Sarah Porter is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Vassa in the Night. When I saw that she had written another book, one about creepy fairies, I knew I had to read it.
Never-Contented Things is a dark contemporary fantasy story about a codependent relationship between two foster siblings. It’s ugly, messy, disturbing and hard to read, and if you’re the kind of person who likes to read about teenagers doing the right thing, I really don’t recommend this book. The main characters in this story are in no way role models, and they aren’t meant to be. However, I think that stories about messed up teenagers finding a way out are very important.
This is a very uncomfortable read with a beautiful message. A story that says that no matter what you went through, there’s hope. You can heal. And maybe you will always be haunted by those memories, but you can get better.
I think we need this kind of stories too, because teens go through similar things – well, not the part were they’re trapped by creepy fairies, but you can see that as a metaphor – and this deserves to be recognized. And we need messed up stories from the point of view of marginalized characters (all main characters here are queer) as well. It may not be the most positive representation ever, but it can help. Not everyone sees themselves in stories about unproblematic people.
This book follows three characters:
Ksenia Adderley, arguably the main character. She’s currently living with her foster brother Josh and her foster parents, Mitch and Emma, who accuse her of having a bad influence on her brother. She’s white, presents as masculine and is described as “not a girl” in some parts of this book, which makes me think she is nonbinary/genderqueer, but she never says anything about it (or, at least, if she did I missed it). She is attracted to multiple genders but doesn’t label herself. She has been in multiple traumatic situations before, including sexual assault, and she’s perceived as cold by many because she’s very closed off. She says and thinks a lot of messed up things, but I understood her and she grew on me.
Joshua “Josh” Korensky, white, chubby, pansexual and gender-non-conforming. He’s perceived as the “good” sibling by his parents. While I understood his motivations and liked his character arc (and he is, after all, a victim too), it was very hard not to despise him.
Alexandra “Lexi” Holden, black, mostly into men but not only, grew up in a supportive family and is a good student. She’s Josh and Ksenia’s friend, she sees how the situation spirals out of control, and she has a major role in Ksenia’s recovery. I really liked her PoV.
The relationship Josh and Ksenia have is unhealthy, codependent and becomes abusive throughout the story. Ksenia is over-protective because she feels like Josh is the only one who understands her and loves her. She is really afraid to lose him, as she has lost many people before. She takes all the responsibility for every time he messes up, and she is seen as the one who has a bad influence on Josh, even if she’s actually the one who sees him as a brother. Josh, however, doesn’t really see Ksenia as a sister, disregards her consent because he believes he knows what she actually wants, and pressures her in romantic/sexual situations.
They’re doing all the wrong things to remain together, and it’s difficult to read.
But Never-Contented Things isn’t just about unhealthy relationships. The friendship between Ksenia and Lexi was healthier, and even the romance (f/f? f/genderqueer?) that develops from it seemed to be. I really liked Ksenia and Lexi together.
One could argue this is a story about a romance helping a person get out of an abusive relationship, but I don’t really agree. Ksenia isn’t saved by Lexi, or by Lexi’s love. Lexi helps her realize she has a problem, but the decision to confront the truth about herself and her relationship with Josh was, ultimately, Ksenia’s. Ksenia doesn’t just get out of a relationship, she gets out of the mindset that got her there, and that’s why I didn’t mind that this book ended with a romance.
I won’t lie, I didn’t enjoy reading most of this. While it does have its fun moments (…the scene about Prince on the burning chair made me laugh out loud), I almost DNFed it multiple times. It made me feel sick. I also highlighted entire pages of it, especially near the ending, because the character development was wonderful.
What I liked the most about Never-Contented Things was Ksenia’s character arc. It’s one of the most well-written arcs I’ve read in a while.
This is a story about denial and self-hate. Ksenia believes she can’t be loved or understood, and that’s why she gets too close to the only person she believes loves her; she also believes she is a bad person, that she doesn’t really deserve to be happy. That part in which she says that she struggles to appreciate the good things about herself, that she gets she should in the abstract but doesn’t really feel it? I understand this kind of double standard more than I’d like to.
You might have noticed that so far I’ve barely mentioned the fairies. That’s because this is not really a “fae book”, the fairies here are… kind of incidental. They make the situation worse, and they add a lot of creepiness – pool party with dying ghost horses? Door graveyards? Eyes growing on your hat? There’s a lot here – but they’re not the focus.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t awesomely disgusting. Especially Unselle. She’s the girl on the cover of this book, and everything she says and does is very creepy and wrong on so many levels. I loved reading about her.
My rating: ★★★★
Trigger warnings for: foster brother/sister incest, codependency, parental neglect, emotional abuse, sexual assault, on-page death, body horror, mentions of suicide.