So... I gave in. A little bit of history: my recap/review/exasperated rant of maximum strength of Becca Fitzpatrick’s debut, “Hush, Hush”, the 3rd book in the original Sparkle Project, is probably the thing I’m most well known for. In short, I hated the book, primarily because I just couldn’t believe that the author was writing a so-called love story where Patch, the designated male love interest’s abhorrent actions, including stalking, sexual harassment, borderline abuse and threats of murder, were considered okay because he was a sexy bad boy. There is a scene in “Hush, Hush” where Patch holds Nora down on a bed and tells her how he has planned to kill her... then he kisses her. And this is all okay. I hated this book so much I threw it against a wall twice and it’s become the marker of comparison for every YA book I read in terms of bad romance. I wasn’t going to review “Crescendo” at first. After all, what would be the point? My view of “Hush, Hush” was never going to change, even if its sequel ended up being the YA equivalent of “The Dark Knight.” But the honest truth is this; I wanted to see if things got better. Or worse. Fitzpatrick has gone on the record as saying it took her 5 years to write her first book and she had no intention of writing a sequel until her agent got her a 2 book deal (she now has a three book deal with “Silence” due out this Autumn) so I wanted to see how everything changed. To be honest, I wanted to see what happened next with Patch and Nora. How exactly does one write a romance that’s so obviously dangerous and messed up and pretend everything’s okay? I saw a copy of the book in my local library and decided just to go for it. I need to state this up front, since book bloggers are getting a bad name lately and the atmosphere in YA blogging has become really tense lately; I don’t go into books looking to write bad reviews. Even with the original Sparkle Project, my intention was to analyse a genre trend from the point of view of a feminist YA nerd and spot its problems and perils. Yes, I did it in an incredibly snarky manner which has led some people to disregard my reviews, but my intention was and still is to give the genre the analysis it deserves. It’s not a lesser, inferior mode of literature that deserves a lower opinion from readers. I didn’t go into “Crescendo” wanting to hate it. Honestly, I really wanted this to be better because I want to believe so much that one day we can stop bullshitting around and messing up perceptions of romance and relationships for teenagers. But the honest truth is that “Crescendo” is a huge disappointment, depressingly so.The thing that worried me from the offset in this book, one chapter in (ignoring the prologue that clumsily sets up the intrigue but really gives everything away), is the establishment of Marcie, a flat, incidental character from the first book, as Nora’s ‘nemesis.’ She is immediately set up as the polar opposite of Nora based on her promiscuous dress sense. A former friend of Nora’s, she now apparently loathes her solely because “you were born.” She doesn’t get any deeper level of character development throughout the story. She’s the bad girl, the bully, the slut.The slut. And she’s shamed at every possible moment for it. Nora, supposedly the good girl and polar opposite of Nora, frequently makes bad handed references to Marcie being a slut or a whore or any variation on that term and this is reason enough to hate her. Her sexuality is used as a reason to dislike Marcie (although, conveniently enough for Nora, it’s okay for her to be sexually suggestive as well as Patch, because bad boys equal sexy while bad girls equal sluts, and Patch and Nora never actually have sex so they’re pure and worthy to mock Marcie). Being sexually active in any sort of way isn’t just bad, it makes you a bad person. It’s also Marcie who’s constantly at fault in these issues, never Nora or Patch. It’s Marcie that steals Patch from Nora, even though Nora broke up with him! Nora’s never the bad person, even when she admits to doing bad things to Marcie (the instance given – Nora deliberately picking an unflattering photo of Marcie for the school magazine – while rather petty, is important to note because Nora is never chastised for these sort of incidents but Marcie constantly is. She also steals Marcie’s diary for further slut-shaming opportunities.) Marcie isn’t the only one that suffers from weak characterisation. Vee, supposedly Nora’s best friend, is here once again to be fat and a form of comic relief, apparently her only defining traits. Scott, the jerk that isn’t Patch, embodies all of the traits Patch has but because he isn’t the designated love