by Jessica Knoll
Hardcover, 338 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2015
Read: July 27 – 31, 2015
There has been so much buzz about this book the last couple of months, it might as well be inhabited by bees. There’s been a couple of times this summer that half of my Twitter feed seems obsessed with it — it’s really only one or two people, but they really like posting reviews about it. I get the love for it — I don’t share it (at least to the extent that so many seem to) — but I can see where some would go ga-ga over it.
For me, not since Mark Watney from last year’s The Martian has a book depended so much on a narrator’s voice for me. This thing rises and falls with what you think of Ani FaNelli. If she doesn’t turn you off in the first 10 pages (odds are, I know the exact line), you’ll enjoy the ride.
The book opens on Ani and her fiancé working on their wedding gift registry, but it’s pretty much unlike every such trip you’ve seen/read. I’m pretty sure I emitted an audible chuckle or two. The fiancé is not really a cad, not really a bore, more of a guy who would be a jerk, or a really good guy if he just put a little effort into things in either direction, but can’t seem to bother to care. Ani is driven, emotionally-complex, with a dark sense of humor, there’s a subtext straight from the start that says some nasty stuff has happened to her, and it’s shaped the way she relates to life — it should be said that this subtext isn’t all that “sub.”
As we march towards the wedding day, we start to look back at how Ani’s (then TifAni’s) high school life made her into who she is today — her trials, her trauma, her friends, and everything else. As we get further along in each story, we gain more understanding of why she does what she does. I’m not all that certain I liked Ani as a person, but as a character? Oh, yeah. She’s a damaged mess of various disorders, doing her best to keep things together and progressing (it’s clear that she’s earned every one of those disorders). In the end, Ani just wants acceptance, love (for who she is, not what someone wants her to be), and a little public vindication. It’s just harder for her to find that because of who she is.
It’s hard to argue with desires like that — particularly from someone who’s gone through what she’s gone through. I’ve seen more than one review who talked about not being able to connect to Ani, and while I enjoyed her voice, I’m not sure I could either. What I could connect with was her goals, her desires. So my emotional investment came from wondering what kind of success she’d find.
Ani had a plan — one overarching plan since high school — she developed it, let it evolve, but by and large her plan was everything to her, a religion. I don’t think you could say it was a great plan, but it seems plausible. More than that, it was Ani’s and she liked it. But — somewhere in these pages, a little of that character growth thing happens — plus a handy accident occurs — that necessitates change in her plan. It’s impossible to say if that growth would’ve without the accident, or without the growth if she’d been able to take advantage of the accident. Either way, it’s how you handle a change in your circumstance and plans that reveals the most about you, right? The payoff here was satisfying.
The book promises a lot of twists — and there are several — but most of them I could see coming. That didn’t matter, Knoll teases them just long enough, and then brings them to light just at the right time for them to be fully effective. The ones I didn’t see coming, on the other hand? They were just as effective, and oh, so wonderful.
Thanks to the cover copy and promotions, this is being compared to Gone Girl — some people like the comparison, some don’t. I’m not going to make that comparison (mostly because I haven’t read the other). But for cryin’ out loud — don’t base you opinion of this book on that comparison. That’s not Knoll’s comparison, it belongs to someone at Simon & Schuster’s marketing department (and valid or not, that bit of cover copy paid off for the company).
Give this 10-30 pages. If you’re curious about what happened to Ani, if you like her voice, if you want to if she succeeds in her goals, keep going. If you don’t? Drop it and grab something else.