Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: "All Grown Up" by Jami Attenberg

"What do you do when you already know what your problem is? What if it's not really a problem? It's only a problem if I want a relationship. If I want to fit into a conventional mode of happiness. It's only a problem if I care. And I can't tell if I care."

Andrea isn't really sure what she wants. But then again, she's not really sure what she doesn't want, either. She has a tendency to fall for the wrong guys—she gets taken in at the start of a relationship (even a fling), and before too long she and the guy pretty much hate each other. She also drinks more than she should, has a not-too-pleasant history with casual drug usage, and is often misanthropic.

As she approaches 40, most people think she's not a full-fledged adult, even if she has a job she's good at (although she hates it) and her own apartment. Her best friend, Indigo, has gotten married and had a baby. Her brother emerged triumphant from their chaotic and dysfunctional childhood, became a reasonably successful musician (for a while), and now he and his wife are raising their terminally ill baby daughter. Even her mother has gotten her act together, and just wants Andrea to be happy and settle down. But that doesn't seem to be in the cards for her.

Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up is a humorous and emotional look at one woman's struggle to hold it together from adolescence to adulthood, to define her own idea of happiness and security, to love and be loved on her own terms. She knows she's far from perfect, and she's not always happy with herself or her life (or even those in it), but she's willing to do what she thinks she needs to survive.

Attenberg is a storytelling genius. She has captured Andrea's voice so perfectly and it absolutely resonates throughout the book. Many of the other characters are really well-drawn, too, so much so that I could see them in my mind's eye, and that doesn't often happen with books. Much as she did with The Middlesteins, she makes her characters' flaws appealing, and makes you care about them even when they frustrate or annoy you.

The book jumps back and forth through time, from Andrea's teenage years through adulthood, looking at her relationships with her family, friends, coworkers, and the various men in her life, as well as her falling in and out of love with the idea of being an artist. At times it's a little disjointed, because you have to try to remember where everyone is at each particular instance.

I really enjoyed and was moved by this book. Attenberg is tremendously talented, and she has created a compelling portrait of a woman making her way through life on her own terms.

NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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