I sometimes find there’s a lack of fiction written by and about my age range. The YA fiction genre is explosive, but while I enjoy a lot of it, I’m just beyond the age where I actually relate in a personal way to the characters and their stories.
The adult fiction end I’m equally unsure about, though at this point I’m not certain if my lack of enthusiasm is about not being able to relate yet or if I’m just never going to go for books about family dysfunction, which is a pretty prolific topic in books for adult audiences.
With that information out of the way, I’ve been seeking books about characters in their early-to-mid 20s, trying to find some that resonate with me. On recommendations from other book bloggers, I tried two out this week.
The first, Jessica Park’s Flat Out Love, was often sweet but also often jarring. The main character, Julie Seagle, moves in with her mother’s college roommate when her own first year college housing plans fall through. Originally only a short-term solution, Julie quickly becomes attached to the Watkins family, despite their quirks and the obvious fact that they’re keeping a huge and life-changing secret.
The book is sweet, and well-written especially when one considers the quality you often find from self-published work. There are some plot holes as you’re reading it, but most of those close up when the big reveal comes around. I enjoyed the story and, for the most part, the characters, but Julie herself often grated at me. She is very pushy about what are obviously incredibly personal and sensitive issues including mental health and family dynamics, and not particularly adept at talking or thinking about these issues maturely. On the whole, she comes across as a not-so-sympathetic character, even though she’s usually trying very hard to be one. I was never quite sure if I liked her for caring, if misguided, or if I just wanted to shout at her for being such a snot sometimes.
The handling of mental health in general set me on edge a bit, but overall the book was pleasant enough. I’m not entirely sure it’s representative of college-aged young women, but then again, how many of us jumped onto topics in our first years at university and assumed we knew enough already to take us somewhere? I’m sure I fell into that trap more than once. In sum: pleasant story, some jarring issues, read more like YA than anything else (which isn’t inherently a downfall, but not what I was looking for).
The second of these two books, Charlotte Greig’s A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy, was very different despite theoretically having characters of roughly the same age. A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy is set in the UK in the 1970s, which may account for some of the discrepancy. Here, our main character is Susannah Jones, a 21-or-so-year-old philosophy student at Sussex. Susannah is in a weird place: she lives with her boyfriend, an older man who collects and re-sells antiques while hiding some secrets of his own. Uncertain that their relationship is working out, Susannah is tempted by one of her classmates, but isn’t quite sure she is suited to the life led by the students around her. She goes between them for a while, until an important discovery forces her to make a decision that may change her life forever.
The integration of philosophical ideas in this book was really neat, honestly. Without giving too much of the plot away, the inclusion of ideas about Dasein in reference to Susannah’s decision, for example, is done well, if lightly.
It wasn’t until nearly 2/3 of the way through the book, however, that I realized the period setting. This threw off my understanding of the characters and plot through the first part of the book entirely, but once that piece of information clicked, it was a lot easier to follow and believe. My feelings about the story in general also changed rapidly at this point, because a lot of the inconsistencies resolved themselves.
These books are both rather light, but with enough twists to be engaging (I read both of them in the span of 48 hours, which is fast even for me). If you’re looking for beach or vacation reading, both would certainly suit!
Flat Out Love / Jessica Park. Kindle Edition, 11 April 2011. U.S. $2.99 (Kindle Exclusive)
A Girl’s Guide to Modern European Philosophy / Charlotte Greig. Other Press, 12 May 2009. U.S. $14.95 (paperback)
Cover images from Amazon. Post image “Lunch on the Quad” by TromboneKenny on Flickr.
(I’ve seen a comment from Jessica Park on most of the reviews I looked at, so if you’ve got a Google alert on yourself, hello! Please feel free to join the conversation)
Trying to track down a reviewed title? Got suggestions? Join the GoodReads group!