Enter Title Here
One of the amazing things about the novel Gone with the Wind is that the book is intensely popular in spite of the fact that many dislike heroine Scarlet O’Hara. I would agree that Scarlet is hard to like, at times hard to understand and never comfortable to be around; yet she is an enduring figure in our collective conscience because of those traits rather than in spite of them. The heroine of this novel is in many ways similar to Miss Scarlet, although I doubt she will ever be as famous.
Reshma Kapoor has two realities. There is the reality she projects: tough as nails, confident, top ranked student in her school, future Stanford graduate. Then there is her internal reality: her SAT scores were not those of a future Stanford student and her top ranking in class is held on to by mere tenths of a decimal point. She feels she’s nothing special since she has to work twice as hard as everyone else to achieve as much as they do. And there is a dark secret which lurks at the back of her mind, a secret which could destroy all she has worked for.
When an op-ed piece she wrote for the Huffington Post catches the eye of a literary agent she feels saved. All she has to do is pitch a novel and then tell Stanford she has a contract with an agency to publish a book. That one fact will set her application apart and ensure her entry into med school.
Reshma’s only problem? She had no plans for writing a book and she is pretty sure no one will be interested in a novel based on her life of all work and no play. Solution? Get a life. Her first step is to finagle a date with the nerdy Indian boy who has been crushing on her for at least a year and whom she has ignored for an equal length of time. Aakash, sweet and naïve, plays perfectly into Reshma’s plans and it isn’t long before she is stalking him on Bombr and learning all his secrets.
Her next foray – finding a best friend – doesn’t go as well. She has to blackmail Alex Sorenson, her Adderall dealer, to get invited to eat lunch at the “perfects” table and receive an invite to a party. But Reshma is nothing if not determined and as she goes about getting the life she thinks she needs she starts to wonder if she has ever had the life she actually wants. And if she even knows what that is.
This is a typical teen angst novel that stands out from the crowd in two ways. The first is the ethnicity of the heroine; few novels take a look at the Asian teen super-achiever, so that could have been a really interesting aspect of the book. However, aside from pointing out repeatedly that minority students are a) punished more severely for academic infractions and b) face prejudice from the leadership in many schools, the author doesn’t utilize that factor much at all. Instead he gives us a heroine who is hard to figure out and a family dynamic that is even harder to discern.
Reshma has a complicated relationship with her parents. She loves them but also scorns them. Typical teen, right? But in Reshma’s case the scorn isn’t because of how unhip or out-of-the-know she feels her parents are but because of something specific that happened in their past. The story builds to a full revelation of it but suffice it to say that a poor business decision on their part had a profound impact on her. Profound. We are led to believe that the ethical conundrum which drives Reshma was caused by that event.
For their part, the parents are benignly negligent; they don’t know about her drug addiction or about all the things she does to succeed at school and life which are less than ethical. The author makes it clear that they aren’t directly to blame – as in they put no pressure on her to succeed – but in doing so also shows they don’t seem to care for her very much. We see no real moments of affection or playfulness that would show they are interested in their daughter – unless calling the psychologist every time she does something they feel is odd can be counted as love.
The second aspect that makes this novel unique is the complete nastiness of the heroine. Reshma sued the school to keep her class rank when changes to the system would have put it in jeopardy. That’s problematic because it screwed over another group of students, all of them also vying for the top spot. She kicks people when they are down. She is completely self-absorbed. She uses people and manipulates them and stalks, threatens and terrorizes as needed. She’s made herself enemies and it puts her in a bad position when we come to the big reveal. Normally, that’s a moment that makes the reader really feel for the primary character but in this case it isn’t easy to scrounge up sympathy for this teen bully who put herself into that corner.
Part of the big reveal is an aspect of the book I found very well done; the character of teacher Ms. Ratcliffe. Ms. Ratcliffe teaches AP Literature and is a complete thorn in Reshma’s side but Reshma has to take her class. AP classes get additional points when calculating GPAs and in order to stay on top Reshma not only needs all her classes to be AP but she needs to excel at them. Most of her teachers get this and set up guidelines which are clear and obtainable. Not Ms. Ratcliffe. She grades the papers not on technical merit but emotive, which puts Reshma at a complete disadvantage. She is so bottled up and afraid to take a look at her own feelings that she has no intention of bleeding all over a paper for Ms. Ratcliffe. The conflict between the two puts them into an explosive situation which comes to a dramatic, unexpected solution. I appreciated that the author shows both characters as being to blame rather than just one or the other and thought this portion of the book was the best handled aspect of the novel.
That said, I didn’t love this story. Reshma is an understandable but uncomfortable protagonist. I really wish the author had explored the big event that formed her (and how the family handled it) a bit more thoroughly. For an instigating factor, it was woefully underdeveloped. I appreciated the look at the injustice and racial prejudice in the school system but felt that could have been explored more thoroughly as well. In other words, my primary complaint is that the author had many interesting ideas from Adderall drug addiction to the usual story of mean girls and turbulent high school romance but adding those to a book that also dealt with prejudice in the school system and the big formative event of Reshma’s life was too much for any one novel to handle. The book would perhaps have been a bit better with a bit more focus.
Enter Title Here is an interesting and somewhat different teen angst novel. For readers of that market, this might be a provocative reading choice. The prose is excellent and the story contains some unique features. However, if that type of book isn’t your cuppa this story won’t work for you. It just doesn’t have what it takes to appeal to a wider audience.