Monday, July 25, 2016
Enter Title Here
The other night, I had a dream that I reread Enter Title Here and loved it. I remember waking up and feeling nervous and angry because that meant I needed to rewrite this entire review. But then I realized that I hadn't reread anything, and that my feelings remained unchanged.
I hated this. I hated this so much. And I don't usually use such strong speech in a review, but there is no other way to describe how I felt when I finished this book. However, I'd much rather hate something based on a visceral emotional reaction, which is often irrational, than have to be disappointed in it due to, say, propitiation of stereotypes or other problematic content. Hating something may not have anything to do with the merit of the book, only the style. Feeling hurt by a book is entirely different, because it's done something or said something that causes pain.
I really wanted to love this. I mean, a metafictional YA novel about an Indian-American girl faking her way through writing a novel and trying to get into college? I should have loved this. PLUS, I was promised an unlikeable narrator/protagonist and I am usually all over those. But Reshma isn't just "unlikeable"--she's cruel, single-minded, possibly amoral, and totally unbalanaced. She thinks that blackmailing her Adderall supplier is an acceptable way to make friends, and that cheating is a-ok as long as it gets you better grades. I understand that this was being played for laughs, but Reshma seemed too earnest in her litigious and cheating endeavors to actually be sympathetic or funny.
But let me back up and do a quick synopsis of the story.
Reshma is the daughter of Indian immigrants who are basically geniuses: her mother works for Google and her father started his own tech company before being undermined by his business partner. She attends a highly competitive high school somewhere near the Bay Area (so sorry, so not a Californian), and her sole purpose in life to be valedictorian so she can get into Stanford. Valedictorian. Stanford. Early decision. Stanford. SO MUCH STANFORD.
But Reshma has constant anxiety about Being The Best. Concerned that her college application isn't strong enough, she writes for the school paper and gets a piece published on HuffPo. After that, a literary agent contacts her and Reshma says she's got a novel in the works ... except that's not true. So she starts a novel that's just a journal of her life, which is also Enter Title Here, and chronicles her increasingly unhinged escapades of all-nighters fueled by Adderall. That's it for the story, really. The dramatic bit occurs when we find out that she's been plagiarizing all through high school. Even her HuffPo piece was plagiarized (like HuffPo cares, but for some reason, Reshma seems to think HuffPo is a somber and weighty place to have one's work published). And Reshma's only upset that she got caught. What do you mean there are consequences for cheating? What do you mean my application has been denied? What do you mean I'm not valedictorian any more?
I get it: this is a book for teens. Teens are basically liquid hormones stuffed in a skin suit, so the whole volatility bit is super-accurate. But! I would also think that the majority of teens realize that if they decide to cheat, there will be consequences. Reshma sees herself as such a Speshul Snowflake that she feels the rules don't apply to her. Maybe I'm just living in a fairyland of morality here, but I really hope that most extremely intelligent teens who want to go to college or write a book or maybe even both realize that cheating your way to the top is not right.
I'm not saying that it doesn't work: look at Donald Trump. I can't, in all honesty, say that cheating doesn't pay. Unfortunately, for the lowest of the low and the scummiest of the scum, it does. That's part of the great festering unfairness wound that is life.
Generally, in stories where a character behaves really despicably, there's some sort of comeuppance (unless it's contemporary literature, in which case you just wallow around in a morass of evil, despair, loathing, and cruelty for four hundred pages and endure the occasional heinously-written sex scene). Reshma's comueuppance is being caught cheating, and her "character improvement" involves not going to Stanford and not suing anyone about that. She works like A Poor (holy Moses! How low the great ones have fallen! BRB retching) in retail, is grateful for the people in her life that clean up her messes, and decides to "conquer retail" instead of ... whatever she was going to do at Stanford. Conquer college?
Let's not beat around the bush: I pushed myself academically when I was in school. I cried if I got a B. I felt sick to my stomach and the world always shifted a bit when I saw grades that weren't as high as I wanted. But I was only competing against myself. The reason Reshma sued the school was because they were going to weight AP classes more heavily when calculating GPA, and that would give her archnemesis the valedictorian spot. At my school, it was the opposite. For some reason, AP classes were weighted less than honors classes, so although I had a harder course load than the valedictorian, I had a lower weighted GPA.
My parents always made sure that I had a proper view of things like class rankings and status colleges and so forth. I was invited to apply to Harvard, but I didn't. I didn't want to go somewhere just because of the name. I just wanted a degree that would let me do something I enjoyed and have medical insurance. Although I am--generally--an exceedingly impractical person, I've always been very practical when it came to education and jobs. I marvel a bit at this strange subroutine running in my brain; it's perhaps the only logical constant in there. Everything else is all emotion and histrionics and blowing things out of proportion. My teachers were surprised when I went to a state school, and not even "the" state school (UW-Madison, which is a party school and where it takes you at least six years to graduate because it's so crowded). My classmates said I was going to a "ghetto school," which is obviously problematic because of the use of "ghetto" as a perjorative, but also unfair to say that a school that isn't Madison or Harvard or Penn State (another popular choice) is a crappy school.
All of that word vomit simply means that I didn't understand Reshma and her all-consuming desire for valedictorian and Stanford on some fundamental level. Maybe a lot of teens will, and this book will be a smashing success. I felt profoundly disappointed and despairing that this is what we've created. This is what we've done to our teens: we've turned them into amoral cheaters who think that the name on their degree and the style of their handbag are the only things that matter in life.
Hooray for the future.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.