Mr. 60% by Clete Barrett Smith {ARC Review}

Mr. 60% follows the story of Matt Nolan who is the unofficial care giver for his uncle Jack who is dying of cancer. Matt feels that he is the only real choice for caregiver for his uncle and he can’t get ‘official’ help from the government. Due to this, Matt is forced to sell and distribute illegal drugs in order to pay for Jack’s needed legal ones.

Due to all of this his grades fall but he manages to keep them at a steady 60% so that he isn’t failing. He basically does the bare minimum to get by, and unfortunately that’s how I feel about this story – the bare minimum effort has gone in to get published, but 60% does not make a good book.

mr 60% pencilI feel like I need to start with the title and the cover of the novel. The cover of the ARC I received was just strange to me – it was like only 60% of a concept managed to come to fruition (by the way, you might want to get used to these ‘60%’ references, because they’re going to be a reoccurring theme in this review). But luckily covers can vary from format and region, so hopefully a more story-suited cover design is thought of for future editions.

OK I know that going after a cover isn’t exactly great review material and that we’re all taught not to judge a book by its cover, but honestly it bothered me too much not to bring it up. But let’s move on to the title– Mr. 60%. It just seemed like a weird part of Matt to select for the title to represent him (and the story). Matt has been branded Mr. 60% only with regards to his school work, and considering he doesn’t give a shit about that I’m surprised it was deemed important enough to title the entire book. He certainly gives more than 60% where Jack is involved and he gives less than 60% where his social life is involved, so why put so much focus on his grades when they aren’t even that important to the book or its focal point?

I get that his failing grades were the catalyst to him needing to be put into an after-school programme in order to graduate, and that’s where he met Amanda but it’s not the main focus of the story.

“I know there’s more in there than Mr. Sixty Percent.”

But on to the story! Mr. 60% is a relationship based story, not a plot based one. Which is fine, not all stories have to be plot driven but in order to have a relationship based novel your characters need to be rich, interesting and well developed. Unfortunately all of the characters in this novel were (forgive me) 60%.

mr 60% wallNone of the characters went through any transformation or development at all throughout the duration of the pages. Amanda is a sweet, well-meaning and kind spirited girl, and nothing more. Jack is a good guy and has done right by Matt and is dying of cancer, and nothing more. Matt is the only character that kind of goes through any transformation, and that is being exceedingly generous. Truth be told, he just becomes a bit less of an irritable dick to people. It was a real shame because the set-up was there! All it had to do was to be developed a little more than 60% of the way (I did warn you about this 60% thing).

I know that a lot of people may feel compelled to like the characters in this novel because of the utter and genuine tragedy that is happening to Jack (and consequently Matt and to an extent Amanda) but I just can’t bring myself to connect with and thus like or dislike a character that has no development or substance. I won’t be guilt-tripped into feeling for a character just because of what is happening to them – it’s just not the kind of reader I am.

“Matt flinched, and the sadness was there, overwhelming him.”

However, sticking with the theme of characters – it was nice to see a genuine plutonic relationship in a YA contemporary. Far too often romances are forced in for no real reason and this was a refreshing buck on that trend. So kudos to the author for not feeling like he had to have a romantic interest for his protagonist.

The general story of how a poor family may (or may not) cope when serious illness strikes a family member was an interesting one, and I would have loved to have spent more time with it, but it was almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experience. Before you know it, the book is over and you’re left wanting to know more.

mr 60% padSo much of the book felt rushed, especially the ending. I even ended up checking that my digital ARC was a complete and unbroken file things ended that abruptly! I genuinely feel that if this book was 100 pages longer it would be 100% better (you thought I was going to say 60% there didn’t you)!

There were so many questions that I had left unanswered! Where were the ashes scattered? What did Matt’s mum do? How did Matt start his career as a drug dealer? But the biggest thing I was left wanting was to know Amanda’s backstory. She was completely ostracised at school – why? Was she left out purely because of her weight? She was a genuinely lovely person and although kids can be cruel and exclusionary to people who don’t fit societal norms in high school, I’ve never heard of anyone being completely isolated based purely on their weight – especially when they are a nice person too. The whole story just needed a bit more to be rounded off.

“Amanda smiled big enough for the both of them.”

For a book that deals with the complexity and raw topic of cancer it was very simplistic. There were not ‘quotation worthy’ moments of dialogue or descriptions. Nothing was intense enough, it was just (I’m sorry but it’s true) a 60% effort.

Overall Mr. 60% is a very strange book in that it started off quite edgy and then seemed to fizzle out. It went from a potentially jarring and thought-provoking read to quite a pedestrian one. I can’t help but feel that this might be (in part) due to this being the author’s first attempt at YA after writing for younger children for so long. I have every confidence that the author will grow if he continues to write for YA and I hope he fleshes out his stories a little more as his new target audience can handle it.

I didn’t hate the book but I’m not over-enthusiastic about it either. It felt much more like a very dense fist draft rather than a finished novel but it wasn’t entirely disappointing.

I can’t say I’d 100% recommend it, just 60%.

“But at least you’re technically passing.”

[PLEASE NOTE]: All quotations were taken from an Advanced Reader Copy made of uncorrected proof. Quotations may be different in the final published version. I was given a digital copy of the ARC in return for an honest review. I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.

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