Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee
Genre: YA Contemporary | Diversity: Asexual MC | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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?
I was intrigued by the premise of this book—asexual, Tolstoy-obsessed amateur filmmaker goes viral on YouTube—and, let me start this by saying, Tash Hearts Tolstoy absolutely delivers.
I really enjoyed the main storyline, which follows Tash and her friends as their web series, a modernization of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina becomes popular. As a literary nerd, I wanted to adopt Tash in all her adorable quirkiness, and I have a lot of respect for her ambitious adaptation of one of the greatest novels of all time. The greatest part, though, is that you don’t really have to know a lot about Tolstoy or YouTube to enjoy this book. Tash’s narration provides enough information that I think parents of teens could read this book and still enjoy it.
amazing character relationships
Hands-down the best part of this book? The relationships between Tash and her family and friends.
For one thing, Tash has really great parents. Her dad’s more in the background—he’s the child of Czech immigrants—but Tash’s mom is one of the most adorable and unique moms I’ve read in YA. Mom’s a Buddhist from New Zealand, and we see her struggle with missing her home and her parents, which was just saw raw and sweet. She also gives Tash some great honest advice about the future.
Then there’s Tash’s sister, Klaudie. She comes across as the perfect older sister type, but as the subplots unfold, Tash sees a different side to her sister. As a girl with only a brother, I appreciate the sister bond a lot, especially when it’s complicated.
Tash’s friends really blew me out of the water as well. Her best friend, Jack, is a purple-haired goddess of blunt honesty—the kind of female friend I’ve been dying to see more of in YA. She tells it like it is, and she doesn’t like hugs, but she’s balanced out by her brother, Paul, who’s the sweetheart I instantly shipped with Tash from the beginning.
It’s hard to explain how real these characters felt, like they were jumping off the page. I’m actually jealous of these types of natural friendships. They’re so rare. And yes, they’re complicated: Jack and Paul’s father has dealt with cancer that the kids worry will come back, and both kids deal with it in different ways. Ultimately, Tash needs Jack in her life, because Jack’s the only one who will call Tash out for being self-absorbed.
honest dialogue about college
My pet peeve in YA is the bland, not-so-intelligent main character who somehow gets to go to Stanford or NYU or some otherwise expensive school. I’m all for following your dreams, but the reality is that most kids in this country end up at public schools—or they have massive scholarships.
The college talk is a sideplot that I almost missed, but it stuck out because the conversation is so necessary in YA. Tash has to come to terms with her dreams vs. the reality of being a middle class kid. She can’t afford to attend her dream school, but she ultimately accepts that it’s okay to stay in town and go to the state college. It felt very realistic to what it’s like for middle class kids, and it’s a conversation that I haven’t seen happen in YA before.
the asexual rep
This is why I picked up Tash Hearts Tolstoy in the first place: the blurb identifies the main character as asexual, something I haven’t seen before, especially not in YA Contemporary.
I am not on the ace spectrum, so I can only say so much about the accuracy of the rep. From what I know—and from a few #OwnVoices reviews I’ve read—the representation of asexuality is on point here. What I personally enjoyed was the balance between narrative explanation of what asexuality is, and the reality that being ace is only one aspect of Tash’s personality. Does it help her to have an identity? Absolutely. Is being asexual the only thing that defines Tash? Absolutely not.
I appreciated the way Tash recounts discovering what asexuality is through the internet; this is something that will ring true for a lot of readers growing up in our modern, Tumblr society. I also liked that Tash was still figuring herself out. She knows she doesn’t like sex, but she’s not sure how that will work in her romantic relationships, nor is she convinced that she has to tell everyone. It all felt very real and I could imagine myself in her situation. Although there’s romance in this book, it isn’t the focus of the story, which is just so refreshing to read. Kids have a lot going on—romance and sex don’t always have to be the focus.
This book is adorable and honest and fun. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like. It was pretty narration-heavy—we spend the book inside Tash’s head, and she does have what I term “anxious tendencies” in her speech patterns and thought processes. I do worry other reviewers will label her “the whiny protagonist” but I really related to her voice, and appreciated the way the story was told through her eyes. This book is not for everyone, but I’m so happy that I was able to read this book—and I’m even more happy for the ace readers who will be able to find themselves in this story.
Have you read Tash Hearts Tolstoy yet? Are you planning to? Let’s talk in the comments!