Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life
Keek and her boyfriend just had their Worst Fight Ever; her best friend heinously betrayed her; her parents are divorcing; and her mom’s across the country caring for her newborn cousin, who may or may not make it home from the hospital. To top it all off, Keek’s got the plague. (Well, the chicken pox.) Now she’s holed up at her grandmother’s technologically barren house until further notice. Not quite the summer vacation Keek had in mind.
With only an old typewriter and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for solace and guidance, Keek’s alone with her swirling thoughts. But one thing’s clear through her feverish haze — she’s got to figure out why things went wrong so she can make them right.
To be perfectly frank, I could have easily hated this book. On the surface, it’s not exactly made up of things that make me go “yes, please.” Keek (short for Karina, in case you are one of those readers who roll your eyes at and/or give up on a book if it has characters with stupid names.) being confined to her bed throughout most of the novel ≠ a lot of exciting adventures to read about. The book, in fact, is not much more than Keek trying to journal her way through her many and major issues, which could have come across as nothing more than an endless whinging rant. She makes many comparisons with her life and that of the main character of The Bell Jar, which could have come across as annoyingly pretentious.
You know why all of these things worked out? Because Keek was an amazingly awesome narrator, simple as that. Her story is an entirely relatable* one because we too have had parents who let us down, have freaked out about how far to take things with a significant other, and let’s face it, if you didn’t have a friend stab you in the back during junior high or high school, you haven’t really lived. Couple that with a character who has a hilarious, honest and authentic teenage voice and you’ve got the makings of a great novel. Here’s evidence, if you don’t believe me:
I was feeling what my mom’s guru would have called “the serenity that only emotional growth and wisdom can bring.” And then I looked into the mirror, and my entire mouth was black and purple from the stupid Dora gum, and I looked like a crazy witch girl, with black teeth and black and pink hair. I’d been talking to Amanda the whole time with this mouth of ridiculousness.
There’s a fun, quirkiness about Keek that made me picture her as a young Zooey Deschanel (for some people that may be an insult, but for me it’s a compliment all the way). She makes homemade items and sells them on her Etsy shop, attempts to cook her way through The Bell Jar*** and goes faint with excitement when her gram lets her try on her old clothes from the fifties. Seriously, if I could go back to high school, I’d be just like Keek. There were times, though when she made a Big Deal out of something that I, as an adult, know will not matter in the grand scheme of things, and I just wanted to put a big sisterly arm around her and offer some sage, non-patronizing advice about how this too shall pass, because she didn’t have anyone around to do that for her. Turns out, I didn’t need to worry, because her awesome gram stepped up to the plate, offering Keek someone to talk to when everyone else had abandoned her and telling her the things she needed to hear.****
So, long story short, And Then Things Fall Apart was awesome instead of the awful it could have been. Don’t take my word for it, though — visit your library or bookseller of choice and find out for yourself.
*All I can think of is the tagline from Judge Judy (which Keek mentions all the time, because she and her gram watch it together): “The cases are real, the people are real.”
**Just say it out loud.
***Have you seen Lilek’s Gallery of Regrettable Food? I don’t know how Keek made it through the first meal.
****I think everyone needs someone who will tell them to “class it up, kid” when they are discovered hardcore making out with their boyfriend in a car parked in front of their grandmother’s house in broad daylight, don’t you?