The Half-Life of Planets

The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin

First Lines: I am not a slut. Evidence exists that is contrary to this statement, but this is what I’m thinking in the hospital bathroom.

Another day, another book where I go, “Great, that’s really the first line I have to talk about?” My knowledge of this book goes way back to 2010. Oh yeah. I saw this on a shelf at a Barnes & Noble, I think and it looked interesting. Years later, I found a copy at a used book sale for super cheap and picked it up, thinking worst case I could take it to school for my classroom library.

Liana wants to be an astrophysicist only slightly more than she wants to kiss boys this summer. When she’s not in the lab looking at stars, she wants to be at parties or fairs or the dock hanging out with people–namely guys. What she doesn’t count on is meeting Hank. Hank’s funny and smart and a lot awkward, but in a cute way. Hank is spending his summer working at a guitar shop in hopes of earning enough money to buy a Fender Jazzmaster. Oh, and Hank has Asperger’s Syndrome. Neither was prepared for how their lives would change.

I loved the idea of showing representation with a main character on the Autism Spectrum. And I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a book about music.

But the execution was…ok, like the whole book was melodramatic to an extreme. I couldn’t even keep my sarcasm out of the book description, if you noticed.

When we first are introduced to Liana, she’s just found a note in her locker that labels her as a “slut.” So that keeps coming up over and over and over and over in the book because she’s now decided to stop kissing boys for the whole summer to prove that she’s not one. (It’s never very clear how this is supposed to help.) Her family virtually never communicates about anything real anymore, which (while realistic in some families) just added to the overall melodrama and miscommunications.

As for Hank…ok, I’ve had many autistic students in my classes over the years on varying ends of the spectrum. While Hank is not on the highest functioning end of the spectrum, he’s definitely closer to that end than the middle. He doesn’t pick up well on social cues, but he generally knows how people are “supposed” to act in a certain moment–he just doesn’t understand why. That part–and his fixation on music–were more or less accurate.

What bothered me the most about Hank is the fact that he is constantly thinking to himself about his physical…reactions…to Liana. I cannot say I have ever been in a teenage boy’s head (nor would I ever want to be), but I showed some of these passages to my boyfriend, who also commented that this was weird. Hank is constantly staring at Liana’s…chest…or commenting on his…desires. Never to Liana. Like I said, he knows enough to know that would make Liana uncomfortable, but as a reader it was highly uncomfortable for me. It’s one of the more explicit YA books I’ve read in a long time.

I actually rather enjoyed the book at the beginning, but it was hard to keep that momentum going when everything felt like a sad soap opera. I mean, the big “plot twist” at the end had me rolling my eyes and thinking about putting the book down–except I only had about 20 pages left.

Such a weird book. I had higher hopes than this.

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