Monday, August 15, 2011

This Beautiful Life review

Ok friends, you'll have to deal with some craziness on this review. First, a little background on my reviewing style, in case you're new to reading my blog:

Basicaly, I don't review books that I didn't like. I don't enjoy giving negative press and if I'm really not into a book, I won't finish it anyways. And I definitely don't review books I didn't finish. That's just my thing and if it's not yours, cool. 

I'm also very much a character-driven reader. If I don't love the main character or at the very least, relate to him/her, I'm probably not going to like the book. I need good, meaty characters to keep me reading and even if the protagonist is meant to be bratty/annoying/unlikable, I typically will still just not enjoy the book overall. 

That being said, onto my review of This Beautiful Life

This was an incredibly complex story of what happens to a family when 15-year-old Jake forwards on an explicit video sent to him by an eighth grade girl. All his friends receive it, his friends friends, etc. The aftermath to his family, mom Liz, dad Richard, and younger sister CoCo, is both as you would think it would be and not. 

We get to experience a personal reaction to the scandal by Liz, a laid back mom struggling to fit into their new fast-paced and upscale life in NYC. Her husband is now in a high power position at work, leaving her to do most of the child rearing and she thinks she really only has her hands full with percocious Coco. When the trouble with Jake hits the fan, Liz slowly begins to unravel. 

We also get to see how the video effects Richard in his business life, as he's faced with having to scramble to keep his work life together. He means well in everything he does, both business related and with his family, even if he doesn't make the best decisions. 

And finally, we get Jake's perspective. He's a good kid that made a terrible mistake and instantly feels guilt for it. He realizes the vastness of the scandal and isn't quite sure how to pull himself out of the mess he's made and is even more unsure of how to fix the girl's life he ruined. The forwarding of the video was not at all vindictive, though we still witness the slow decline of Jake's mental state. 

In the midst of the characters, we get glimpses into the lives of NYC private school parents and kids, the schedules placed upon children at such a young age, as parents are convinced they must compete for the most coveted preschools and elementary schools, setting their children up for fantastic lives. It's quite sickening and makes me glad, once again, that I grew up in a tiny town where everyone was pretty much on a level playing field. We didn't have a whole lot of options when it came to extra curricular activities, nor did our parents have the money to pay for anything extravagant, and we all turned out pretty ok. 

So, after all that, I didn't like this book. Though we're given the perspectives of three different characters, Liz is truly the main character and I didn't like her at all. I didn't sympathize with her and I didn't care about where she was going or what she was doing. She bugged me and got under my skin...and not in a good way. 

I didn't feel the reactions to the video were as realistic as they could have been (except maybe Richard's) and I really didn't care for the way the family reacted together. They barely spoke of it when home together, each just silently imploding with their own issues. I think, in the real world, more talk would have happened. More yelling. Even if Jake wasn't trying to hurt anyone, just having made a stupid mistake, his parents would have been ANGRY. There was no anger. 

So, having not liked the book, why am I still reviewing it? Why would I give it 3 stars on Goodreads if I didn't like it? The writing, my friends. The writing is fantastic. It's descriptive without being wordy, quiet when it needs to be, and animated if that's what the situation calls for. I fell into the book, even when I wasn't really enjoying the plot, all because of the beauty of the language and the flow of the words. 

I am still urging you to give the book a try, because of Schulman's talent with words. OR you can do as I'm going to do and run out and pick up her other books...I have to give them a try. I've never had this reading experience before with loving the writing, but disliking the plot and the characters, but, it can obviously happen. I'm heading to the library to find more Schulman, pronto. 

This Beautiful Life
Helen Schulman
240 pages
Adult Fiction
August 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

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