Epically Earnest is a queer young adult contemporary fiction book about a teenager coming to terms with her parentage, adoption, and falling in love for the first time.
Jane Worthing was an early viral sensation- she was found on the New York City subway as a toddler, in a gaudy Gucci purse. The grainy flip phone footage of her rescue and subsequent adoption by the single mid-twenties dude bro who found her was a big story, and that was Janey’s five minutes of fame. Her life, outside her murky origins, has been pretty normal. Her father met the woman who would become her mother shortly after, and their lives became a lot less newsworthy. In the seventeen years since, Jane has thrived, with barely any notoriety attached to her name. Despite the booming industry of genetic testing, Janey had no interest in finding her biological family. That is, until her best friend Algernon stole her spit and got the test run behind her back.
This is a short read, but a phenomenal story. Fans of the Oscar Wilde play will enjoy it, though the story is by no means a carbon copy. Janey has her own journey as a character, as do her friends. The book has the same snappy dialogue as the play, though obviously updated to twenty-first century teens, and the characters have the same chemistry. In such a short book, it’s hard for every character to have a complete arc, but I think Horan manages to thread that needle. I really enjoyed Algernon as a character, he comes across as a very real person with flaws, strengths and growth. Janey is the point of view character, and though we spend the most time with her, the best characterization happens when other characters are observing her. I think she is really well-written as a young woman coming into her own. She really thinks she’s the only one who doesn’t have herself figured out, which is very human and normal, and her awkwardness is understandable and relatable.
The end of the story is a bit open, but I like that. Answers are good, and can really make a book feel finished, but the story of an eighteen year-old isn’t finished, and some answers simply can’t be found. Some of the best stories leave space for you to think about what happens next. I love how the living obituaries Janey writes actually create that space. She’s writing the kind of life she wants for the people she loves, and maybe that’s the future, maybe it isn’t. Maybe she’ll find the truth, or maybe she’ll decide not to look. Not everything can be as neat as a play. I wouldn’t have minded a more tied-up ending, but I like this one. Janey’s just starting her life, and the ending reflects that.
I also really liked how emotional and conflicted Janey is, without being too angsty. Obviously, in her situation, angst is warranted, but I didn’t think the deep emotions she expresses in any way detract from the humor and lightness of the story. There is a dark moment, which makes sense. Janey is reckoning with a serious issue that follows a lot of people throughout their lives. I really like how it’s handled, and I think it’s a necessary beat in the story.
The romance is pretty straight-forward, and I enjoyed reading about a bunch of teenagers who all like each other. I liked the awkwardness and the sweetness of both of the central relationships in the book. I was less invested in Algernon and Cecil, but they got a really great moment that sold me on them midway through. I did like Gwen a lot, and enjoyed the chemistry between her and Janey. I do think that the central relationship is Janey’s friendship with Algernon, which I personally really liked. I prefer when friendships don’t take a backseat in romance-driven narratives, which is so often the case.
Overall, this was a really fun read, and I would highly recommend it. Anyone who likes a queer YA book will enjoy it!