I admit that I have never read a Jennifer Weiner book until recently. Okay, I know, I am waaaay behind on the times. I enjoyed the movie In Her Shoes, but other than that my experience with her books was limited. Maybe I wasn’t in touch with my inner girly-girl before now. But I got to hear her keynote speech at the BEA Bloggers Conference a few weeks ago, and was really captivated by what she had to say. Among other topics, she spoke about being pigeonholed as a “chick-lit” writer, and how contemporary women’s literature is often dismissed by book critics. That made me wonder if I too had been guilty of ignoring trade fiction books with female protagonists because I assumed they weren’t “serious” enough for me. And wouldn’t I be a crappy book blogger if I didn’t open myself up to different kinds of writing? Okay, inner girly-girl, you win!
I picked up Weiner’s 2011 release Then Came You at BEA, and downloaded her upcoming title The Next Best Thing from NetGalley.
Then Came You (2011)
Then Came You is an ensemble story about four women’s experiences with motherhood. Jules is a college student who sells her eggs to raise funds for her father’s addiction treatment. Annie is a young wife and mother, who elects to be a pregnancy surrogate to bring in extra cash for her struggling family. India, a past-her-prime trophy wife, is looking to get pregnant right away to secure her place in her wealthy husband’s will. Meanwhile, India’s step-daughter Bettina is hellbent on exposing India as a gold-digging fraud. Throughout the course of the novel, the women’s stories become connected through the common themes of love and family.
Since I have no children, this book’s subject matter was obviously outside my realm of experience. But that doesn’t mean that I was unable to relate to the characters. The characters are all interesting and well crafted, and in reading their stories I was able to feel their wants, dreams, and struggles. So even as a non-mom, I was still pulled into the novel by the storytelling and characterization.
The Next Best Thing (pub date 7/3/12)
A woman tries to find success in Hollywood as a television writer in The Next Best Thing. With her grandmother in tow, Ruth Saunders moves from Massachusetts to California to pursue her lifelong dream of being a writer. After paying her dues as a lowly assistant, Ruth is overjoyed when a network signs on to shoot a pilot for her TV show, a sitcom aptly called ‘The Next Best Thing.’ Her excitement soon fades, however, when the network starts making drastic changes to the script she worked so hard to create.
Ruth is a very determined person with a lot to prove, to others and to herself. At age three she was in a car accident that killed both her parents and left her with significant facial and body scarring. For her, writing has always been a refuge, a way to forget about her disfigurement and concentrate on something positive. Now living in Hollywood, the land of perfect bodies, Ruth has to battle her own insecurities while fighting to maintain the integrity of her show.
I very much enjoyed The Next Best Thing. It has a great protagonist, a relatable plot, and a good message. It’s about staying true to yourself and learning to feel comfortable in your own skin. It’s also about the pros and cons of finding success in your chosen field, especially if it’s a competitive field like the arts. At first, all Ruth wants is to be a television writer. But then she starts to wonder whether she’s cut out for the backstabbing and lies that come with a career in show business.
I especially enjoyed reading about Ruth’s journey toward embracing her physical appearance, particularly because it’s a journey I’ve had to make myself. I have a scar on my back from surgery when I was fifteen and three light facial scars from an accident when I was nine. Even though Ruth is a fictional character, her pain and self-consciousness are quite real, and it was refreshing to read a story with a female protagonist with imperfections. Ruth’s love interest also adds more dimension to the story, but I was happy that the romance wasn’t the main focus of the book.
I’m glad that I (finally) discovered Jennifer Weiner’s writing. The two books I read were different than the books I usually go for, but in a good way. They were heavy on exposition, but that really let me get to know the characters. As I was reading I felt that I was relaxing with a good friend as she was telling me a story. I can’t wait to find out what Jennifer is working on next!