With her newly completed PhD in astronomy in hand, twenty-eight-year-old Grace Porter goes on a girls’ trip to Vegas to celebrate. She’s a straight A, work-through-the-summer certified high achiever. She is not the kind of person who goes to Vegas and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t know…until she does exactly that.
This one moment of departure from her stern ex-military father’s plans for her life has Grace wondering why she doesn’t feel more fulfilled from completing her degree. Staggering under the weight of her parent’s expectations, a struggling job market and feelings of burnout, Grace flees her home in Portland for a summer in New York with the wife she barely knows.Amazon
Why THIS Book?
It was pitched to me as part of the Book of the Month box and sounded interesting. Of course, I didn’t read it right away… as you know, I like to wait until I can’t quite remember why I chose a book before I pick it up to actually read it.
Published in 2021, this book reads like a 2021 contemporary novel. It has modern vernacular, references to technology, and actually deals with the very real issue a lot of Millennials are facing: finding oneself and dealing with the expectations of our families in this new world.
Except that in order to make it timeless and universal, Rogers has omitted a lot of current stuff and does not acknowledge current issues. Yes, I am guessing at her reason, but the fact remains that this book suffers a bit from these omissions. The summer of 2020 was very important for the BLM movement and for racial issues across the nation. And, no, not every book that takes place during that year needs to reference it, but a book about a mixed-race Black woman dealing with systemic racism in her field… maybe should? Also. COVID. It’s… a thing. It happened and it directly affected things like travel, jobs, New York, graduation ceremonies, general life, living situations, general stress… And yet it is absent from this book.
Which. Ok. I understand the desire to pretend it didn’t happen. I get the choice to focus on other things. But the omission seemed glaring. And this is NOT speculative fiction. This is contemporary fiction, so we don’t get the “alternative history” or “multiverse” here… this is just a book that was written during a global pandemic, published during a global pandemic, whose characters and storylines would be affected by said global pandemic… that made the very obvious and hard to understand the choice to ignore the very existence of that global pandemic.
Maybe that shouldn’t bother me. But it did because it undermined the very real struggles that the characters were going through. I had a really hard time getting past it. YMWV.
Conversational and easy to read. This book focused on the experiences of a Black woman but was totally approachable and readable by this very non-Black woman. Yes, there were a few cultural things that I didn’t understand (yay google) and I, for one, am 100% okay with that. I have a feeling though that this novel was not rewritten for a specific race or ethnicity but rather for a generation (one I am only on the cusp of). It was easy to read and Rogers has a clear voice. It didn’t feel very Black to me… but what the hell do I know. Also, a lot of the dialogue seemed … off or maybe just the way we think people talk but no one actually does.
I do think the book could have benefited from a slightly different narrative structure, but I will get more into that later.
We see Grace, our main character, through her own eyes even if we don’t get the story in the first person. Everything is filtered through Grace and Grace is a fascinating if not consistent character. We are told that she is always in control and wound a bit too tight, but we are also introduced to her in the midst of a protracted episode of loss of control and floundering. It is hard to rectify who we are told grace has been with the Grace we are following along. However, she is very sympathetic and we root for her to… well, do something. Therein lies the problem of Grace. I want to know Grace. I want to hang out with Grace. I want Grace to be happy. And yet because Grace is so clearly lost, it is hard to know what to hope for exactly. This makes it hard to know if we are getting the ending that Grace deserves. I have more to say about this in Plot/Pacing but first, another note about characters.
There are a lot of characters and unfortunately, they seemed more like a checklist of identities rather than a realistic group of actual people. Now, the nice part about this is that no matter your race, ethnicity, gender identity, mental health status, socio-economic background, or sexual orientation… there is a character for you! The not-so-nice part about this is that it is glaringly obvious and stretched the realms of credulity. Ideally, all our friend groups would have representatives from all walks of life… and many of us do indeed have an eclectic and diverse group of friends, but the sheer amount of diversity in this book was… just not believable.
The central plot is about coming of age, finding oneself, allowing for the evolution and your dreams and goals etc. This is great and I think we need more “coming of age” books that focus on people in their 20s and early 30s as opposed to just people in their teen years. However, the plot here was very padded and things moved at a snail’s pace. Not only did that make it hard to keep up the central tension facing the characters, but it also made it hard to be sympathetic. Grace seemed to take an exorbitant amount of time making any sort of decision or doing anything tangible… and the world sort of just waited for her. Again, possible… but highly unlikely. There was very little action, everything was deferred (or happened off-screen which is really really frustrating)… from the conversations we knew were bound to happen to the sex that we were hoping for, everything seemed to just take too long to happen. I spent far too long during this short book wondering when anything was going to actually happen.
And then, I finished it and the next day had to go back and reread the ending to remember what had actually happened because by that point in the book it had become overly predictable… and no, there is no climax.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Rogers is trying to tell us to take our time and float along, do the work on ourselves and just let everything else figure itself out… but our central character Grace would scoff at such an idea and as readers, we should as well. Self-care is vital, yes. But you still have to do the things.
A few more things on the plot: I HATE the trope of things just happening for a character who doesn’t really work for them. This is the trope that gives us a first-time novelist writing a book over the course of a weekend and then a meet-cute with a publisher on Monday afternoon and by Wednesday’s happy hour she has a book deal. That is not how the real world worlds and, for my money, it is neither aspirational nor inspirational, it is absurd and problematic. While what happens to Grace is not that simple… it isn’t that far off either. And it is annoying.
Lastly, Grace is a lesbian. Which is very cool… let’s have more lesbian books! She is also highly educated (in a STEM field no less) and Black. Double yay! Representation matters yo! A lot is made of the 2nd and third things… but not a lot is made of the 1st and I find that refreshing. Grace’s queerness didn’t inform the plot, but it did affect it. Brownie points for this for sure.
Sure. It was an easy read and it had a happy ending. It dragged a bit in the middle and the end… but that might be just my impatience with predictable books. And this book was predictable. The main conflict was set up early on, hammered away for what felt like an eternity, and then resolved in time for the credits. There was no room for symbolism, subtlety, or nuance.
I think it would have made a better indi film than a book because someone would have insisted on fewer characters who are just there to be there, we would have been shown more of the interpersonal drama that sets Grace on her journey, and the plot could have been tightened up… maybe with actually showing us some of the things only alluded to (that were Oh So Important!).
Would I recommend it?
Eh. Not really honestly, There are mental health issues that should have been dealt with deeper. There were racial issues that should have been dealt with deeper. The romance plot left a lot to be desired…. Actually, all the plot points left a lot to be desired. This book was all surface and will require no real thought or introspection, and that is a bummer because it, like Grace, had so much potential. The world these characters inhabit is a corny pale reflection of our reality and no one seems quite real… It is never a good sign when the best part of the book is the cover art.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?