Post-Graduation Depression, Mother/Daughter Dynamics, and Coming-of-Age in Smothered

I was beyond keen on diving into this book, thanks to the premise of using unconventional storytelling and sounding on par with an underrated favorite of mine, Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian, by exploring themes of daughter-mother bonds through journal entries.

It’s also in a similar vein to Motherest wherein essentially nothing happens plot-wise; the story relies heavily on the characters, so if you don’t connect with the main protagonist you’re in for a rather lackluster reading experience.

Smothered is a sold as a hilarious roman à clef told via journal entries, text messages, emails, bills, receipts, tweets, doctor’s prescriptions, job applications and rejections, parking tickets, and pug pictures, chronicling the year that Lou moves back home after college. Told from Lou’s point-of-view, Smothered tells the story of two young(ish) women, just trying to get it right, and learning that just because we all grow up doesn’t mean we necessarily have to grow old. (After all, what is Juvaderm for?)

A list of things I’d like to highlight:

  • Lou’s sister is nicknamed “Val” (short for Valentina), and I couldn’t stop picturing Abbi’s alter ego (from Broad City).
  • Speaking of over-the-top women: the mother/daughter interactions have a lot to offer in the ways of entertainment. Take for example this exchange below that sums up quite well the dynamic between Mama Shell and Lou:

Smothered 2-- bookspoilsHer voice brought to mind Kate Siegel’s “Mother, Can You Not?,” especially when I came upon this exchange later on in the book:

Smothered 3-- bookspoilsThis screams of the aforementioned because:

Mother, Can You Not? 1-- bookspoilsAdded bonus: her mother making sure Lou doesn’t relegate in her love life stays consistently funny.

Sigh. Mom has somehow managed to sabotage every single one of my relationships … even the imaginary ones with celebrities. (“Eddie Redmayne? Really? Why not Ryan Gosling or Zac Efron??”)

  • Which is a sly way to mention Theodore Greenberg:Smothered 4-- bookspoils To get on Mama Shell’s level, dating a guy that uses “awesome sauce” unironically is a sign to… But on a real note, I do not understand Theo as a character since he barely gets fleshed out beyond his niche of cooking food and taking care for Lou… Like, what are his motivations for staying with Lou? He gets dropped on us as a fact since he’s introduced as her boyfriend™, but we never get to see why they chose each other, or even the bare minimum of talking to one another about something besides take-out food or Lou’s jobless state. This is exactly why having a main character in a relationship from the get-go is seldom a good thing in my book, because they have this whole history together that we, as the reader, are unaware of (and that we weirdly didn’t experience in here), and it consequently created this distance between us and them. Like, how can I root for you to stay together when it’s hard to gauge why you’re in it in the first place?
  • Aside: Smothered featuring texts, Instagram posts, emails, receipts, and more made for quite the upbeat and swift read.Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

I feel like the positives come to a bit of a halt at this point because all else gets eclipsed by Lou’s whining, privileged state. I mean, I couldn’t comprehend how she keeps complaining about not having a job upon graduating from Columbia and experiencing jealousy when her peers find their passion… and yet she does absolutely nothing to move forward in life. Lou literally applies to only one place over the entirety of this book… She just sits in bed, waiting for her mom to order her around (and then complains when she does).

Later, Theo himself has to put her entitlement in perspective:

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic?”
“In what way am I being dramatic?” I asked, dramatically.
Theo shook his head. “You’re living rent-free. You got rejected from one job. This is hardly the end of the world.

THANK YOU! She doesn’t even acknowledge how good she’s got it going for herself. 

I mean, the author tried toning it down at one point by introducing an even shallower character so that the main character doesn’t seem as bad — smart move on her part — but it didn’t play out in the end on account of her constant exaggerations, such as:

I miss college, where being social required no more than stepping outside my dorm room and walking half a block. Now, all my friends are either on the East Coast or going to graduate school, leaving me a completely isolated introvert in La-La Land.* This is pretty much the equivalent of dropping a blind person in the Sahara and asking him to find water.

