Whiteout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon

The Blurb On The Back:

It’s just before Christmas and no one is prepared for this whiteout … But sometimes the most magical moments are a total surprise!

As the city grinds to a halt, twelve teenagers band together to help a friend pull off the most epic apology of her life.  Will they be able to make it happen in spite of the storm?

WHITEOUT was released in the United Kingdom on 10th November 2022.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

You can order WHITEOUT by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 3.01pm on 20th December in Atlanta.

17-year-old Stephanie Williams (who prefers to go by Stevie) has messed up big-time.  Sure, she’s a genius at science, with the highest GPA ever recorded at her High School and a lock on a place at the prestigious Howard University, but when it comes to love she is an idiot.  Specifically, a few days earlier she committed an epic fail at a dinner hosted by her girlfriend, Sola’s whole Nigerian family, which she knew Sola especially wanted to go well because they were going to come out as a couple.  Stevie’s been grounded and without her phone ever since but has just discovered that Sola has been texting her demanding an explanation and proof that Stevie loves her by midnight tonight, otherwise their relationship is over!

With Sola refusing to take Stevie’s calls, texts of WhatsApp messages, Stevie realises that her only option is to do something spectacular – something that will appeal to Sola’s romantic nature.  She knows what she needs to do, but it’s going to take the help of her and Sola’s friends and family in order to pull it off.  But then Atlanta is on the receiving end of an unexpected cold snap that results in snowfall that sees the entire city grind to a halt.  Can Steve and her friends pull off the most epic apology of her life and save her relationship with the girl she loves?

Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon’s YA romance follow-up to BLACKOUT has another all Black cast and good lesbian and gender-non-conforming representation but one of the chapters veers towards bi-erasure and I just couldn’t take to Stevie or empathise with her (despite her neurodiversity).  Ultimately it’s okay, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as BLACKOUT.

I picked this up because I had enjoyed BLACKOUT – the representation was great, the dialogue really cracked while the pacing was excellent and the various short stories worked well with each other.  One of the differences between WHITEOUT and BLACKOUT is that here it is not clear who has written which section although there are some hints at the end if you’re determined to work it out.  Although this does mean that the book is presented more as a unified storyline, personally I really missed that short story element because there was a lot of fun to be had in seeing what each author did with their romance and how they approached it and it also enables you to see if you get on with a particular author’s writing style or not.

The central storyline follows Stevie as she works on a grand apology to win back Sola with chapters told from both Stevie’s and Sola’s point of view. To be honest, as someone who isn’t a big YA romance fan at the best of times, this hit all my wrong buttons.  For starters, Stevie is presented as being neurodiverse given that she’s single minded in her love of science and doesn’t have a lot of emotional intelligence and I just found that too much of a stereotype (and a somewhat hackneyed one at that).  At the same time Sola is presented as a stereotypical artsy type who wants to be an author and is in touch with her emotions and a big believer in love.  

Although there are a couple of sweet flashback scenes between them, I have to say that speaking as a jaded, cynical grown up I found the cause of this big dispute to be really artificial and overblown.  For starters, I didn’t get why scientist Stevie wasn’t aware of the effects of taking Xanax ahead of meeting Sola’s family but it also seemed weirdly artificial that she wasn’t better prepared given the importance of that to Sola.  Equally, although I had a lot of sympathy for Sola because Stevie’s behaviour was utterly unacceptable, the fact that she didn’t consider the possibility that Stevie had been grounded seemed a bit daft to me and then to put it all on Stevie to come up with a grand gesture rather than talking it through did make me roll my eyes.  Saying that, if you’re a teen reader into romance, this will no doubt be more your jam than mine and about the only positive is that at least these cliches are being applied to a lesbian relationship because there’s not a huge amount of lesbian relationship fiction out there.

