Life is Fine by Allison Whittenberg

I reviewed Life is Fine when it was released in 2007, but I liked it even more the second time around (It was one of the books I read a few months ago when I was sick with a horrible cold.. Remember? I also read Pemba's Song & Sweet Thang. I read Hollywood & Maine at that time too, but I haven't blogged about it yet.). Samara is sad. She’s being abused by her mom’s boyfriend. She’s neglected by her mother. She doesn’t seem to get excited about anything except an orangutan named Dru and Mr. Brook [Samara’s nickname for Mr. Jerome Halbrook ], a substitute teacher who dazzles her with poetry, beginning with “To His Coy Mistress”. Whittenberg does not try to sweeten Samara’s life for young, innocent readers. Instead, Samara is depressed and apathetic throughout most of the book, not heavily so, but just enough for readers to root for her. Toward the end she starts to develop friendships and experiment with being a teenager. The poems at the end of the book are a treat: “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, “After Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes” by Emily Dickinson, and “Life is Fine” by Langston Hughes.

I wrote the above in February or March of this year. When I saw what I wrote after I read it the first time, probably in 2007, I was shocked.

I don’t own it anymore so I am only quoting the shocking parts: The author’s word choice and descriptions of Samara’s surroundings help readers feel her loneliness, depression, and despair, so much so, the novel would probably be a depressing bore if Samara were not witty, realistic, and brutally honest about her world. It also helps that Samara begins to find friends, even a boyfriend, a job, and some goals. By the novel’s end, Samara’s future is hopeful even as she has to let go of Mr. Brook, who has decided to leave Philadelphia. Though there are some unresolved issues, such as the author’s refusal to explain Q’s disappearance or to provide sufficient backstory to help readers understand Samara’s mother, the book might be appealing to teens who feel misunderstood and unloved.

I can’t believe the difference. I sound mean. That’s why rereading is important. What will I write after I read the book again in a few years?

Ah, what do I know?