YouTube has entered an Eden unto itself in these past few years. It is a world where suddenly people who create content via the form of online video, be it good or bad, are now dipping their toes into the pond of literature. Personalities like Tyler Oakley, Hannah Hart, Shane Dawson, and more released their true life stories onto bookshelves. They took a bite of the literary apple and suddenly YouTubers entered the written world. They wrote memoirs, self help books, books with funny pictures, and some even wrote fiction. But a big question loomed above the clouds. Could YouTubers actually write? Ehhh, not really. It seems that taking a bite of this apple can only lead to poison or eternal damnation in the literary community.
Joey Graceffa, a popular YouTuber with over seven million subscribers, is among the YouTube crowd who has congregated in this… “paradise.” His first book, a memoir titled In Real Life, was released in May of 2015. It was highly praised among fans, and even got some praise from regular readers, but was it actually good? Well, it was okay. The book contained a lot of heart and honesty but by the end it only amounted to a bunch of random events without any glue to hold them together.
What originally appealed to me about Joey Graceffa on YouTube was his humor. He was a genuinely funny guy and his videos seemed to reflect that. But as of late, Joey has become one of the leaders in YouTube’s Eden and his content has become anew as well…not for the better. Instead of posting music video parodies or…well, whatever content he used to post (were his videos ever truly good or is my memory failing me?), Joey posts videos of himself unpackaging things, mediocre mystery dramas for YouTube Red, or crying about his hard life, all while looking super duper pretty. And before you think me a huge jerk, let me say that I am not suggesting that Joey Graceffa not have feelings or be honest about those feelings to his viewers. But it is just a bit strange to me that someone who really isn’t creating any new or interesting content has such a large viewership. This seems to be a trend among YouTube Eden.
Which brings me to Joey’s second book titled Children of Eden. It is a work of fiction and revolves around a girl named Rowan in a dystopian future. The realm is known as Eden and the central conflict is that every family in Eden can only conceive one child. Unfortunately, Rowan and her brother Ash are twins. Rowan is a second child. Since Ash is the first born, she is forced into a life of hiding behind the stone walls of her home. If found out, she will be killed.
Going into it, I will not deny that the concept of this book sounds intriguing. There are a lot of cool concepts to be explored. The theme of Eden is a very overused one but if done right, an author can really achieve something beautiful. Graceffa did manage to create an interesting universe. The layers of history implied throughout the entire text is very engaging and interesting. Another great point of this novel is that our main character is bi-sexual. Joey Graceffa came out as a gay man last year and I imagine it was of great importance to him to represent the LGBT community in his fiction. I give him props for trying to create a diverse character.
Unfortunately, like most YouTuber books, taking a bite out of this apple provided little taste. Upon first bite there is something good, but when you dig deeper you find rot and worms. There are multiple reasons why this book did not work. Although I mentioned two good aspects, it can also be noted that it was these aspects that hindered the book. While the concept of Eden is interesting, it is not nearly explored upon enough. To choose a story title with the word “Eden” holds many connotations. It implies creation and new life and cleanliness. The levels in which an author can build upon by choosing this title makes me giddy. Unfortunately, Joey hit none of those levels. It seems the title choice had little to do with powerful themes and more to do with intrigue and shallow marketing. Therefore, this leaves the book feeling a little confused as it does not explore its title and finds itself lost when searching for what it is trying to say.
The main character, Rowan, is about as interesting as a banana peel. She has no motivations for anything. On a surface level, there seems to be a lot to explore with her character. But her decisions stem from nothing internal. She is a puppet and Graceffa is her puppeteer. We see Rowan making life altering decisions, stepping up and sacrificing herself, yet there is nothing to back up what she says and does. Nothing in the beginning of the book sets up Rowan’s choices at the heart of this book. This includes Rowan being bi-sexual. Look, I am all for representation. But it should be done well. I talked about this in my recent Books and Videogames episode discussing Carol. In Carol / The Price of Salt, author Patricia Highsmith writes her two lesbian protagonists with complexity and depth that reaches a level that only a high class author can achieve. Graceffa does not reach any levels, telling us that Rowan is falling in love with two different sexes but giving us literally no reason other than it says so on the page. The romance between she and another female character is at least passable and has some, if not much, motivation behind it, however the one attempted between she and man comes off as a joke. And on the topic of characters, none of them were very good. What Graceffa attempted with them earns him a small pat on the back. But at the end of the day, they are cliche and offer nothing new. They are as forgettable as that show from Nickelodeon, The Romeo Show. See, you forgot about that didn’t you? There is a reason!
Joey Graceffa is not a bad writer, but I would not call him a good writer either. He is simply okay, and that is putting it nicely. There were many passages in this book that caught me off guard as very impressive and well done. That being said, more often than not I was very bored by what I was reading. Graceffa goes on long tangents of description, describing everything from the third button down on someone’s shirt to every single movement of their eyes in a given scene. Now I am never one to shy away from description. I love in depth description in stories, when they are done well. Graceffa’s writing just does not support the amount of narration, leaving these descriptive passages boring and painful to read. I found myself screaming at the book, “Speed it up!” or, “Get to the point!” It was needless filler that added nothing to the plot nor did it add to the characters. It was unnecessary.
At the end of the day, Children of Eden has a lot of cool concepts to offer but fails to explore them and proves to be another carbon copy of dystopian fiction. My recommendation is to stay away from this book and get your dystopian fix by reading some Hunger Games or George Orwell. This YouTube Eden is proving to be more of a hellscape than paradise.