Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
“Goodbye Orchid” is a darker and more dramatic love story than the previous book by Carol Van Den Hende, “Orchid Blooming.”
What do you do with a character who has it all? You wreck them, that's what! And this is probably one of the best examples of an author effectively using that literary technique. Notice we said “wreck” and not “ruin.” While there were times when Phoenix (and Orchid) in this book were annoying or even unlikable, that seemed to be the point. Characters, like real-life people, should be complex. They should have highs and lows, especially if they've experienced the degree of trauma that these two characters did.
Something a bit grating about the previous book in the series was that Phoenix was such a perfect person. He was rich, he was athletic, he was successful; he was charming, he was kind, he was sensitive; he was loved by all; he had a mother and brother who loved him, and, of course, the main heroine loved him. Yes, he was a bit bothered by the loss of his father and his father's high expectations of him, and he also had a bit of a love-hate relationship with his twin brother who was everything he wasn't. However, that still doesn't change the fact that he was verging into Gary Stu territory throughout much of the previous book.
Oh, yeah, he had abs. We constantly had to be reminded about how fit and athletic his rocking hard body was, particularly his “stomach muscles.” And, what's funny is, even in this book in which he's totally wrecked, barely able to move and function on his own, he still has abs, and nurses and other women feel the need to point that out to him constantly.
Anyway, going back to the point, him experiencing the colossal train accident that he does at the beginning of this book is perhaps the best thing that could've happened for his character. It humanized him and made him seem real in a way that the previous book just didn't. The problem arises that in this book he becomes almost a different character entirely. The accident seems to turn him into a psychological monster who yells at people, swears at people, slams doors, and throws things. These are things we expected someone more hardcore and rugged like Caleb (his twin) to do, not Phoenix.
However, this is arguably a good thing. Going back to the thesis of this review, what do you do with a character who has it all? In wrecking them, taking away the things which seemed to make them “whole,” you give them room for personal growth. Another good thing about this whole circumstance is that it changes the dynamics in virtually all of the major relationships in the book. Caleb, who was once the free-spirited, don't-tell-me-what-to-do prodigal son, is forced to transform into a more caring, nurturing, and protective person for the sake of his brother, whom he actually loves. You could even say he becomes more familial and less anti-social as a result of what happens to his brother.
People, indeed, show their true colors when the stuff hits the fan, and Caleb truly steps up. This is full of too many ironies to cover in one review, but Caleb, who had once been Phoenix's foil, pretty much switches places with him. He becomes a more mature and upstanding character similar to how we saw Phoenix in the last book. At the same time, Caleb is still Caleb. He's still the tattoo-covered, foul-mouthed, aggressive “hot” twin brother, but he just has more wrinkles and layers.
So, you may have noticed from this review that this book is very much focused on Phoenix's side where as the previous book had predominantly taken Orchid's perspective. Orchid should really be flying high in this book, and she kind of is in a sense, but not in a way that really resonates with us as readers. Her accomplishments doing business in China should be this big, huge thing that we really get behind after the last book, but they seem like such an afterthought in light of what's going on with Phoenix. It is so incredibly frustrating to read how ignorant and dumb both Orchid and Phoenix approach situations. They constantly jump to conclusions and have misunderstandings, literally and figuratively giving themselves self-inflicted injuries due to pure stupidity and lack of communication skills.
Now, the above is a very common and often-practiced storytelling technique, prevalent in both romance and comedy. Misunderstandings are a great way to breed drama. They intentionally build tension, drama, and frustration, usually crescendoing in a resolution. We're probably a bit jaded of this technique, especially done in this manner. The decisions and conclusions that Orchid and Phoenix come to and made throughout the majority of this book are somewhat understandable but teeth-grinding none the less.
First of all, Orchid jumps to the conclusion that Phoenix is a jerk who hates her all of a sudden because he doesn't contact her for a while. Yes, she has abandonment issues, but... c'mon, girl, are you that stupid? Another thing that's a bit troubling is that, yes, she eventually calls to check in on Phoenix at his workplace (concerned about his well-being), but doesn't specifically ask how he is, she instead asks if she can talk to him.
