Tag Archives: new adult

Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

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Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

Felicia Berliner. Shmutz. Atria, 2022. ISBN 978-1982177621 272 pp. $27

****

A young ultra-Orthodox woman details her discovery of porn in this fascinating novel about religion, sexuality, and rebellion. Eighteen year old Raizl has always had a head for numbers and gets a dispensation to work as an accounting assistant in a jewelry company, and a scholarship to attend college and take accounting courses. The scholarship comes with a shiny laptop (it’s not clear how she connects to the internet) which is presumably for assignments, and access to therapy.

The Internet is full of people having sex, discovers Raizl. She learns the English words for names of body parts she only knows in Yiddish, and from watching illicit videos it’s a slippery slope to eating bacon and egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers and fries, changing into tight jeans in the restroom at school, and fooling around with boys at the beach. In the midst of this, she has increasing responsibility in the accounting job, increasing belligerence towards her therapist. She shares a Maccabeats video with her little sister, and goes on several dates arranged by the shidduch, eventually accepting a suit from an auburn-haired young man who informs her no computers will be allowed in their home.

Bonus points for clever placement of hamantaschen on the cover. The writing is immediate and both authentic teenager and authentic ultra-Orthodox. Scenes detailed the porn Raizl watches and later, her fantasies, are untitalling for this reader, reduced to observation of the mechanics. The story ends were any good YA novel leaves off: at a launch point for a new beginning of sorts.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Shmutz via #NetGalley

See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

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See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Solomon, Rachel Lynn. See You Yesterday. Simon & Schuster, 2022. ISBN 978-1665901925 432 pp. $19.99

*****

Barrett (named for the poet) Bloom is looking at her freshman year of college as the opportunity of a do-over. High school was hell: her expose in the school paper on a corrupted grading system for star tennis players led to her being a social pariah, but also bullying, the loss of a good friend, and a deceptive, mean prom date who took her virginity just so he could brag about deflowering her as revenge for her getting his brother kicked off the tennis team. On her first day of classes, Wednesday, September 21, Barrett discovers her no-show roommate is Lucie, the former friend (whose boyfriend was the one who got kicked off the team!) and the day gets worse from there. She botches her interview with the school paper, is unprepared for physics 101, and accidentally sets fire to a frat house. She runs away, gets lost, finds her way to campus, passes out in the common room, and…. wakes up again on Wednesday, September 21.

Stuck in a Groundhog-Day like time loop, the only bright and shining part of her day is getting to know Miles Kasher-Okamoto, the son of her physics teacher, who seems to be stuck in a time loop of his own. Their bristly temperaments towards each other slowly become sparks as they try to figure out why they are stuck, and agree to approach getting unstuck together from Mile’s more scientific leanings and Barrett’s magical ones. They enjoy going on adventures with no consequences, traveling, exploring, getting tattoos, buying a lot of rescue dogs, and narrowly escape death.

Another approach to find their way back to their reality is to right past wrongs, and this becomes an opportunity for Barrett to try to repair her relationship with Lucie, for Miles to allow his addict brother Max to make amends, and for Barrett to face the shitty things that happened to her on prom date–including confronting Cole Walker– and clue both Miles and her Max in, so she can begin to heal. The pair even tries to track down a former professor from UW who taught a very popular class on Time Travel for Beginners, and while her advice is ultimately helpful, nothing helps, until a missing sock provides an epiphany.

I was thinking of this book as Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop: while only two are about the college experience and two are about time loops, all three novels have deeply fleshed out, real new adult characters alongside interesting and non-stereotyped supporting characters strong setting, a compelling story, a sweet, strong first time romance, great pacing, and honestly? just perfect voice and writing.

