|Just FYI, I would not add "Planes, trains, and automobiles" to this list.|
All day, I accidentally tripped over fellow passengers on the subway, got nasty looks when managing to go the wrong way up stairs (the rule is to stick to the right, except when you don't--it's like passing slow cars on a two-lane highway, except you don't die if you crash into them), got stuck in subway doors, missed elevators, and made the worst small talk ever. I knocked over two cups of tea. It was one of those days.
So, after seriously considering going home and taking in a large dose of Hulu, I roll into the Catastrophic party (which was not at all catastrophic, except for me--it was beautiful--there were artisan pizzas, bevvies of supportive edit staffers; everyone was intimidatingly well-dressed, the store was decorated with gorgeous paintings of scenes from children's books, and music that fit the book played all evening) and immediately hear my plus one will be a half hour late. Awesome. I'm sitting there reading the book--not a light read, by the way--and something amazing happens.
Jess Rothenberg--aka classiest hostess of all time--comes up to me. I must look, in my schlubby, tea-stained outfit, like a crazy twenty-something loner who still reads YA (and very nearly knocks over red wine onto the store's beige carpet). I'd emailed with her when she was an editor--and she was incredibly sweet then, too--but she doesn't know that, since we'd never actually met.
|This store is amazing. Add it to any "I'll be in NYC--what should I do?" list.|
I have to admit that when I saw an online description of the book (which left out its cleverness and stuck pretty much to "Girl dies, is sad"), coupled with the fact that the book was written by a former editor with crazy connections, I had been somewhat skeptical. Granted, I've never actually seen any editor-to-writer projects that totally sucked. But on days when every beverage seems to have a ridiculous gravitational pull toward the floor, the cynicism is there.
"Heh," I had thought before the party, "She even got a blurb from Lauren Oliver. I wonder who's friends with..."
But then she started reading.
And the book deserves all of its praise, and more.
Allow me to elaborate: I was, for the day, hating the world, and thinking the worst of everyone in it. And then, within a few lines, I was in love with this book.
Now, that's some skill.
It actually is, in fact, "Gorgeous, funny and heartbreaking," just as Ms. Oliver promised. I wouldn't recommend reading it in public, because it's just so affecting--and I'm only two-thirds through. Jess blends emotions in a way that makes them all the more vivid--we get funny-sad, wistful-nostalgic, hilarious-terrifying, and all manner of beautiful-but-finite. It's a slow read, because you want to savor the sentences. You don't want it to be over any time soon. There are wonderful nineties tidbits in there too, to keep the older readers interested (my favorite involves a reference to Ms. Frizzle).
Jess was warm, funny, gracious, welcoming--an excellent guest of honor. She has a great reading voice, and though I'd already read some of the pages before she read them again, I found new nuances in the text while listening to her. She sat up at a table with an enlarged version of the cover next to her, and people kept bringing flowers and setting them on the table. The book is largely about death--the protagonist literally dies of a broken heart--and for a moment (because she does look a bit like the young woman on the cover), there was a slightly creepy "Wow, this looks like a funeral" feel to it. It wasn't bad--it was interesting--and I wondered if anyone had thought of this or planned it.
Jess has a particular talent for making old things seem new again. After all, there are a lot of dead protagonists in YA. But this version of death seems the most vivid, the most likely. Even moments repeated in the book--there are a lot of "Your mama" jokes, which never struck me as funny before--somehow, in Jess's hands, never get old.
So, yes. It's wonderful. It's getting a lot of attention, and deserves it.
As you may know, I spend a lot of my reading time doing cost-benefit analysis: how much work is this project, versus how much do I love it? How likely was I to alienate all of publishing versus how neat would it be to stay and hear the rest? And, most importantly: how sad is this book, versus its sheer awesomeness?
It more than makes up for it. And it's a really, really sad book.
There are a few scenes that are a little out there, and I'd take them out if it were up to me--but these are minor compared to the wonderful things the book accomplishes.
So, get yourself some tissues, some snacks (you won't want to stop reading anytime soon), and a reading room of one's own. Ms. Rothenberg, I salute you. You've been able to quiet your well-trained internal editor and write something heartfelt, gorgeous, and many kinds of intelligent. Go out and get it, folks. This book is amazing, and is likely to be one of the most talked-about books this season.