I see no shame in an almost-30 year old reading young adult books. Partly because in some ways I’m perpetually stuck in adolescence, but mostly because there are still things we can learn from them.
Finding Audrey is a lighthearted book that deals with some heavy issues. Its never quite clear what kind of trauma Audrey went through although its implied that she was bullied by some of the more popular girls and the school did nothing about it. She developed general and social anxiety as well as depression because of it. She hasn’t been out of the house for a year and she wears dark sunglasses everywhere because looking into people’s eyes without a barrier give her palpitations.
Most people underestimate eyes. For a start, they’re powerful. They have range. You focus on someone thirty metres away, through a whole bunch of people, and they know you’re looking at them. What other bit of human anatomy can do that?
Anyway, she’s in therapy and she’s taking baby steps to get better. She meets her brother’s friend Linus who somehow gets past her barriers by finding ways to talk to her that won’t make her anxious. They start off with writing notes and then she eventually gets the courage to buy a mobile phone so they can text.
I was skeptical about this at first because I though that Ms Kinsella will try to make us believe that love (teenage love at that) will somehow magically cure mental illness. Because that’s what it is: an illness. Chemicals in your body are actually causing you to have these thoughts so its useless for people to tell you to just snap out of it. People who are living with this illness are aware these thoughts are unreasonable but they can’t control it, not without help. So no, I don’t think there’s a love affair out there that is more powerful than clonazepam. Or prozac.
But Sophie Kinsella dealt with that in a nice way. The love story was almost an aside, an addition to the journey that Audrey took to find herself again. In fact, the bulk of this book was made up of Audrey’s family, who are hilarious. There’s a fun side story about how parents suddenly forget how to talk to their kids once they reach puberty and that’s something we can all relate to. How many times as teenagers did we think or say the words ‘you don’t understand!’ in relation to our parents? Almost every damn day. I think teenagers are the most selfish people in the world, and the most self-centred. Thank goodness we mostly grow out of it.
Anyway, this is a fun book to read. There were lots of laugh out loud moments. I gave it a three-star in Goodreads because it tended to be too abrupt on some of the developments and I feel like nothing was really resolved. And yes, as much as I know love its not the next big cure for depression I can’t help but wish we got a little more of the love story. But i really enjoyed going through this journey with Audrey.
Today, I actually woke up hours ahead of my alarm and decided I wanted to watch an old movie before I have to haul my ass to work. Something comforting, something that will take me back to my childhood and to remember that feeling of innocence and wonder, that feeling that the world is full of promises and you have your whole life ahead of you. (Jeez, sometimes I think and talk like I’m approaching middle age! This turning 30 thing is really getting to me. Moving. On.)
So I decided to watch Now and Then. Back then, it was my go-to movie when I needed a boost. In those days before Netflix, one actually had to go to an honest-to-goodness video store to rent a movie. They even had them on those plastic case thingies with the movie poster on the front and the synopsis at the back. The movies were in VHS format and back then that was THE height of technology.
For most of the year, I went to school in the city. I was raised by my aunts and uncles because my parents had to stay in the country most of the time to run our business. They alternated months to come visit myself and my siblings. It was a rare privilege to have them both over and I can count on both hands the number of times they’ve done so when I was growing up, weddings and graduation ceremonies mostly. Not even for our birthdays – mum usually came to that one.
It sounds sadder than it was but it actually never bothered me that much, at least when I was younger. Do I wish I had more time with them? Sure. But I guess that sense of obligation and responsibility was instilled in me early on, and I always knew at the back of my head that without their sacrifice I wouldn’t have all the privileges I was enjoying: going to a good school, having everything I needed and most of what I wanted. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I had if it weren’t for that arrangement.
So even as my brother and sister bawled their eyes out every time one of them had to leave, I tried to keep a stiff upper lip and put on a strong front. I did all of my crying in the toilet after, in private.
The point of all that backstory is to illustrate just how glorious and how hotly-anticipated summer vacations were to me between the ages of 10 to 15. Mostly because it was the only time my entire family could be together in one setting for an extended period of time. Back then, I was young enough to be excited over staying in the country. I used to like the fact that I’d be staying in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, where simple pleasures were appreciated because there was nothing else to do, where the ocean was literally on our backyard (we had a seawall built to keep it away). Maybe because we were apart for most of the year, my parents – mum especially – tried to spoil us for those two months. We get to request what we wanted for lunch and dinner so she could cook each of our favourite dishes. We mostly get to do what we want – my brother could go hours and hours on the Playstation and no one would bat an eyelash.
