Review: Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough

Title: Amelia Westlake Was Never Here
Author: Erin Gough
Release Date: 5/21/2019
Publisher: Poppy
Pages: 368

Don’t have time to read the entire review? That’s okay! Scroll down to the very end for a TL;DR.

Trigger Warnings: talk of plane crashes, mention of concentration camps as a joke, toxic/abusive relationship, fatphobia

This post does contain affiliate links. I will receive a small amount from any purchases made.

A fiercely funny, queer romantic comedy about two girls who can’t stand each other, but join forces in a grand feminist hoax to expose harassment and inequality at their elite private school.

Harriet Price is the perfect student: wealthy, smart, over-achieving. Will Everhart, on the other hand, is a troublemaker who’s never met an injustice she didn’t fight. When their swim coach’s inappropriate behavior is swept under the rug, the unlikely duo reluctantly team up to expose his misdeeds, pulling provocative pranks and creating the instantly legendary Amelia Westlake–an imaginary student who helps right the many wrongs of their privileged institution. But as tensions burn throughout their school–who is Amelia Westlake?–and between Harriet and Will, how long can they keep their secret? How far will they go to make a difference? And when will they realize they’re falling for each other?

Award-winning author Erin Gough’s Amelia Westlake Was Never Here is a funny, smart, and all-too-timely story of girls fighting back against power and privilege–and finding love while they’re at it.

This has probably been my most disappointing book of 2019 so far. The hopes I had for it were sky high, but unfortunately, it fell flat pretty quick. I think I spent close to a week and a half or two weeks trying my absolute hardest to get through it and I just couldn’t. I was planning on sticking it out because that’s just what I do (DNF comes with a lot of guilt for me), but when I started finding problematic content I decided that was the sign I needed to quit while I was ahead. Life is short after all, why waste it on bad books?

Amelia Westlake really only has two major characters and all of the others felt like background noise and wildly insignificant. Which is a shame since only one out of the two is even somewhat likable. Harriet was honestly one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever encountered. She’s meant to be somebody that 100% wholeheartedly believes in the private school they attend and is under the impression that the faculty can do no wrong. This personality trait of hers was completely over the top and made her so insufferable.

At no point while reading this did I ever find myself laughing. Maybe the humor in it just wasn’t my type? Or maybe the first part is meant to be serious and the second half contains all the jokes? I guess since I didn’t finish it I’ll never know, but if a book is being pitched as ‘fiercly funny’ I expect it to hit my funny bone from the get-go.

For being about a book that’s supposed to expose harassment and inequality while promoting feminism, it sure did a great job of feeding into every stereotype possible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since our favorite tropes are built from stereotypes, but when they turn problematic then it’s a big issue.

The problem is teachers like Miss Fowler have so much power,” Millie remarks. “It’s like being in a concentration camp or something.”

amelia westlake was never here by erin gough

I really can’t even believe that I have to point out what is wrong with this quote, but since it made it into the book I guess I do? And I want to clarify before going further that as far as I know, my family history is as white, unoppressed, and privileged as one could possibly get. So if I’m able to see what is blatantly wrong with that quote and feel uncomfortable by it, imagine how somebody whose family knows the horrors of what a concentration camp is like is going to feel after reading it. Nothing, and let me repeat that….NOTHING should ever be compared to concentration camps. It’s inexcusable.

She leans back in her chair and waves her feet around. It looks like she is trying to pedal a bike, but not particularly effectively, which is no surprise given Will Everhart is not exactly fitness oriented.

amelia westlake was never here by erin gough

Helloooooo, fatphobia! News flash: fat people can ride bikes. As a fat person, I would know. I really thought this was going to be a book filled with inclusive feminism, but the quotes I’ve highlighted are hurtful, and that’s not what feminism should be. This type of feminism is used to push a personal agenda that’s filled with biases against certain types of people when instead it should be used to lift up the voices of those that are oppressed and marginalized. It’s possible it gets more inclusive towards the end, but with the kinds of things I read at the beginning, I’m guessing not.

What might be even more disheartening is the fact that I attempted to alert The NOVL, who sent me this ARC for review, of the issue and all I heard were crickets. I realize that at this point the final copies are more than likely already printed so it’s too late to change anything, but couldn’t you at least acknowledge that you let hurtful content slip by? Apologies can go a long way.

Amelia Westlake Was Never Here had so much potential to be the influential and empowering book of 2019 that everybody needed in their life. Not often will I explicitly say to stay away from a book because I’m of the mindset that not every book is for every reader and what doesn’t work for me might for you and that’s great, but I cannot in good conscience recommend something that is problematic and hurtful like this story is.

TL;DR: I DNFed at page 139 due to instances of problematic content.

A physical ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Additionally, all quotes should be checked for accuracy against the final published novel.

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