I’m a sucker for books set in San Diego, and when it comes to setting, Calla Devlin’s debut, Tell Me Something Real doesn’t disappoint. Even though Tell Me Something Real takes place in the 1970s, the picture of San Diego Devlin paints is achingly realistic. As I read, I found myself exclaiming excitedly, “I know exactly where she’s talking about!” Parts of Devlin’s novel also take place in Northern Mexico; Tijuana, Ensenada, and Rosarito. While descriptions of these cities are much briefer, they always feel fleshed out, and it is clear Devlin has done her research.
Aside from the setting, Tell Me Something Real is lackluster at best. While Devlin’s characters are all at least semi-interesting, a lot of them felt like caricatures, especially the love interest, Caleb. He is absolutely indistinguishable from Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars), or Theodore Finch (All the Bright Places). His dark hair, blue eyes, and love for Kerouac paired with his brooding attitude and aptitude for surfing make him annoying and forgettable. The love story between Vanessa and Caleb always feels forced, almost like it didn’t quite belong. Without the love story, Tell Me Something Real would have been an extremely compelling novel about sisters grappling with their mother’s imminent death and how that changes their family dynamic.
“Her death will destroy us, but it will also free us of small burdens, of the constraints of her fatigue and nausea and strong opinions.”
Another weak point of Tell Me Something Real is the plot. The twist near the middle of the novel felt like I was reading Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon all over again- not a fresh debut. While Devlin recovers and creates a memorable scene between the sisters her novel is centered around, the story still suffers from lack of originality.
Hopefully Calla Devlin will write something stronger next time. She certainly writes setting well and included a couple nicely written scenes, but Tell Me Something Real fell short when it came to almost everything else.