Sometimes I read a book and I just want to yell “how the hell did this get published?” I’d say this book was overhyped, but in fairness, it was exactly what it said in the title: Half Bad.
The Bad Half:
There are so many flaws with this book I spent the first half wondering how it made it into book shops. The main glaring issue is the use of second person. I’m not a fan in general, but in fairness, it can work (I didn’t like “Stolen” by Lucy Christopher because I found the style weird, but I could appreciate that it was done well, and it was done for a purpose). Unfortunately, “Half Bad” isn’t even as good as that, because there is no rhyme or reason to the use of second person. Whereas in “Stolen”, the first person narrator is addressing her captor, here it seems like the narrator is just missing. It can’t be the captor addressing the main character, as she is described as “she”, and it can’t be the protagonist, as he is described as “you”.
Confused? I sure as hell am. Because, who, other than the main character, would know the intimate thoughts of the main character? Since Green has introduced such a personal tense, it does not work to have a disembodied omniscient narrator. It feels like a blend of third person limited and second person, which is jarring, makes no sense and signalled to me that the author has no control over her material. It practically screams: AMATEUR! Needless to say I did not like it.
Now if that wasn’t confusing enough- the book inexplicably shifts from second person to first person. In fairness, after she did shift perspectives, the story started to make a lot more sense and then became interesting (if not enjoyable) at times. But then why bother putting it in in the first place? It wasn’t necessary and it didn’t add to the plot. It’s trying to be clever with the structure, but it’s not done well, so it’s just a mess. And it’s not like it put me in the main character’s shoes, because it’s not as if I have delusions that I am Nathan-the-half-code anyway. Nor did it feel as though the main character was losing sense of himself as when it switches back to first person, it’s all perfectly coherent again.
On top of that, the plot is all over the place. Again, the author decided to be clever and flitted through the time line in a non-chronological manner, because… well, because why not? I swear there is no logical reason for anything in the construction of this book. I suspect the only reason the structure is so bizarre is that the author wanted to drag it out for two more books. I’ve read the second book (not much to report there) and it doesn’t feel like there was enough material to make three books. I honestly believe this would have made a great standalone. It’s so slow-moving that it actually needed the fussy style to make the book long enough.
The Good Half:
That being said, the characters were decent. I often found myself rooting for the main character and feeling sorry for him at times. The tragic element was woven really well into the story. All the antagonists had strong motivations and were really well thought out- which is unusual and refreshingly different to the bog standard “I’m just evil cos” villains. One of the biggest selling points, however, was the main character’s relationships with his brother and grandmother. It was mostly because of these characters that I had huge amounts of sympathy for the protagonist.
I also disagree with the consensus that the world-building was not in depth enough. I found it perfectly serviceable. If anything, there were too many “info-drop” moments. Sure, it could have done with further development, but I didn’t mind the basic idea, as it prevented the background from detracting from the plot too much as with so many books.
So, taking all that into consideration, I guess I the only rating I can give is…
(Get it- cos it’s half the bananas? :p )