I’ve been sitting on this review for a while, at a mental impasse how to describe the highs of the excellent quality writing in Say My Name versus issues that are particular to this period in time and how it impacts my pop culture consumption. Something unrelated finally illuminated for me that my conflict is about what I want in a male romantic lead and how much I enjoyed the book even though John isn’t the hero I’m looking for. I don’t have any secret desire for a bad boy to come roaring into my life on a motorcycle, but I’m usually comfortable suspending my moral compass for a good story. Leave it to the Trump administration to ruin yet another thing. Given everything that’s playing out right now, I had a hard time with John’s choice to put loyalty to the club over basic human decency. And yet!!!! At the end of the book I was still rooting for him and want him to deserve Zelda.
Right now I’m looking for a couple of different types of heroes – the Captain America type who will dive onto the grenade because that’s the right thing to do, and the guy who will hunt high and low for durian based desserts because that makes his girlfriend smile. John is neither of those guys. He’s the guy who doesn’t like what the president of his motorcycle club is doing, but he goes along. He tells his love interest that she can’t ask questions. He’s comfortable existing outside of the law while also trying to be as good a person as he can within not great circumstances. Circumstances of his own choosing. He is not the romantic love interest I am interested in, but Blakeman made him so compelling that I haven’t stopped thinking about Say My Name for two months.
The heart of this story though, is Zelda. Zelda is our everyperson viewing this criminal enterprise which is on the verge of becoming a train wreck. Her response to the people and situations around her informs my response and grants some of the other characters more sympathy than I would give them. John is able to be a complex, nuanced character and not just an asshole because Zelda likes him. He wants Zelda to like him. Zelda is trying to build a peaceful life with her doofy dog and focus on her art, but in truth she is comfortable with chaos. When faced with a challenging situation, she deals with it with a common sense approach which keeps the story from going off the rails. But Blakeman also gives her the freedom to freak out when the situation has been handled, so that she stays grounded in reality.
In my review of Aviva’s first book, Stacked, I felt like the book started off shaky and grew in confidence. Say My Name has no confidence issues. Right off the bat, Zelda springs fully formed onto the page. The world of the book feels like it exists outside of the pages.
So that’s why it has taken me so long to write this review. I really liked Say My Name, partly in spite of myself. I’m going to read the rest of the series as it comes out, and I’m even going to read the book in which I expect Banks will be the romantic lead, even though I think he should rot in jail forever. If anyone can give him a redemptive arc, it’s Aviva Blakeman. If you haven’t read Mrs. Julien’s review, you should.