interest, he’s not as sexy (but still aesthetically pleasing of course). Nora and Patch don’t evolve at all. In fact, they become even more annoying. Nora, when she isn’t slut shaming to the maximum, has devolved into vaguely psychotic stalker girlfriend territory and Patch is still an utter creep. The majority of their conversations are made up of supposedly charming innuendo which, if coming out of the mouth of someone who didn’t look like a male model, would be sexual harassment, and arguments over petty nothingness in an attempt to get some plot into this story-less mess. Almost everyone in this story knows that Patch is bad news and often tell Nora this, yet common sense just doesn’t exist to her (although her mother seems adamant on setting her up with an equally big douche-bag with a criminal record who seems to get the free pass Patch doesn’t because he was an old childhood friend of Nora’s.) She also seems to be obsessively in lust with Patch rather than love. It’s been established that he cannot feel anything for her on a physical level (so I’m guessing his constant creepy sex talk is some form of over-compensation) but he admits to loving her emotionally, but she says, when breaking up with him (probably her smartest moment), “When I kiss my boyfriend, I want to know he feels it.” I tried to find 5 things that Nora and Patch had in common, something for them to discuss as a couple, hobbies to share and the like, and couldn’t find a thing (school activities do not count.) Their obsessive ‘love’ is their only defining trait, although Nora also seems to be make a beeline into the field of amateur stalking and kleptomania. The relationship seems to be following the now standard pattern for YA – book one = establishment of true but oh so forbidden love and book two = circumstances bring love to a temporary end. The male figures are constantly asserting their dominance like it’s a peacock strutting competition; there’s one worrying scene where Scott grabs Nora and she screams for help yet nobody does. Someone even laughs at her. Between this and the horrid biology scene in the first novel, I can’t help but worry about the attitudes towards women in these books, especially when it’s fair to use the word ‘attack.’ The story is so clearly following a derivative pattern that you can practically seen the join-the-dots. While there is less emphasis on the love story – phew – the mystery that makes up the majority of the plot plods along with no real finesse or surprises, with characters doing and saying stupid stuff solely for plot advancement. There are a few interesting moments here and there but it’s all handled so clumsily with inconsistent plotting that it’s difficult to care, a hefty task when this novel is also populated with a cast that varies from the forgettable to the lazily characterized to the downright awful. It all wraps up with a big cliff hanger that has potential but having been burned so much from this sequel, even my masochistically curious side isn’t very interested in seeing what happens next. “Crescendo” is not a good book in any sense of the word. It suffers from the same problems “Hush, Hush” did – poor plotting and pacing, weak characterisation, lazy mythos, derivative and predictable paranormal romance traits – as well as some elements I just can’t ignore. I hate slut-shaming, everyone should hate it. It’s a false stereotype, it does nothing but label and demeans women and it reinforces old assumptions about women and sex that we just do not need in our world, especially in our teenage world. Marcie Millar is characterised solely on her sexuality and how bad it makes her. She likes sex because she’s bad and she’s bad because she likes sex. It’s unfair, it’s reinforcing stereotypes and it’s just plain lazy characterisation. On top of all this we have Nora Grey who has quickly become one of the most unlikeable, irrational, paranoid, hysterical and downright stupid characters in young adult fiction. I’m pretty offended on behalf of teenage girls everywhere that are supposed to relate to her. Good old Patch is out of the scene for a lot of this book but he remains a jerk. Nice to know some things don’t change. I worried about the reinforcement of rape culture in “Hush, Hush” and now I worry about the perpetuation of slut-shaming and the virgin-whore dichotomy in “Crescendo.” I shudder to think what “Silence” will bring us. Overall, yet again I remain perplexed as to how these books have become as popular as they have. We have to do better than filling books for teenage girls full of the same old falsehood that short skirts and an interest in sex equals a spoiled moral code. Surely we’re better than this?