Chapter 2 focuses on Kaz who, together with his best friend Porsha Washington, has to go to the Lenox shopping mall before it closes in order to get something for Stevie to help with her grand gesture.  But this close to Christmas the mall is crazy, made worse by the snowfall so just trying to get a parking space is a problem in itself and Kaz already has a lot on his mind, given he’s been fasting for Ramadan and because tonight is the night he is finally going to tell Porsha that he’s in love with her – if he can just work up the courage …  I liked the Muslim representation in this story, and although I found Porsha a bit too self-absorbed I think the way her uncertainty about being accepted by Kaz’s family was believable and well handled (as was Kaz’s reaction).

In Chapter 4 Evan-Rose (known as E-R) is stuck at Atlanta airport with her ex-girlfriend Savanna thanks to a stay in place order due to the snow fall.  She needs to get into the city to give Stevie a poster that has sentimental value to Sola but with that impossible, she now needs to get it to ER’s brother-in-law Maurice who works at the airport and whose shift is about to end.  But as ER is looking for him, she discovers that Eric is also at the airport as he’s in Atlanta to visit his grandparents.  ER and Eric spent a lot of time together over the summer during his last visit after ER split up with Savanna and ER developed feelings for him.  The last thing she needs is for Eric and Savanna to meet up with each other, especially as she still has feelings for both of them …. This was my least favourite part of the book because although I believed in ER’s emotional confusion, I could see what she saw in Eric who is smart and has a cute cockiness, I didn’t get what she saw in Savanna who is quick to talk badly of others.  I also didn’t like the fact that ER’s bisexuality (or bisexual feelings) doesn’t really get a mention or consideration, which is a noticeable thing in a book given the lesbian and gay representation and diversity that’s elsewhere in the book, and the fact that ER doesn’t actually make a decision at the end of the chapter but instead has Eric make it for her was a weakness in my opinion.

Chapter 6 follows Jordyn, who is driving Omari St Clair back to Atlanta from Howard University when they get stuck on the motorway thanks to the snow.  Jordyn’s furious because has Omari been ready on time, the chances are that they would have avoided the snow and been back in time and could have dropped off the stuff that she’s brought for Stevie.  Jordyn hates it when her plans are disrupted almost as much as she hates the way Omari keeps messing with her radio stations and part of the reason she’s so uncomfortable is because they’d been friends for years but she kissed him 6 months ago when they found out they had both got into Howard only for him to apologise to her and she hasn’t spoken with him since.  This was probably my favourite chapter in the book because the way the history between Jordyn and Omari comes out is well drawn, as is the subsequent romance and to give it depth, there’s added backstory with Jordyn’s mother who left when Jordyn was young but who has recently been trying to make contact.

I also enjoyed Chapter 7, which follows musician Jimi who has had a big bust up with her band just as Stevie needs her to record a song for her.  When she bumps into former classmate turned big-time rapper, Lil Kinsey, she isn’t going to put up with him trying to lord it over her, especially given that back in the days before he was famous – when he was just Téo – he was Jimi’s first kiss and when she sent him a love song, she never heard from him again.  When Téo saves her from almost being run over and offers her warm shelter in the green room of the Fox Theatre, the two have a chance to catch up and she discovers that maybe Téo hasn’t forgotten her after all …. The meet-cute is well done, I liked Jimi’s determination (although her hatred of love songs was a little contrived) and it makes some interesting points about the sudden changes and disadvantages that come from fame and hitting the big time.

Chapter 10 is set in the Atlanta aquarium where Ava and Mason work as volunteers, which is awkward as Ava dumped Mason 3 weeks ago.  Mason wants to persuade Ava to get back together but Ava is not so sure and so the chapter alternates between their points of view as they look back at their relationship, their break up and their next steps.  It’s a sweet story with a serious core about insecurity, uncertainty and long distance romance and I thought that it was well done.

All in all, this isn’t a bad book.  If you’re into YA romance and you want something with strong lesbian representation, then this is definitely worth a look.  I think the issue for me is that it isn’t quite as good as BLACKOUT and I didn’t find the central romance story as interesting.

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