After a shout-out from one of the Internet’s superstar vloggers, Natasha “Tash” Zelenka finds herself and her obscure, amateur web series, Unhappy Families, thrust into the limelight: She’s gone viral.
Her show is a modern adaptation of Anna Karenina—written by Tash’s literary love Count Lev Nikolayevich “Leo” Tolstoy. Tash is a fan of the forty thousand new subscribers, their gushing tweets, and flashy Tumblr GIFs. Not so much the pressure to deliver the best web series ever.
And when Unhappy Families is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, Tash’s cyber-flirtation with Thom Causer, a fellow award nominee, suddenly has the potential to become something IRL—if she can figure out how to tell said crush that she’s romantic asexual.
Tash wants to enjoy her newfound fame, but will she lose her friends in her rise to the top? What would Tolstoy do?
This review contains small spoilers.
Reading this book has been like an emotional roller coaster. I started it while I was in a huge book hangover and honestly, all I wanted was to dive back into Renegades. I felt so bad for not truly being into Tash Hearts Tolstoy when I started it because I knew I would love it: I mean, a booktuber who directs a web series about Anna Karenina, drinks tea in her vlogs, is vegetarian and asexual? It was made for me, but because of my situation I wasn’t totally into it.
It wasn’t easy either because I had a very conflictual relationship with the main character at first. I related to her on so many levels, yet I couldn’t truly understand everything she was doing. A part of me understood, especially because she was only 17 and is of course childish due to her young age (and I probably was worse than her at 17), but the whole thing was making me feel weird. Do I have to hate her? Do I have to be more patient? Am I not understanding enough? This feeling stayed with me for a good part of the book but as I loved the story, the things me and Tash had in common and all the other characters, I pushed myself to keep reading, no matter how badly I wanted to go back to my previous read and how confused I was by the main character.
And so on Saturday, as I was feeling very sad and empty, my brain turned off and allowed me to read most of the book in one setting without even realising it. Things were starting to happen, Tash was growing up and that’s when I knew this book was becoming very important to me.
So here is the thing: Tash Hearts Tolstoy isn’t a perfect book. As I read many reviews about it, I saw a lot of people saying that Tash was immature and yes, she definitely was at the beggining. Not so many things happen in the whole book but as it is a contemporary one, it made sense (I mean, there are no dragons to shake things up, right?). And it definitely is using many famous YA clichés, which some might be tired of. In that sense, you can say that this book isn’t exactly extraordinary.
But, and there is always a but, it was extraordinary for me.
The first thing that deserves to be mentionned is the asexuality representation. You may not know, but I am on the asexual spectrum (I am demisexual, and you can know more about on it on my blog post about it) and it feels weird. I am always doubting about myself and about others. Am I crazy? Is everyone lying about sex? Am I “attracted” to boys or to girls? Do I have to come out? Is it important to mention it to people around me? And it’s only a piece of what I think most of the time.
Never have I saw myself represented in a book. Julian Blackthorn from the Dark Artifices series is seen as demisexual and I found comfort in him but I wish it has been said clearly. Every book I read was about the same thing and people were always attracted to each other. They never once doubted about it, they never asked themselves some “weird” questions. And that’s what made me feel weird. However, Tash Hearts Tolstoy changed that.
Tash is an asexual teenager and like I do, she was lost. Just like me, she tried to watch porn and couldn’t understand the fuss around it. She tried to hang out with someone but it didn’t work out, and when she told someone else she was asexual, someone she thought she could start something with, the person didn’t believe her. And that’s what happened to me as well: I was kissing a boy I couldn’t seem to be attracted to and I told him afterwards that it was too much for me (even though I already told him that I was demisexual), his only response was that I was a freak. I really wish I had this book in my hands when it happened because I felt so lost and alone. I wish I had Tash with me to tell me that it was okay, that I am normal and valid and that no one can change that.
This is why all the clichés used in it didn’t irritate me: I, as part of the asexual spectrum, deserve a cheesy and cliché YA love story. And that’s what it gave me, and it made me feel so much better about myself and my future. Turns out I can also live a great love story and end up with someone who will understand how my body and mind function.
Another thing that made this book so special to me was how Tash reacted to haters online.
If you don’t know, my main platform to talk about books is Instagram. I have been there for a year now and almost 17k people are following me. With that came haters, and I started to receive some mean comments and messages for the past few months (and even here). Nobody around me received those kind of things and nobody really understood, which made me feel alone once again. I didn’t know how to react, how to grow from this, how to get over it. I am very thankful to have my friends and everyone who follows me on social media when it happens because they always know what to say to cheer me up but it is hard nonetheless.
You may think that you just have to delete the comment and you’ll be done with it, but that’s not how it works. I already have a very low self-esteem and by now I know by heart all the hateful words I received over the past few months. They are stuck in my brain, no matter how hard I am trying to get them off and no matter how well I handled the situation online. Those words will stay with me for a long time but thanks to Tash, I somehow do not feel alone anymore.
As Tash’s web series became more and more famous online, she started to receive critics but also hate. She felt all the things I felt and even though people told her to not freak out over it, she did. It took the whole book for her to start growing from it and to think of a healthy way to deal with it. It isn’t really that talked about but it was enough for me to take something from it and to make it my own.
So… Here we are. Sure, I wasn’t in the best mood to read it and yes, it is cliché and Tash can be annoying and not many things happen and you don’t really see her vlog and stuff but it is important. I know it helped many people and I hope it’ll continue to do so. It is a very simple, yet beautiful book that now has a very special place in my heart.
I am so glad I read it, well I am glad my friend Lucie pushed me to read it, and it will stick with me for a very long time. So thank you Tash for taking the time to chat with me and making me feel loved, welcomed and normal. Tolstoy would be proud of you.