Genre: YA, Contemporary
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018 by Clarion Books
Format: eARC sent to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group via Netgalley
The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.
Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.
As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.
TW: depression, suicide
I haven’t read a book this hilarious in such a long time, the humour was sharp and sarcastic and best of all, real. Jane Sinner is such a realistic character, and I can already tell – despite finishing it on the 5th January – this will be one of my favourite books of the year.
Written in a journal style, I found it easy to understand Jane’s character and her relationship with others. It also allowed insight into Jane’s emotions regarding an event previous to the beginning of the story – her not mentioning it to begin with and later discussion makes it easy to comprehend her thoughts. I surprised myself by enjoying the way that the dialogue was written too, as it is written as a script. However it did mean that we don’t get as much depth to the other characters and they are perhaps not as fleshed out as they could have been, but I still found them to be interesting and well-developed.
As a character, Jane is perhaps “unlikeable”. Saying that, I actually loved her, but I can see why some may get annoyed by her constant dry wit and self-deprecation. This is a part of her that is startlingly real though, especially in teens. Her discussions of depression and suicide can come across as somewhat dismissive, as though she doesn’t quite believe in it. However, the format undermines this surface portrayal as her vulnerabilities are revealed as the story progresses, and she struggles a lot more than she would care to admit. I admire this book for taking this step. Depression and suicide are not romanticised in the slightest and they are also dealt with in a realistic way; Jane’s struggle, denial, acceptance, dark humour and coping mechanisms are all examples of this.
A lot of aspects of Jane’s character are relatable – her mannerisms, her behaviours, and also the fact that she is deeply flawed and recognises this. I mean, we’ve all embarrassed ourselves in public, multiple times. She does too, in small ways – like the average person, no ‘grand gestures gone wrong’ kind of thing – and I loved this.
There are a lot of passages which are quite raw, and the writing in this is absolutely wonderful. Not necessarily because it’s beautiful and poetic (much more difficult with a first-person narrative anyway, and Jane’s voice is very blunt), but because it reveals so much more than what is said. I genuinely don’t think I’ve read a YA book in a long while where so much has been packed into short extracts. Jane appears to brush off her experience – or the ‘event’, as she calls it – but it’s evident that there is so much more emotion than what she thinks she is showing. For a debut novel, I am incredibly impressed.
The plot was different and fun, and the challenges that the housemates have to compete in had me laughing aloud (and getting odd looks from strangers as I read it in public – oops). They were so ridiculous, but equally I didn’t feel like they were ‘cringey’ – just well thought out (and I mean, they’re students, and my uni experience so far tells me that students will go to any lengths to earn some cash… or food). Leading from this, the pranks that they pull on each other made me crack up. Jane’s plan to stop her food being stolen was just brilliant. The fact that it’s about the first year of college (though Jane is technically a minor to begin with), just made it more relatable and entertaining for me personally.
One thing to quickly mention is Jane’s views on religion. She leaves Christianity (before the book even begins – not a spoiler!) and is critical of the religion. Her thoughts and the developments that lead to her eventual leaving are discussed as the book goes on, and I enjoyed this. However, I have no love for religion in the slightest, so the criticism amused me more than anything (she does explain her arguments), but someone who is deeply religious may struggle with what she says (it completely depends on the individual here I think, a lot of people would be fine with it, whereas others may be more sensitive). It does not make up a massive part of the book, though I did feel it should be mentioned.
If I’m honest, I don’t think I can truly do this book justice in my review. I absolutely loved it. It takes on several difficult topics and deals with them well, and in an absolutely hilarious way. Well worth a read, I can already tell this is going to be a popular release of 2018.
Rating: 5 / 5 🌟