book review: Old Enough by Haley Jakobson
Overview: Sav is forming a new identity at her arts school. She's found a queer community after coming out as bi, and she's constructed a life and a sense of self that she's actually proud of. The only issue is that her childhood best friend, Izzie, is always ready to remind her of her drunk, party girl high school past and a trauma they all want to forget. When Izzie announces she's getting married, Sav is pulled back into her old world more intensely than ever and forces her to confront realities of her past in a way she's spent years avoiding. Overall: 3.5
Characters: 3.5 I like Sav. She's clearly trying her best even during the moments she fumbles and hurts herself and those around her. It's obvious from the start that she's coping with a lot, and what exactly happened to her is slowly revealed throughout the book. She's grappling with how to reconcile the person she wants to be and the person she's been in the past, and she doesn't know how to handle Izzie, her last remaining link between the two.
The issue is that I don't feel like I really got to know Sav or any of her friends or crushes all that well. It all felt very surface in what we're able to discover through them, and each supporting character feels like they simply exist to bring up certain ideas for Sav to grapple with or push the plot forward. We never get to go deep with any of them, which is a shame because they're certainly interesting and compelling on the surface. There's just not the development I was craving from Sav or any of the others, and they just felt like stand-ins to facilitate telling the story.
Plot: 4 The story is good. I enjoyed reading it, and it held my attention for the whole novel. It's a very powerful novel about being a survivor of sexual assault and is done with much tender care and realism. Sav spends years prior to the novel coming to own the idea that she was raped in her own mind, and the book shows how this realization is often a slow process. That's incredibly important. It shows how this trauma as a sixteen year old has echoed through her life and effected her relationships afterwards. It's incredibly honest and quiet and real. As much as I struggle with the finer points of its execution, this is a book worth reading because it succeeds at its very important core and is a narrative more people need exposed to.
Writing: 3 The writing could use more development. The dialogue, with every fifth sentence ending with a direct address of "bitch" or "cutie" or something else along these lines absolutely threw me. Also, as someone currently in college, I've never heard anyone talk like the characters in this book. They all sound like hollow cartoons of college kids. If there wasn't such an honest earnestness to the story itself, it would almost feel like making fun at college kids. I think it was more of a product of trying too hard to make these kids sound like college kids instead of just writing them as people.
It was a quick read, but there wasn't anything that stood out about the writing itself or offered details that would really make the story glitter. This just felt like a book that had a very strong plot but needed more time and development on the smaller pieces to really make it as good as it could've been.
Also, there are a few chapters that jump back in time and progress as the book goes on to reveal what happened to Sav, and this was a good idea, but it was executed without much warning on the timeline shifts at times and was told in a weird second person style where the reader was suddenly put in Izzie's shoes and addressed as "you." I just found it all a bit jarring and took away from an important part of the story.
My last thought is that this book stands out in that it's a book for adults, and it feels adult in the variety of subject matter and the way it handles sexuality and self discovery, but the voice feels closer to YA (not because of the lack of development, I want to emphasize). I think a lot of the Goodreads reviews saying it reads like YA are pointing out its lack of development, which rubbed me the wrong way, but the book does have an immediacy and a presence that we don't typically get in adult coming of age stories. We're not usually so viscerally in it, and you can usually feel a hand over the story of wistfulness or a larger understanding gleaned through time that's being explored. This feels in the moment and visceral like YA. I think the largely positive response to this novel points to the value of having NA books that deal with more adult themes but stay with the present, typically associated with YA voice. I love literary coming of age novels, but there's value in both extremely present and a bit removed books. I'm glad this book is making a point about that, and I think it's catching so much attention because we don't get enough of it.
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