Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

Flap copy from ARC:
To Carley Wells, words are the enemy: the countless SAT lists from her tutor, the "fifty-seven-pounds-overweight" assessment from her personal trainer, and most of all, the "confidential" Getting to Know You assignment from her insane English teacher. When he reports to her parents that she has answered "What is your favorite book?" with "Never met one I liked," they resolve to fix what he calls her "intellectual impovrishment." They will commission a book to be written for Carley that she'll have to love- one that will impress her teacher and the whole town of Fox Glen with their family's devotion to the arts. They will buy their daughter The Love of Reading.

Impossible though it is for Carley to imagine loving books, she is in love with a young bibliophile who cares about them more than anything. Anything, that is, but a good bottle of scotch. Hunter Cay, Carley’s best friend and Fox Glen’s resident golden boy, is becoming a stranger to her lately as he drowns himself in F. Scott Fitzgerald, booze, and Vicodin.

When the Wellses move writer Bree McEnroy—author of a failed meta-novel about Odysseus’ failed journey home through the Internet—into their mansion to write Carley’s book, Carley’s sole interest in the project is to distract Hunter from drinking and give them something to share. But as Hunter’s behavior becomes erratic and dangerous, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the fictional world Bree has created, and begins to understand for the first time the power of stories—those we read, those we want to believe in, and most of all, those we tell ourselves about ourselves. Stories powerful enough to destroy a person. Or save her.

I really enjoyed this book despite what I think is fairly deceptive flap copy. I expected a much more tongue-in-cheek narrative that this book offers- the satire is fairly light in my opinion. Despite that, the story itself is compelling, and Carley (who I disliked in the beginning) develops into a character with wonderful depth. Her struggle to survive while trying to save her best friend is unexpectedly poignant, and I enjoyed watching Carley slowly come to recognize her own worth outside of Hunter's reflected glory.

There was plenty of scope for wry laughter once Bree (and her painful novel) make an appearance. Bree's level of narrative deconstruction will entertain anyone who's ever endured a college writing class. Her efforts to find a narrative truth are unexpectedly assisted by Carley's hatred of books and refusal to accept Bree's idea of storytelling.

Gibson perfectly captures the feelings of isolation and confusion that all teenagers experience (no matter their parents' socio-economic situation), and ably crafts a realistic (though rather surreal) story. Highly recommended.

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