Posted in Books

“Epically Earnest” by Molly Horan

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!

Posted in Books

“Instant Karma” by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer is a YA author best known for The Lunar Chronicles, her science fiction fairytale quartet that spawned a graphic novel sequel duology and a handful of short stories set in the same universe. Since their publication, Meyer has published a handful of other titles, but Instant Karma is her first foray into realistic fiction. It’s a YA romance, set in a Florida beach town just when summer is getting started.

Prudence is not just an over-achiever, she’s the over-achiever. Unfortunately, her lab partner, Quint, is the worst kind of slacker, and after a disastrous final project, Pru is determined to resubmit their assignment. However, their teacher won’t accept it without Quint and Pru’s input, and Quint is not inclined to spend his summer on schoolwork. Pru makes him a deal, but to hold up her end, they have to spend a lot of time together- like, a lot.

Not only does Prudence have to spend an unfortunate amount of summer with her nemesis, after a weird karaoke accident she finds herself the instrument of karmic justice. Pru realizes that with a gesture, she can dish out the universe’s recompense on anyone, and they will be rewarded or punished. Unfortunately, it isn’t up to Prudence to decide what people deserve, and karma can really be a bitch. When faced with the consequences of karmic retribution, Pru has to to figure out if the upside of instant karma is worth the potential fallout.

This book runs a little long for a YA realistic fiction title, and it definitely takes a while to get into. Prudence is an unpleasant, off-putting character, difficult to like. She has a tendency to judge and write-off others, and while she certainly has her moments, she’s not the best character in the book. Quint is more interesting, he has a lot of depth to him, and I enjoyed the parts with him most. The story does work, as Prudence is written to be unlikable, but it could have been a bit more subtly done. It’s supposed to be a big deal for Prudence to realize that she’s wrong and she’s been making snap-judgements, but the reader picks up on that from the third chapter. The pacing isn’t great, the story drags its feet for the first half of the book, and then picks up and doesn’t stop running.

The pacing problem comes from the book trying to do too much- this is a stand-alone novel, and it doesn’t have the space for character development a series does. There are too many sub-plots, which leaves the novel feeling bulky without adding at all to the narrative cohesion. The karma aspect of the plot is underdeveloped and seems as though it was put in just to justify some of the plot-twists rather than as a novel concept. It reads more like a romantic drama than anything else, which does work for the story.

While the book certainly has its flaws, Meyer’s fans will certainly enjoy it. The book is just as romantic as her previous work, and it’s a pleasant read. There are a lot of really fun characters, and the setting is really inventive, but it’s not what you might expect from the premise. The book veers less towards supernatural justice and more towards environmentalism, which isn’t a bad thing, but certainly isn’t something expected, given the cover and the publisher summary. 

I did like the Pride and Prejudice-like relationship between the two protagonists. Their animosity is amusing, and it’s fun to watch that slowly melt away. There are some pretty great side characters, and overall, the story holds together and ends satisfyingly.

Instant Karma will be available for purchase November 3, wherever books are sold, or at your local library. You can also purchase it from Amazon using our affiliate code. The reviewer was provided with an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.