Chicklit gets a bad rap because over-zealous acquisitions editors went crazy with “single girl looking for love and high-paying jobs in the city” stories. The commensurate market saturation left a bad taste in many a reader’s mouth (not to mention creating much fodder for dissing an entire genre). I suspect a lot of readers were like me – desperately seeking fiction with a romantic edge, realistic stories, and smart writing (oh, for more smart writing).
I suspect a lot of readers were like me and dropped out of chicklit game because finding the good was damn hard work.
I dedicate this review to those readers. There is hope.
Meredith McKay, the heroine of Everyone Else’s Girl, believes her life is like a perfect day on the lake – all glass. Through almost heroic effort, she has eliminated conflict from her day-to-day existence. Strife is finding a dustball in the corner of a cabinet. Saint Meredith is alive, well, super-nice (aka doormat), and living a sufficient distance from her choppy water family.
Waves start pounding her when she returns home for her soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bachelorette party (a particular circle of hell, and after a shaky start, Crane hit the punch line here just right). The undertow kicks in when Meredith is forced – ah, being the good kid really sucks – to stay in New Jersey after her father’s car accident leaves him in need of in-home help. Mom is off on her dream trip to Italy, creating a nice push-me/pull-you anger in Meredith and her siblings. I mean, how can a woman be so selfish? Meredith finally capsizes when she’s forced to face the truth about herself.
Yeah, enough with the water analogies already.
In Atlanta, Meredith has the kind of life that makes lackluster seem thrilling. She’s devoted her existence to ensuring that her live-in boyfriend doesn’t suffer a moment’s worry about things like laundry, meals, running a household. You know how that kind of life goes, no drama, no drama. Back home – and no matter how you wander, where you’re born and raised will always be home – she’s thrust into a viper’s nest of emotional conflict:
- Perfectionist mother.
- Emotionally distant father with a fish-breeding obsession (he’s the sane one, by the way).
- Younger sister with a bad attitude and no guilt about it. Embracing the bad girl comes to mind.
- Older brother who graduated from bully to overbearing.
- Ex-best friend/future sister-in-law with a passive-aggressive chip on her shoulder.
- The girl that Meredith screwed over in high school.
Hmm, something’s missing. Oh right:
- The dweeby, sissy boy from across the street who grew up hot and self-assured…and more than a little malevolent.
Crane juggles and weaves (it can be done, but you must have skill) these threads in ways both expected and unexpected. Meredith’s brother, Christian, doesn’t change into uber-nice brother. Jeannie, his fiancée, plays dumb about her years’ long estrangement from Meredith, but her perspective is that she wasn’t the villain. Scott, former dweeb, doesn’t change his tune because of a little sex. Far from it – Crane delivers one of the best post-coital scenes I’ve read in a long time.
Oh yes, Meredith cheats on her boyfriend. The back cover of the book gives this away. Her motivation is messy, it’s confused, it’s even, shall we say?, not rationalized. It’s human. People do stupid things, and part of Meredith’s growth through the story is the realization that even saints are flawed. For her to find peace in her life, she needs to understand that it’s okay to throw a fit in the DMV (no, this doesn’t happen, it’s an example). We all break down. It’s okay.
Crane’s characters are both flawed and sympathetic. You read enough romance, you know this is hard and rare. I think most of us can identify with hating the High School Queen. I think it’s a little harder to sit back and think maybe she wasn’t all bad. Especially when she’s still not all good. She’s human – and Crane’s characters are delightfully human. Okay, except for Hope, Meredith’s younger sister. Her transformation felt a little forced, but not in a way that someone reading the book for pleasure (as opposed to for a review) would notice.
Plot-wise (will Meredith find a backbone and start on the road to happiness?), the story rests on the characters, and I think Crane did a great job. Story-wise, the “I’m a grown-up moving back home with the folks” thread resonates. The “I’m so above this place” reaction to your hometown invites a little guilt. Who are you to be so superior? Crane shows us our snobbery without making it seem like a sin. I liked that.
Because I’m me (and who else would you want in this instance?), I have to quibble with something. I wanted more Mom – the story dictates that she be absent for a good long time, but understanding Meredith requires seeing her mother. A little more Mom would have been useful. And I wanted more Rachel (girl who was screwed over but finds peace with Meredith). Her “moving back home” with the folks attitude made her a more appealing character than Jeannie’s maid of honor. Admittedly, writing about the maid of honor had to be more fun, but I liked Rachel. This is not a suggestion to write a Rachel book, by the way. I can like characters and move on.
Here’s my criteria for a good book: I start it and want to read it until my eyes bleed (aka, long past my bedtime). A good book means I ignore my husband and forego Keith Olbermann. A good book forces me to sneak pages when someone heads to kitchen to grab a bottle of water. Based on my scale, Everyone Else’s Girl is a good book. You know the drill, links below.