Overview: Izzy is sick of being 16. She's sick of being the "easy kid" who never causes a problem for the family or demands attention. Her mom is always busy working at her law firm, and her dad just isn't super invested. School is awful, and her controlling boyfriend makes her question what it means to be in love. And then she stumbles into a bar on comedy night, and suddenly, she finds a world so different from her own- one that's better. Though it requires maintaining more than a few lies, this new life with her college friends is too good to give up. That is, until it all comes crashing down. About growing up, being your authentic self, and navigating intense relationships for the first time, this book is incredibly relatable and quite unique in the way it approaches common YA questions. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 I relate to Izzy on a deep, deep level. From the second I read the synopsis, I knew the book was going to speak deeply to my soul. I've always wanted to be older. I fast tracked through high school to get to college, all my friends have always been older, and I've constantly craved the level of seriousness that being older affords you. Unlike Izzy, I didn't grow up in a city I could sneak off into, so I turned to the internet and the book world. It gave me that sense of security and community I never found at school. Being judged for my talents first was the greatest relief. So, while I can see the flaws in Izzy's plan and understand her college friend's feeling of betrayal in the end, I also can't blame Izzy. I haven't seen that deep need to be a grown up portrayed in this way before, with a character that is mature and ready enough to pull off interfacing with the adult world genuinely, just not perfectly. I love how Henry showed the value in being exposed to what the world has to offer outside of the confined walls of high school while also showing the negative sides of Izzy thinking she had everything figured out. Mo and her college friends give Izzy the injection of confidence she 100% needed, and they offer her valuable life advice. They're truly the friend group she needs, and I appreciate the way the group addresses Izzy's lies, and their relationships morph in a way that isn't completely negative.
Branching out, Izzy also has to navigate an abusive, controlling relationship with her boyfriend, Alex. While he never crosses complete physical lines with Izzy, Alex always wants to keep her scared that the threat could escalate. He makes her doubt her own reality, and it's a hard place to get out of, especially after she's been isolated from her best friend. In a way, this relationship makes her secret college friends even more important. They become her proof that she can form a life on her own, and once she admits what's happening, Mo is key to opening her eyes to how bad the situation truly is. The farther Izzy pulls away from Alex, the more confidence she builds, but Henry shows how much time it takes to truly end a manipulative relationship as Izzy has many stops and starts. The book approaches the topic from a realistic, compassionate angle that is so important to showcase in YA because it can help teens who have no context for what an "okay" and "not okay" relationship is. Also tied to this storyline is a concerned teacher who quietly steps in to offer Izzy support where she needs it, by offering her classroom during lunch and giving her extra books to read. It's always the teachers who can quietly recognize the kids that need a bit more support who truly make all the difference.
The final hurdle in the book among the character conflicts is between Izzy and her parents. Izzy loves her parents, but she wishes they had more time for her. Her mom is always missing their special days in the name of work, and Izzy's older sister told her that her mom resents her for coming along and making her career even harder. Izzy's twin older siblings fit in the family in a way she never has. Izzy's always been applauded for being the simple, easy kid who always does everything right. Stand up is her silent rebellion and a little freedom she feels she deserves. I definitely related to her frustration with the expectations around her to always be okay and self-sufficient, and all of Izzy's motivations were understandable. When it all blows up and her parents find a clip of Izzy's stand-up about them, I love that Henry allows Izzy to stand her ground, apologizing for the negative things that came from her words but not for saying them and speaking her truth through her art. That was such a powerful moment for me.
Plot: 4 The book is mostly a character based story about Izzy's growth more than it's about the plot. I think that's why it took me nearly a two weeks to finish it, even though I enjoyed every time I got to sit down and read. There's not much urgency, but I don't feel like that's what this book asked for. It oscillates between quiet moments of family conflict, tense moments with Alex, and sneaking out to the comedy clubs. The scenes were remarkably crafted and important to Izzy's character growth, but it's not a plot driven book.
Writing: 5 I'm a huge fan of Katie Henry and her writing style. I've been following her books since her debut, and every single one has been incredibly unique and compulsively relatable. Every single one of her books has spoken to a different part of me that I rarely see reflected back to me in media. I guess that's why I'm always so eager to keep picking up her books. Her style is incredibly detailed and immersive. You live deep within the main character's head, and a world truly flourishes through their eyes. I could see nearly every scene in this book vividly. Also, all of her books are incredibly funny in a dry, sarcastic way that I love and can't get enough of. T
his book isn't just funny because it's about stand up comedy. I've read tons of books about stand up in YA, but they're always through the lens of high school clubs. I loved that Henry used it to force Izzy outside of her bubble and how she contrasted it with this high school world where everyone has known each other their whole lives. It gives the book more power, and I also just love any book that takes YA out of the strictly high school setting.
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