I loved See You Yesterday for the theme of acceptance and the author’s normalizing what might still be considered marginalized people. Barrett’s mother has dated both men and women, and her current love interest is on the verge of proposing; another character isn’t so sure she likes men all that much and is looking forward to exploring; Barrett is curvy and (mostly) unashamed and gets comfortable being adored as she is; Miles is Asian American, and both are Jewish, but Miles says he is not half anything when he’s telling Barrett about some of the comments he’s heard (presumably from other Jews) about not being a matrilineal Jew. As a Jew by choice, I love seeing myself reflected back in what I’m reading, and their improvised Shabbat on a Wednesday was just so lovely. Barrett’s observation that “Much of Judaism is about making do with what you have, and I’ve always loved that there are so many ways to observe” resonated with me. It should be noted the setting of the book takes place close to the High Holidays, and while they are not mentioned, it is a time of reflection, apologies, atonement, and new beginnings.

I also really loved the pop culture woven throughout–the age of the protagonist means she has a mom that grew up in the 2000s and her introduction to the Gilmore Girls and love of all things from the turn of the 21st century is a nicely woven thread throughout the narrative.

The title is great and I don’t love the pink cover, which features a sketch of the characters at three points in time and coordinates with the author’s last YA book, Today, Tonight, Tomorrow.

I flipped to Good Reads to note I’d finished the book, and realized Rachel Lynn Solomon wrote my favorite book (thus far) of 2022: Weather Girl! As in Weather Girl, the Seattle setting features strongly into the narrative.

One of my favorite things to tell kids embarking on their higher education journey is that college is what YOU make of it. Watching Barrett come to this realization that it’s not college that will change her, but that she will change, is so satisfying.

I received an advance reader’s review copy of #SeeYouYesterday via #Netgalley

Totally Killer by Greg Olear

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Totally Killer by Greg Olear

Olear, Greg. Totally Killer. William Morrow, 2009. ISBN 978-0061735295 pp. $

*****

This tale of a downtrodden Gen Xer on a fruitless job search during the 90’s recession who owes her headhunting service a whole new kind of favor is delightful, well-paced, snortingly funny, and wonderfully satiric, and firmly entrenched in the year 1991, sure to appeal to others of my generation.

Although the sexy protagonist is 23, the story is told by her former roommate, and in the present, and this lens gives a more reflective feel to the book.

One reviewer called it “American Psycho meets I Love the ’90s” and this is the more accurate description than anything I could write 🙂 Tons of allusions, definitely a fun read.

Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames

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Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames

Ames, Greg. Buffalo Lockjaw. Hyperion, 2009. ISBN 978-1401309800 290 pp. $

****

James Fitzroy has returned to his hometown, on leave from his job writing greeting cards, to spend the holidays with his family. His mother, a former nurse, has rapidly declined in her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and a copy of the Dummies Guide to Assisted Suicide sits in the backseat of James’s rental car like Chekhov’s rifle. An immature young 20-something who has struggled with addiction and bad life choices, James is still recovering from his adolescent competition with his overachieving, smooth sailer of a sister, trying to be a newly unrebellious version of himself.

The city of Buffalo NY is characterized thorough transcribed interviews James has done with a variety of natives. The writing has a lovely balance to it: past and present, birth and death, memory and the lack thereof. The ending has a refreshing twist to it.

Undiscovered Gyrl by Alison Burnett

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Undiscovered Gyrl by Alison Burnett

Alison Burnett. Undiscovered Gyrl. Vintage, 2009. ISBN ‎ 978-0307473127 293 pp. $14

*

Billed as a “Lolita for the computer age,” Undiscovered Gyrl reminded me of a modern twist on a Go Ask Alice sort of book: an anonymous blogger tells all about her exploits (sexual and otherwise) during her gap year, with more sensational observation than introspection. Although we never see reader comments, we see her in-post responses. Predictably, her erratic, irresponsible behavior is tied to CENSORED (don’t want to spoil it!)

The writing is not stellar, but there is some dark and irreverent humor that teens might enjoy. “Katie’s” frank edgy voice has initial appeal, but gets old and gimmicky fast, and the conclusion throws the reliability of the narrator into question, making for an unsatisfying read.

