I was in a bit of a reading funk last week (starting books, getting a few pages in, and putting them down, dissatisfied). But I'm happy to report that Everything You Want, by Barbara Shoup, completely took me out of my funk. Everything You Want is about an 18-year-old college freshman, Emma, who is finding life a bit of a struggle. She was emotionally wounded by a falling out with her best friend from high school, a boy who happens to attend the same college, and she feels a bit abandoned by her older sister, who moved to New York. As a result, Emma's been holding herself back from everyone. She likes her roommate, but keeps a distance, and spends her Friday nights working in the lab. She goes home a lot. She uses humor to keep people at a distance, and doesn't consider herself attractive.
Then one day, Emma's parents win the lottery, to the tune of $50 million ($17.5 million dollars after taking the lump sum payment, and paying taxes). What she finds is that the money changes some things, but doesn't really solve her problems. In fact, it creates some new problems. The remainder of the book is about Emma's adventures over the next few months, as she comes to terms with herself.
There's a lot to like about this book. Shoup's writing is beautiful. I flagged passage after passage. Like this one (during a sad moment):
"Dust dances in the shafts of sun streaming through the window. Sun puddles on the carpet. I can hear birds chattering outside. The sky is offensively blue." (Page 191)
Or this one, in which Emma describes her roommate, Tiffany:
"Waiting for her to get decent, I remind myself that although Tiffany's a ditz and we have zip in common, she is truly nice. A perky, small-town girl, her idea of paradise is to drive up to Indianapolis and spend the whole day at Castleton Mall, shopping at The Limited and stocking up on cheery little items from the Hallmark store: cute knickknacks and posters with those floaty, pastel, lightbulb-looking figures spouting words to live by like "Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life." (Page 5)
Or even this simple description of sitting down at the family kitchen table:
"I get my piece of pizza and pop the tab on a Diet Coke, which sounds like a little explosion. I slump into the empty chair: mine. Crazy, how we go to our regular places at the table, no matter what. We'd all probably go right to them if a crazed killer broke in and waved us into the kitchen with a loaded gun." (Page 22)
Emma is fully three-dimensional. Even when she's feeling sorry for herself or sabotaging herself, you feel for her. Her insecurity feels so real that you want to shake her sometimes, like you would with a friend who was selling herself short. I also appreciated the way that Shoup portrayed Emma's relationships with people, especially her family and her roommate. The relationships aren't neat and tidy, but they aren't (for the most part) dysfunctional, either. They feel real, too.
The lottery part of the story drives some of the plot, but it never even comes close to taking over. Readers would be interested in Emma's fate without it, though the idea of a family winning the lottery adds a tinge of fantasy-fulfillment that I think teens will appreciate. (Who doesn't like to think about what they would do differently, if money were no object?)
At heart, and in the best possible meaning of the term, this is a coming of age story. Emma's nostalgia for her happy childhood is palpable, and recurs as a theme throughout the book. But she does makes progress in figuring out who she is, on her own. I think that plenty of adults could benefit from considering some of her eventual insights.
I don't know why more young adult fiction isn't written about the college years. Mostly I see high school graduation, and perhaps the summer following graduation, being as far as books go. But it seems to me that college is, for many teens, the time when they really start to figure things out. I hope that more teens will discover this book. Everything You Want is everything that I want, as a reader, in a young adult novel. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: April 1, 2008
Source of Book: A review copy from the author (at the 2008 Kidlitosphere conference)
Other Blog Reviews: Bookshelves of Doom
Author Interviews: You can learn about about Barbara Shoup in this post at The Well-Read Child (where Barbara has just started guest blogging)
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.