Of course there were drawbacks. The place was a province and back then there were no phone lines built in town, let alone cellular services. The Internet was some futuristic invention and nobody could even dare imagine that someday we’ll have something like 4G. In a way that was a good thing, people actually had real face to face conversations instead of status updates on Facebook. Electricity was a fickle thing, and because it was a coastal town we were so frequently visited by typhoons even during the summer. My family had a generator at the back of the house so that we could still have some light during those extended days of rain and blackouts. We couldn’t keep it running for 24 hours though, so there was nothing we could do about the nights.
So it wasn’t perfect, but we were all together. And watching films is one my family’s favourite things to do so my dad would encourage us to go to the video store and rent the movies that we liked and we’d take turns picking a movie to watch. He always looked so dismayed when I came back week after week with Now and Then in hand. He could not understand why I was so fixated on the story of four girls growing up in a small town in Indiana.
Its set a time when they were no longer children but they’re not quite teenagers either. Everything is new, every experience is delicious. You start keeping secrets from your friends, especially when it comes to boys, because no one wants to be the first to admit that the enemy has suddenly become incredibly attractive. Its a story about enduring friendships and how important it is to have something constant to cling to when everything just seems to be changing.
All of my little adolescent crushes and youthful romances happened during that summer. I have to say, most of the time I was caught up in my imagination of what could be; nothing really happened between me and the guys I liked except for a few flirty conversations, a dozen secret smiles and a thousand longing looks. Everyone was scared of my dad, as he was one of the more well-known businessmen in town and had a reputation for being – well, not as friendly. Stand-offish. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t really allowed to interact with the locals. But my cousin was, and we used to ride around in a ladies’ scooter, cruising through the spots in town where the guys we liked were gathered just to see and be seen. I used to get so giddy during those moments and I’d come home with windswept hair, a slightly guilty demeanour and a secret happy smile.
I started writing a diary and pouring out all my teenage emotions and sweet little encounters. My God, i could fill pages and pages back then. I was blogging before I even knew what blogging was. I must have at least 10 volumes starting from the age of 9. I still re-read them sometimes, they give me a laugh. Its nice to remember that there was ever a time where my most pressing problem was how to catch a glimpse of the cute guy next door.
Watching Now and Then brings back the memories of all those summers, before I was old enough for cynicism to set in, before I became a bit selfish and unappreciative of the simple pleasures of life in a small town. Before i grew up and moved on to wanting more complex things. Its nice to remind ourselves once in a while that we don’t have to make life so complicated, that the secret to happiness probably lies in keeping things simple. Let’s all take a trip down memory lane with Christina Ricci and the rest of the girls.
P.S. i was gutted to hear that the actress who played the young Chrissy died of drug overdose. Rest in peace. 😢
Sometimes certain books just land on your lap at the precise moment in your life when you need that book’s story the most, and this is one of those books for me.
There is nothing earth-shatteringly original about this book. Its very premise has already been done thousands and thousands of times in the YA genre. Ordinary girl meets famous boy and somehow, she alone is immune to his charms; she alone can treat him like a normal human being and make him feel like there is more to him than fame, fortune and good looks (because of course he is always good looking). Thus love story ensues. Cue meet-cutes, kissing and chases on the ocean shore.
The above paragraph may make it seem like I am mocking this book. I AM MOST DEFINITELY NOT. I think that only snobbish people will knock a book down because its not “literature” or because its not original or because it adds nothing new to the genre. Well, I happen to think we read books, fiction in particular, so that we can be transported to another life or another world where we can forget about our own sets of woes and problems and read about somebody else’s for a while. Unlike our own lives (and unless we’re reading, say, a bloody trilogy), we know that some kind of resolution will always come in the final pages.
For me, there are two kinds of “good” books: the kind that make you think and change your perspective of things and the kind that just make you feel good. When It’s Real falls into the latter category. Its well-written, just the right amount of sappy, not so much angst that it makes you want to throw the book across the room, and its so damn cute. There’s also a little bit of a message there about the hazards of social media. My friend told me when I started this blog that I have to relinquish all my rights to privacy once I put myself out there. And that’s just me with a handful of followers and with complete control about what I do and do not share with the wider world. Think about those popstars who dont have that option, that choice. I wonder if they really know what they sign up for when they chased fame and glory.
Jimmy Kimmel does a portion on his show called Mean Tweets which always crack me up because celebrities get to read what people say about them on Twitter. Its funny but at the same time I can see where some of those tweets can really hurt, and they’re really really personal. So this book made me think about that.
If I have one (or two) complaint, its that I feel like the “conflict” was a bit sudden and extremely contrived, and the ending may have been a bit rushed. But other than that, great book!