Hollywood is Like High School With Money

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Hollywood is Like High School With Money

Dean, Zoey. Hollywood is Like High School With Money. Grand Central, 2009 (reprint). ISBN 978-0446697194 288 pp. $

Zoey Dean writes primarily for a teen audience, so it’s no surprise that this is an adult book with a lot of teen appeal. Although the protagonist Taylor (a second assistant at a successful movie production company) is 24, she is a young 24, and is more the yearbook editor type than cheerleader. An agent pegs her for a Midwestern newbie on her first day on the job, and explains to her one night in a bar, it’s the popular, confident folks who get ahead in Tinsel Town, not the ones with actual talent. Taylor thus enlists the boss’s teenage daughter Quinn in help being cool, making this as Cinderella story that is Devil Wears Prada meets Gossip Girls.

There were some laugh out loud funny lines and clever snarky moments, and Taylor is a likeable girl next door sort of heroine, but when the author referred to an iPhone as a cell phone you can open and close before I hit the 50 page mark, she lost all credibility for me. I pushed through to page 100 or so, skimmed to see if the ending I predicted would unfold (it did).

Supporting characters are walking caricatures (the gay bff, the mean girl first assistant, the cute boy next door) and the first assistant’s French turns of phrases are translated for us even though they can be clearly understood in context, and yet allusions to clothing designers and popular movies are assumed to translate. Hollywood is like High School with Money is a cotton candy read–a bit saccharine and insubstantial, but deliciously satisfying if you are in the right mood for it.

The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

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The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano

Cristofano, David. The Girl She Used to Be. Grand Central Publishing, 2002. ISBN 978-0446582223 256 pp. $

*****

Six-year-old Melody’s simple request for eggs Romani brought her parents to an Italian American restaurant one Sunday morning, where they unfortunately saw a mobster murder someone. Melody’s scream alerted all to her family’s presence and they found asylum in the Federal Witness Protection Program, but at great personal costs–in spite of every effort to keep the family safe, Melody’s parents were found and killed when she was sixteen.

Now, at age 26, Melody longs for love, family, and an unchanging identity. Out of boredom one day, she cries wolf and tells her contact that she has been compromised and needs to move. In the midst of her relocation, the son of the mob boss who has been tracking her for years, breaks into her motel room and holds a knife to her neck. An unlikely friendship ensues.

This brief, fast-paced novel has an engaging and even voice, humor, a unique story, complex characters and an unexpected conclusion. The themes of identity, freedom and first love are universal.

Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

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Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling, the witty narrator of Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings, is back with this third installment covering her college years.  While her high school boyfriend Marcus is at a Buddhist college in California, Jessica is attending Columbia in New York. She is majoring in psychology instead of writing or journalism, and didn’t even write in her journal her freshman year.  She looks forward to her summer internship at a hip magazine, but worries about being separated from Marcus.

I absolutely loved the first two books in this series, which may be to blame for my disappointment in this novel. When I first started reading it, I thought I had picked up a volume of Gossip Girl instead.  The voice didn’t sound like Jessica’s and I was surprised by the amount of swearing. Eventually I got into it and enjoyed most of the characters, but it just didn’t have the same feel as the other two in the series.  It’s definitely more Chick Lit than YA. I think I would have enjoyed it much more if it had been a stand alone novel with a completely different main character, because it felt like a different narrator anyway.

Review of the other books in the series:

Sloppy Firsts

Fourth Comings
Perfect Fifths

Back Roads by Tawny O’Dell

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Back Roads by Tawny O’Dell

O’Dell., Tawny Back Roads. Berkley, 2004 (reprint). ISBN 978-0451212450 343 pp. $14.99

*****

20-year-old Harley, just arrested, bares the skeletons in his family’s closet in this gritty tell-all. On the cusp of manhood and forced to grow up too soon, Harley juggles two jobs, a shrink, a married woman, and his three younger sisters. Eventually, a ball has to drop. O’Dell has written a tense and exciting novel filled with gruesome and exquisite sensory details of sex, violence, art, lust and crime. Not for the faint of heart! The most remarkable thing about the novel is Harley’s voice–honest, real, and true. Readers will empathize with this young man who is bitter, loving, wise, resigned and innocent.