinclination towards relationships and sex meant I didn’t experience this type of drama first-hand as a teenager—but I can definitely identify with making stupid decisions and arguments that just spiral further and further out of control.
As far as the sex goes, I just want to highlight a great, frank moment when Ruby recalls having bad sex. It’s awesome to see a YA book not just portraying teenagers having causal sex (like they do) but also acknowledge that it will often be bad sex (or at least, so I am given to understand) instead of fictionalizing sex into some kind of perfect expression of romantic compatibility. On a similar note, Ruby’s sexual attraction to Stu despite her complicated emotional feelings validates the idea that you can be attracted to someone physically but not emotionally, or vice versa.
As far as the relationships go, I want to highlight Lauren, Kaz’s ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. Pratt could easily have made Lauren a haughty bitch. Much to Ruby’s disappointment, Kaz actually likes Lauren. And while I found myself sympathizing quite a bit with Ruby’s disgust over the way Lauren acts, I have to agree with Kaz that Lauren is a good person—and that she deserves better than Tom! I appreciate this sympathetic portrayal of the “replacement” significant other.
The back of the book promises “zero chance of everything working out.” It delivers. It’s not a downer ending, though—quite the contrary. I loved the ending. But it reminds us that you can’t please everyone. Life is messy and is full of mistakes, and things we say or do in the heat of the moment are impossible to take back and difficult to remedy.
I also like how Remix feels very quotidian; it doesn’t pivot on a single, capital-I-Issue, like teenage pregnancy or rape or body shaming, etc. Don’t get me wrong: books that pivot on such issues are essential—but books that don’t are just as necessary. And Remix still has some heavy stuff in it, but it’s part of a larger, overall narrative.
Did I make a mistake reading Remix and Trouble only six months apart, with no idea when Pratt’s next novel is coming out? I don’t think so. We like to badger our favourite authors to finish their next work, because we are eager to read it, of course—but, you know, I actually have a ton of books to read. I’d rather Pratt takes her time polishing her next novel, even if it takes longer, and I will distract myself with other reads while I wait. Looking forward to whatever comes next, however, because so far it has been delightful.