I’m pretty sure Lou has never experienced thirst in her rich life, so don’t.

And then she goes on, while on a juice cleanse, to write: “Hunger Level: Africa.”

Please, reevaluate your choices in saying this.
And before that, it was the Geneva Conventions with that same juice cleanse, “My whole body shuddered. No food for seven days? Surely this was banned by the Geneva Conventions.” I personally don’t care for exaggerations in books, so this hit the wrong note for me.

There’s also the case of her mother outright lying by registering her pugs as service dogs just to bring them along on vacation, when they’re the furthest thing from stable. Drew Lynch made a whole video about this phenomenon of faking service dogs, and how this behavior, perpetrated by individuals like Lou’s mom, affects people with trained service dogs in receiving fair treatment at different establishments.

“Service dogs?” I shouted from the backseat as Baguette blew snot in my face.
“I registered them on the Internet!” Mom insisted, turning around from the front to face me. “What more do you want?”
“Mom, I know newborn babies who are better behaved than these pugs.”
“Oh, it’s fine!” Mom dismissed, waving her hand at me. “If anyone has a problem, I can show them my papers.”

And while I’m on the topic, I also couldn’t agree with Lou’s habit of compulsively lying to her loved ones over the course of this book, when telling the truth is so much easier than whatever hole she’s digging by making up these lies. And it’s tragic because whenever she’s caught spinning in her web of lies she still opts to make up another lie… The angst surrounding this whole book could’ve been avoided had she just told the damn TRUTH. Her anthem song could only be Why You Always Lying.

So I was beyond thankful when her father finally calls her out on her attitude.

“Well, are you an adult?”
I paused, taken aback. Was this a trick question?
“That’s what it says on my ID.”
“No, it says you’re twenty-two on your ID. Does that really make you an adult?”

It brings home the quote I read in HONY: “Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you’re grown up. Growing up means being patient, holding your temper, cutting out the self-pity, and quitting with the righteous indignation.”

But when putting those hindrances aside, this is the first novel to compel me for the first time in weeks with its nontraditional mother-daughter relationship. And having Lou achieve some major character growth by the end of the book was satisfying to experience. So, overall, I’d say that if you know what you’re getting into before reading, Smothered makes for one hell of a book.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: May 1st, 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Smotheredjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

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Summer Camp, Russian Culture, and Belonging | Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Having adored Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol, I was keen on checking out her spin with this gripping and hilarious middle-grade summer camp memoir.

All Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.

I’m gonna jump right into discussing the book by highlighting the dreaded sleepover scene that still gives me chills… and it’s been over a decade for me. All the more painful to relive it through Vera’s young eyes. She’s trying her hardest to assimilate as smoothly as possible by pulling together a sleepover (by replicating her friend’s version), but then her mother gives her Russian twist on it.

Be Prepared 1-- bookspoils

As a child of Russian Jews (like I mention in my review for Natasha and Other Stories), I know all too well that you’re donzo if your third-grade classmates see those Russian letters on the cake…

It’s these intimate moments of struggling to belong and navigating your own culture that stood out to most when I read Anya’s Ghost back in 2016. So I was glad to see it delve deeper with Be Prepared. I mean, the painful courage it took to include the sleepover must’ve been tremendous.Be Prepared 2-- bookspoils

Moving along to Vera finding out about a Russian summer camp “build around fostering Russian community” and deciding to join in the hopes of finding people that’ll get her. But she’s not quite prepared for the conditions set in the middle of nowhere.Be Prepared 3-- bookspoilsYou pretty much knew what to expect with this introducing letter:Be Prepared 5-- bookspoils“Dear mom, could you pick me up as soon as you get this? PLEASE! I’m desperate”

What follows is a journey of self-acceptance and resilience, finding friendship within the right people, and more and more summer hardships to overcome. I read it in a heartbeat.Be Prepared 4-- bookspoils

All in all, I more than keen on reading more of Vera Brosgol’s graphic memoirs, especially with that ending we got from Be Prepared!

