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Joy just wrote about authenticity and the way a You Read can find you at just the right time and be the book you need. I don’t need to tell you all about that, you already know; that’s why you read blogs about books, and talk about books, and tell other people about books. She also talked about how sometimes a personal reaction to a You Read can make it tricky to really assess a book — it’s like the positive version of baggage. So I have two reads here that have an awful lot in common — they’re both fictional takes on a novel-length college admissions essay, but they go in wildly different directions, feel like totally different reads, and I’m having completely different reactions to them. These differing reactions are (I suspect) a lot more about me than the books. Which is of course the opposite of what Real Committee members are supposed to be doing (or even what we’re supposed to be doing here at the blog).
A small housekeeping note: I’m jumping a little out of line with this post, because we’re working our way chronologically through the year (more or less), and one of these is actually a summer book. Apologies to purists, but they’re too intriguingly similar and dissimilar to not connect.
With three stars and a smoothly captivating narrative voice, this is a charming read. There was some love in the comments of our initial list post, too — maybe a couple of you will jump in the comments here with your own takes. Because I can recognize the stuff that works — Parker’s funny narration, the fast pace of the plot, little breaks in the narrative to read Parker’s fiction, an atmospheric setting — but it didn’t entirely work for me. I see that it all comes together into a polished, lightly fantasy-tinged, wish fulfilling story. It hits the right emotional notes at the right time — funny and sad, little bits of anger scattered, epiphanies shared.
There will be a lot of fans for this title, although I’m not there myself. For me, it comes down to Zelda’s character. She’s definitely a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Not because she’s quirky or unusual, but because she’s really just a vehicle for Parker to learn his lessons and get his life in order. And the fact that they have sex, that Zelda — who is supposed to be older than an adult — has actual sex with a kid, broke this story for me. Really. The only way that could seem like it works — like it is even remotely believable — is if she exists only in relation to Parker. There are some other, smaller, issues (there are a couple of times Parker’s narration feels a little more rambly; other times it’s hard to believe that a hand-written journal would be that detailed and exact — though I think that every time I read something in journal/diary format). The ultimate deal breaker for me here is Zelda’s characterization.
On an opposite end of some spectrum (I guess a very small spectrum that is “all YA fiction that pretends to be college admissions essays”), we have this debut title. Which, it turns out, is very much a Me Book; although it currently has zero stars, I just can’t leave it alone. This is also a funny book, though it is purposefully not as charming or as nice a read as TftT. On the third page, Reshma tells you that she’s not very likeable — and that’s pretty much where I fell in love with this book. Because if you want to have a conversation about ladies and likeability? And you will add in ambition? And you will make your protagonist the ragiest lady I can remember reading in a while? Well. I am ALL IN. (Especially right now.) The meta elements were pretty fab; all of the conversations with Dr Wasserman had me laughing aloud. Kanakia uses these meta elements throughout the story to establish Reshma as a narrator who is both baldly honest and manipulatively unreliable. Complicated and fascinating. To cap it off, I love that, as a funny book, it so intelligently takes a hard look at systemic racism, extreme academic pressure, and the strength of women’s (well, teenage girls’) ambition.
Can I acknowledge some of the things that didn’t work? Well, like I said earlier, I’m always suspicious of a novel told in diary/journal format, and Enter Title Here falls a little — the text is too complete, a little too polished, to seem like something Reshma’s just throwing together for the first time. The plot itself wanders too much. And the text would have us believing that lawsuits sort of just run themselves with no effort and no cost and at an extremely efficient pace.
Will RealCommittee be giving either of these a medal in January? I suspect no. But maybe this week, you need a little break. Maybe the You Book will be a charming romance set in San Francisco? Or maybe the You Book will be about a Nasty (young) Woman who rages her way into your heart. One of these was definitely the book I needed to spend time with this week.
About Sarah Couri
Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.
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