And Phoenix also acts so frustratingly foolish and irrational throughout this whole novel. This could've been a really compelling part of this book, but when you think about it: Phoenix is still a spoiled brat. Phoenix is pretty much Titus from Final Fantasy X—he's this gifted, whiny dude who is constantly trying to live up to his dead father's high expectations. He has a lot: he has an extremely successful business, he has a hot Asian girlfriend, he has a loving brother and mother, he has employees who'd jump in front of a bullet for him, he has other girls who still want to pounce on him, and none of these things are things that were taken from him. If the author was really going to go all-out, she would've wrecked Phoenix's business and shown how those with disabilities are treated with insensitivity at times. Almost every single person that Phoenix encounters after becoming disabled is head-over-heels, bend-over-backwards supportive of him.
So, let's address the elephant in the room, and this is sorta a spoiler (although it comes up relatively early): Phoenix is a double-amputee. He has lost an arm and a leg due to a train accident, an accident caused by him trying to save a homeless man on the tracks (kinda like an old Bollywood movie). This is very fitting for this particular series because it is inspired by wounded veterans. Phoenix, who spends about half the book pouting, throwing tantrums, and bemoaning his loss of limbs, grows and matures as he is brought to a facility that helps wounded veterans—heroes who sacrificed a lot for the greater good. They never asked to be disabled for life, but many of them have found a level of peace and acceptance of their situation. They've also found hope. This peace, acceptance, and hope are things that Phoenix is pushed to gain for himself, and that shows growth.
That's great. The problem is that, well, this book has a few issues that irritate us. For one, this book managed to make us hate not just one but two of the main protagonists, Phoenix and Orchid. In fact, by the end of the book—which seems like a forgone conclusion—we were almost rooting against the pairing in favor of Rena and Phoenix.
There are two takeaways from that: 1. You pretty much know that this book can only end one way no matter what happens, 2. Rena supersedes Orchid as a compelling female protagonist. Rena is actually there for Phoenix in his darkest days. She sees the beauty in him no matter what he looks like, although he still has abs because... of course he does. Rena doesn't look down on Phoenix because of his disability. She truly loves and cares about him.
Yes, Orchid was somewhat “robbed” of the chance to do that herself because Phoenix was acting like an irrational idiot after the accident, but Orchid... well, it's just something about her that just grinds our gears. Orchid is such a stereotypical millennial. She's this person who just crumbles at the sight of everything. Everything triggers her. She's like that friend you had in grade school who was allergic to everything and had to be on a neutralizer six times a day. She can't eat what everyone else eats, she can't see what everyone else sees or experience what everyone else experiences because she has all these mental blocks—these walls—up. She can't see a scratch on her face that takes less than 10 stitches without freaking out and calling herself “hideous.” Everything reminds her of her parents and their accident. Everything reminds her of Phoenix and his stomach muscles. We hate to make this comparison because this book is superior to anything in Twilight, but remember in Twilight when Bella was just hallucinating and dreaming about Edward constantly, just waking up screaming in the middle of the night because he wasn't there with her? Remember Bella, the girl who doesn't “like music?” We almost got that kind of vibe from Orchid in this book, the girl who doesn't even like orchids, not to mention meat and people who aren't as into social activism as much as her.
Phoenix is not immune from our hateful gaze either. At times, he is insufferable. Yes, he's experiencing a truck ton of trauma, our editor suffered a similar fate, but he acts like a whiny, petulant baby for at least half of this book. What he does to “protect” Orchid just comes across as cruel. And he's so vicious to her when they reunite. It's not a reunion at all, it's a tongue-lashing. It's nothing like any reunion in any book. Can you imagine if in Forest Gump, instead of Jenny running into the water at the Washington Monument, she just started shouting expletives from the crowd and telling him to shut his mouth and screw off? What kind of reunion would that have been?
It was very difficult deciding which was the better novel between “Goodbye Orchid” and its prequel, “Orchid Blooming.” “Blooming” was mostly standard, classical stuff. “Goodbye” took a lot more risks and had a lot more twists and turns, but it also turned us against the main characters. We're going to award a slight edge to “Goodbye Orchid” because we admire the risk-taking and character development in this book.
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