4 out of 5
Ingrid and her sprawling extended family get together for every possible occasion, where no matter how old she and her teenage cousins get, they are always stuck at the kid table. Hanging out with each other beats discussing mortgages with their parents, but what will it take for the family to see them as adults?
For a book that’s largely people psychoanalyzing each other and themselves, it was surprisingly engaging — I kept wanting to find odd moments in the day when I could read more. It deals with some Serious Issues (anorexia, alcoholism, coming out), but most of the book is taken up with Ingrid (and to a lesser extent, the cousins we see through her rather distant, calculating gaze) figuring out who she is and what she wants out of life. (…Man, could I sound any vaguer? This is a really hard book to summarize.)
It is very funny, in a dark way, but most of the humor is built up over time as you get to know the characters — my favorite kind of humor, but hard to quote. I think this bit gives you a sense of Ingrid, though:
I looked [the valet] up and down, smiling as if I liked what I saw, even though I saw nothing beyond a nice-enough-looking guy somewhere around my age.
“I’ll be here all night,” he told me.
“You’re a comedian?”
“Never mind,” I said. “You shouldn’t be alone on a holiday. Later I’ll bring you out some breasts and legs.”
I’m not sure that one connected either.
And immediately below that is this paragraph, which is pretty representative of the kind of insightful philosophizing Ingrid/Seigel do a lot of:
Whenever there was a holiday involving the preparation of food, all the women crowded in the kitchen, even the ones who had no clue how to warm Pop-Tarts, which made me feel a little crazy. It was like we were participating in a tradition that had never come from us — I mean both the girls and the guys — and it had robbed us of making new ones that had something to do with who we really were.
Sometimes the characters’ behavior is cringeworthily over-the-top. But that flamboyance is a nice counterpoint to Ingrid’s pragmatism, which I quite admired. I liked spending time with a YA female lead who is emphatically not a romantic. I missed her when I closed the book and want to know what she does next with her life, and I can’t think of higher praise for a character.
This is definitely a book for older YAs, trending towards adult. (Of recent books, it reminded me most of Peter Cameron’s Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, though I was never annoyed by Ingrid the way I was by James.) There is sex (or the discussion thereof, anyway), and drinking, but mostly I think it would just bore younger teens who aren’t interested in questions of morality and identity. Adult Themes in the least euphemistic sense.
Full disclosure: the author is a friend of a friend, with whom I went to college. Which makes me doubly pleased to be able to say how much I enjoyed it! It also means I got a peek at a preliminary cover which was deeply wrong for the book, and I’m glad that Melissa Walker of Readergirlz has the whole cover story so you can see it, too.