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: April 24th, 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Be Preparedjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Personality Tests & Modern Feminism in Choose Your Own Disaster by Dana Schwartz

It’s known by now that I’m a fan of memoirs, given that I’m easily swept up in the juicy secrets of someone’s thoughts and secrets without having to reciprocate; it’s bliss for my nosy self. With this new release part-memoir, part-VERY long personality test, Choose Your Own Disaster is a manifesto about the millennial experience and modern feminism and how the easy advice of “you can be anything you want!” is actually pretty fucking difficult when there are so many possible versions of yourself it seems like you could be. Dana has no idea who she is, but at least she knows she’s a Carrie, a Ravenclaw, a Raphael, a Belle, a former emo kid, a Twitter addict, and a millennial just trying her best.

This memoir-ish book was a) entertaining b) morally questionable and c) utterly vulnerable when covering such topics as:

  • eating disorders, bulimia, and binge-eating.
  • the creation of @GuyInYourMFA. And the story behind the profile picture:

You are definitely, and almost assuredly illegally, using his picture (you had done a Google image search for “guy in hat” and gone with the best candidate). You apologize, profusely, and that afternoon you bring a slouchy hat you own to meet your friend Simon in the library, the same library where you took your Introduction to Fiction class, and you ask him to stand there, against the shelves, and you take a hundred pictures of him with your cell phone and replace the picture of the stranger by that afternoon.

  • tinder dating while on her Eurotrip and meeting a genuinely nice guy.

You and Rory will stay in touch, and you’ll flirt and text and email your writing back and forth for months, a year, after you meet. Once, you will sing and play the guitar over Skype while he accompanies you on glockenspiel and secretly you’ll imagine a version of your story in which you and Rory end up together. You’ll imagine loving him, and you like how it fits. But you only talk in words on a screen anymore, and then, one day, both of you will meet someone else and fall in love for real and will have to tell the other person, a stranger across the ocean who you were never actually dating, that you’re actually with someone else now. Whatever flame you two had, whatever nonrelationship, will be quietly folded and put away in the linen closet.

  • celebrity sightings and her internship at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
  • titles like, Are You an Introvert or Just a Lazy Asshole?”.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55But my reading experience encountered some minor hindrances when it came to the series of men in this book…

Firstly, I couldn’t help but hear the uncanny resemblance Dana Schwartz’s writing voice bore to Esther’s from the TV series Alone Together (probably because they’re both New York millennial Jewish girls). In particular, those moments when Dana’s hanging on to a guy who’s giving her the clear ‘He’s just not that into you’ signals (which she herself notes more than once).

I appreciated when Dana focused more on chronicling her personal life, instead of wasting time on the men in her life that ditched her or vice versa, like a broken record. (I have to admit, though, that I felt delicious victory at putting together the identity of a certain established writer she was keen on that ended up ghosting her…) It threw me off with the overtly sexual details that I truly don’t care enough to spend pages on pages. I mean, there’s this lawyer dude that I skipped reading (because he came off as the biggest creep), but he was still written about for over twenty pages…

If nothing else, the aforementioned made for a comical line in her acknowledgments:

To all of the men I’ve slept with, thank you for giving me what I needed in that moment, for making me feel special or wanted or loved. And if you hurt me, thank you for helping me to learn while I was young. Hope you bought this book full price just to see if I wrote about you.

Oh, what last lines…

On another note: I couldn’t shake off my annoyance when it came to the constant excuses for her bad calls by comparing herself to problematic fictional women. It just brings home the point that fiction shapes your viewpoint, in particular, when she tries to brush off flirting and sleeping with a married man by using these women from TV shows that cheated (Carrie Bradshaw, Rory Gilmore, Olivia Pope). Everything about this screams midlife-crisis-with-precocious-college-kid.

If I’d gotten a more individual take on Dana Schwartz as a person – not Dana Schwartz in a relationship – I would’ve grown to appreciate this memorable take on memoirs that more.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: June 19th, 2018

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Choose Your Own Disasterjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!