In the first chapter of this book, we are introduced to a quirky family and many of the flaws of the main family are out in the open. The first chapter was one of the most memorable I’ve read in a long time, perhaps even all semester, out of the dozen or YA books I was required to pick up. (To be honest, I did so much reading over the past few months, I lost track of the exact amount). Why was the first chapter so memorable?
During the very first page or so, the mother in this story attempts to throw her son’s laptop out a window, and of course, an argument ensues.
This happens during first few pages– readers get right into a family conflict and see the dynamic between the main characters. The family characters are caricatures (especially the mother), and to an extent, stereotypes, fit for a sitcom, but at the same time, their personalities are believable. Sophie Kinsella manages to make a great balance of exaggeration, to the point where the family seems odd, but at the same time, ordinary in the midst of their dysfunction.
In addition to the high strung mother, there’s a mellow but well-meaning father, and a brother who (allegedly) is addicted to video games. There’s also a younger brother who plays a bit of a smaller role.
This story isn’t about about family’s antics–at least–not entirely. The novel focuses our main character, Audrey, struggles with social anxiety. She wears sunglasses at all times, including when indoors, in order to avoid eye contact. She also struggles with eye contact even with her own family members.
Audrey’s therapist suggests that Audrey can make a documentary of her life and challenge herself. One of the biggest challenges Audrey faces is going to a Starbucks and interacting with the barista. The thought of social interaction alone terrifies her. A boy named Linus helps Audrey as she pushes boundaries. He becomes a big part of her support system. I feel that relationships and romance are common in mental health novels and to an extent, I feel conflicted about this. It’s common for a boy to meet a girl and vice versa, and help the character through the darkest moments of their mental illness. Sometimes relationships in books may make characters feel overly dependent on one another for their own well-being. But Linus is supportive of Audrey, and their relationships as teenagers, with their ups and downs, feels believable.
The depiction of anxiety in this book is realistic and done with respect. I find that the humor throughout the book is a breath of fresh air, in comparison to other books on mental health I’ve come across, that are a bit more somber. Humor can be used while coping with health issues, including mental health, in a tasteful manner, and I want to note that people who are struggling with their mental health do cope in different ways.
Audrey also grows as a character but learns that recovery is not always an upward climb. She is a well-meaning person but isn’t perfect. She does make a few poor choices in the novel in regards to her health. The story emphasizes that recovery does have its highs and lows, and that resonated with me as a reader.
The story switches between a script and a first person point of view, through Audrey’s eyes. The script kept the story interesting and gives readers the chance to see how Audrey changes over the course of the novel.
The author chooses to discuss one of the main roots of Audrey’s anxiety in a vague way, and I can understand this decision. It is a story about what happens after, as well as how Audrey moves on from the past and grows as a character throughout the whole process.
The main flaw of this novel however, is the pacing towards the end. It seemed abrupt and loose ends were tied a bit too well. When the book ended, I wanted more. But I guess that’s a good sign, and it makes me want to read more of Kinsella’s books.