Desert Isle Keeper
I Was Told It Would Get Easier
One of the joys of reading is finding new favorite novels. I’ve discovered a few great books in 2020 but Abbi Waxman’s I Was Told It Would Get Easier has easily carved itself a spot in my top ten list.
Jessica Burnstein is in the midst of a kid-life crisis. She can barely speak to her sixteen-year-old daughter Emily any more without the discussion descending into an argument. Even a stellar, successful lawyer like Jessica doesn’t want to spend her every conversation as part hostile cross questioning, part loud-voiced debate and she is hoping that the week-long college tour they are embarking on will give her and Emily a chance to strengthen their relationship and build communication bridges that will serve them well during the university years.
Emily is tired of being a disappointment (Jessica doesn’t think this, but it’s how Emily feels). She knows her single mother works extremely hard to pay for the outstanding Los Angeles private high school she attends, but her mom does a mediocre job of hiding how concerned she is that Emily is only an average student. Emily wants to have time with Jessica that doesn’t center on chats about her future or that doesn’t get cut short by Jessica having to respond to a text or phone call from work. Her mom doesn’t seem to hear her when she says she doesn’t have a career plan and that she’s sick of sitting in classes that bore her. The only good thing about this college tour is that it will pull Emily away from an approaching catastrophe at school, one that may very well cast her into the role of complete social pariah – or result in even more dire consequences.
The tour doesn’t get off to a great start. Jessica is running late, Emily is frustrated that her mother can easily get out the door to go to work but falls apart when they are leaving to do anything else. They wind up seated separately on their flight from California to the East Coast. Then they discover that their frenemies from school – Alice and her mother Dani Ackerman are on the exclusive Excelsior Educational Excursions (E3) tour with them. Both Emily and Jessica are mildly horrified by this. As Emily puts it, “My mom is never mean about people, and she once said that Mrs. Ackerman was not a nice person. That’s strong stuff for my mom.” Fortunately, the nasty surprise of finding Alice and Dani on the tour with them is balanced by meeting the handsome Chris Berman and his equally adorable son Will. Maybe they will have time to explore something beyond pricey universities on this trip.
I loved this book. From its celebration of female friendships to its laugh out loud moments during deep examinations of the mother-daughter relationship, it doesn’t hit a wrong note. Emily and Jessica are extremely relatable characters who both have the best of intentions but somehow can never seem to say what they feel in a way that connects with the other. The story is told from both Emily and Jessica’s points of view, and watching their differing (but often similar) reactions to the same scene is hilarious. During one moment, when Jessica fails to bring snacks to stave off her daughter’s low blood sugar induced snark, and Emily is growing increasingly hangry as a result, we get this gem of an episode:
From Emily’s perspective: Then Will appeared, smiled at me, said hello to my mom and asked me if I’d like to share a Twix. We’re getting married next week.
From Jessica’s view point: Oh my god, The Boy showed up and offered my furious daughter some chocolate. There goes her virginity.
Jessica spends some time texting her best friend, of whom she says,
“I knew she was The Friend for Me when one day she showed up at my door with toilet paper because she’d seen it written on the back of my hand and knew I hadn’t made it to the store that day.”
There are some great moments with an ex from her college days, with her former roommate from that same era, and in which she and some other parents share drinks while listing all the things their kids say that they used to say and all the things their parents said that they now find themselves parroting. I had to laugh when at one point Jessica remarks of the tour group,
“It’s entirely possible that somewhere there is a group of people in their forties who can drink a lot of wine, then do tequila shots, then dance like Beyonce but we were not those people.”
And when she says,
“I’ve become painfully aware of my age lately. I’m not springing back the way I once did, and if I’ve been sitting for a while, I make sad noises when I stand and start walking. People I grew up with are starting to die of cancer; the children of celebrities I loved in my teens are becoming famous. Is this what aging is? A gradual loss of the faces you remember, and as gradual a replacement of those faces with ones whose names you can’t be bothered to discover. “
I loved her intelligence, her humor, her kindness and even her quirkiness. When she says, while at the Ford Theater,
“I love a good museum gift shop; it makes it possible to both spend money and feel erudite. Sure, some people would argue that museums are for education and inspiration, not the purchasing of assissination -themed merchandise. But they would be wrong.”
I knew she was The Book Best Friend for Me.
Emily is an absolutely charming girl who is shy but resourceful, smart, kind, has loads of integrity, is a great person and good friend. In spite of all those stellar qualities, she’s achingly real and accessible. She offers a lot of insight into how life is different for teens today than it was for those of us who experienced that age a few decades ago.
These two were great people to spend several hundred pages with. Not just their humor and insight but it felt wonderful during this stressful era of COVID-19 to watch two people juggle some highly stressful situations and kill it.
While Will and his dad Chris appear frequently throughout the story, there is little romance here. The emphasis is on building friendships, enhancing parent-child bonds and self-discovery. Both Emily and Jessica come to some important realizations about what they want and need from life during this trip and that helps them recognize what they want and need from each other.
I Was Told It Would Get Easier is an absolutely amazing book with eloquent prose, a heartfelt tale and wonderful, lovable characters. It’s the perfect ray of sunshine in a world that can seem frightening and tumultuous. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story, to anyone who loves women’s fiction and most especially, anyone who has a teenager or twenty something.