Boy this is a hard review to write.
Vanilla has been getting a bit of backlash from the book community lately, and I wasn’t sure why – I mean, don’t get me wrong, the book isn’t perfect, but as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I can’t say that I was incredibly offended by it as others were. I’m in no way invalidating their opinions on the book, or any issues at all that they might have with it – in fact, I kind of liked reading the good and the bad reviews for this one after I had finished reading, and I really agree with some of the things that people have said, both positive and negative.
As an adult who has been out as bisexual since I was sixteen, I’ve always been comfortable with who I am, even if there have been people in my life who haven’t agreed with it (and trust me, there have been). I spent a few years trying to figure things out for myself, and those were a trying few years to be honest – I really don’t talk about it much because I was severely depressed and and went through some other things during that time period as well. I’m 28 now, and when I was a teenager, there weren’t a lot of LGBTQ+ books to choose from, and to be honest, I think this book would have been a really nice read when I was struggling with things back then. As an adult, I read so many queer books, and I’m pretty judgemental about them.
Do I think Vanilla is the most beneficial book? No.
Do I think Vanilla is one of the better books out there? No.
Do I think Vanilla is harmful and to be avoided at all costs? Again, no.
In fact, I think that the author had a really good plan for this book – a really good idea that he wanted to implement and a story that he wanted to tell. I just think that along the way, some things got included that might be a little…well…offensive. Like the character being called Vanilla, for starters. But I’ll touch more on that in a few moments.
But here’s the thing – I’ve found other books that some people rave about to be a bit offensive, too – everyone is going to find a few of them in their lifetime if you read enough. I’m not trying to make excuses here, because like I said earlier, I honestly believe that the author of this book wrote a good story. In fact, I loved the overall story. I thought it shed light on a lot of things and gave us a look into what it means to not only be a part of a long lasting couple, but also a couple that is slowly growing apart, and what it feels like to make a discovery about yourself, as part of that couple, while trying to come to terms with who you are.
Hunter and Vanilla have been in love for ages – they started out as good friends, and realized that they had feelings for each other – feelings that they couldn’t (and didn’t want to) fight. So they went with it, and began a relationship that has always proven to be the one constant thing for both of them.
However, Hunter has been wanting sex more and more, and while Vanilla doesn’t want it right now – he wants to spend more time just being in love with each other before they commit to that level, so he tries to make Hunter understand. And while Hunter does understand, or at least tries to, he doesn’t know how much longer he can go without it. So he starts pushing Vanilla away and finding new friends, talking to other guys online, and trying to figure out what he really wants in life. Meanwhile, Vanilla spends some time trying to figure out why he doesn’t want sex – is it just because he isn’t ready? Or is sex something that he just isn’t all that interested in? When Hunter starts to push Vanilla away more and more, they start to wonder if their relationship can take it.
Also in the story is a character named Clown/Angel (name change halfway through the book), who is also coming to terms with identity while swallowing his feelings for Hunter. Eventually, after things start to go downhill with Vanilla and Hunter, Clown/Angel is the one that is constantly there for Vanilla, telling him that maybe his lack of interest in sex might not be something that is a bad thing, but maybe that he is actually asexual.
I wish we had actually had the chance to get to know the characters outside of their nicknames in the book – for example, we never learn Vanilla’s true name, just that it’s something that Hunter made up for him because he felt that Vanilla was…well…Vanilla. I really hate that we don’t get down on a personal level with the characters in that aspect…and I also really disliked the fact that we refer to Vanilla as such throughout the entire book…and of course, it makes it out to be like the lack of sex that Vanilla is willing to have with Hunter is the exact reason that he is called Vanilla – you know, boring and not willing to get crazy, that kind of thing – it really should have been more thought out before the book was even finished, you know? That was one of those things that could have been done a hell of a lot better.
I loved that the book was written in verse, though. It was really interesting to read the book that way – I’ve read a few others that are set up like this and I think that for a lot of them, it really adds an extra level of depth to the novel. I felt like that was the case in Vanilla, as well.
One thing I didn’t care much for was the points of view. At first, we have the viewpoints of Hunter and Vanilla, which are told in different fonts (I think Hunter’s was bold, if it I’m not mistaken). Later in the book, we have the viewpoint of Clown/Angel, and at times I had a difficult time distinguishing between the three, but mostly between Vanilla and Clown/Angel. There aren’t any actual names on top of the pages when the viewpoints change or anything, which can really cause some confusion.
Vanilla really has some problems, sure, but I mean, the book isn’t terrible. To be honest, for the first 80 pages or so, I was really enjoying the book, and even after I finished it I liked it a lot, and then I began to see the problems that it had, and it really started to grate on me. I don’t think this is the worst book in the world (trust me, I’ve seen some reallllly bad ones), but I also think that things could have been done a lot better so not to be as downright mean (such as the nickname Vanilla – I mean, come on). But underneath all of that, a reader can really find a love story that unravels as both main characters (and later the third) are forced to come to terms with who they are and what they want, all while trying to maintain friendship.