I liked this book a lot more prior to writing its review. Overall it was well-written, funny, and extremely easy to read. I finished the book in a few days, which is exceptionally quick for me since I am in college and do not have a great deal of time to dedicate to reading lengthy novels. However, when I began to think critically about the plot, I encountered a dilemma.
In the book, the main character, Harriet, is delightfully relatable and quirky. She runs her college newspaper’s advice column under the pseudonym “Emma”. However, Harriet and Emma have vastly different personalities. Emma is a confident woman with her priorities figured out. She unflinchingly doles out weekly advice to her collegiate peers without hesitating for a second to question herself. Her fully fleshed-out, borderline feisty replies are indicative of her self-assurance. Harriet, on the other hand, is very insecure. She constantly questions her actions; in fact, she has to talk out every issue she encounters throughout the book with her roommates, Logan and Mel. The sassy alter ego of Harriet expressed through Emma makes for an interesting contrast within the plot.
However, the plot is problematic. It is simple and predictable, which makes for an easy and fun read. But its lack of depth is a problem. Allow me to explain: Harriet is a college woman. I, too, am a college woman. I am a college woman who believes that representation of groups of people in literature matters because it shapes our, as a society, perceptions. Harriet’s only obstacle throughout the book was overcoming her infatuation with a seemingly mediocre guy, Keith. Her character development was completely defined by her ability to stop obsessing over Keith, in addition to eventually getting over her distaste for his new girlfriend (who writes to Dear Emma for relationship advice).
Frankly, the fact that overcoming these trials was the entirety of the book does not speak highly of college women. It suggests, intentionally or not, that romantic pursuits completely define their lives. Ironically, Emma seemed to be able to surpass this idea. But Emma wasn’t real, just a fantasy. Dear Emma relays the disconcerting message that college women are defined by their romantic relationships or the lack thereof.
It is important to note that my problem with the plot was not this in and of itself, but rather that it seemed to be Harriet’s only fixation and motivation for living. Her world revolved around Keith. There is nothing wrong with having romantic longing, or even craving relational validation, but when it is the only thing defining your behaviors and decisions, that’s a problem.
That being said, part of what made the story so relatable was Harriet’s hyper-focusing on Keith. She obsessed over liking his Facebook posts and crafting the perfect text message to him. This is funny because it is often how women think and behave. However, I think I would have enjoyed this book more with Harriet’s pursuit of Keith as a subplot – not the entire story. This is simply because I never got to know Harriet as a character beyond her interactions and reactions with Keith, and I really wanted to!