Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Snark Is Good; The Selfish, Not So Much

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If there's one thing 24-year-old Ashley Barrett has learned from her older sisters, both of whom married early and started families right away, it's this:  that life isn't for her.  Oh, she'll do the whole marriage/kids thing, alright—just not until she's good and ready.  There are things she wants to do first.  Twenty-five things to be exact.  Things like skydiving, buying a sports car, and helping the disadvantaged in a third world country.  Only after she crosses everything off The List will she even consider settling down.

Before starting graduate school in the Fall, Ashley decides to spend the summer in Huntington Beach, California, in order to work on #13.  Learning to surf shouldn't be that tough, but Ashley doesn't seem to be catching on fast enough.  That's why she needs Matt Gibson, a gorgeous 26-year-old surf god who just happens to attend the same singles ward she does.  If she can snatch Matt's attention away from the gaggle of flirty girls that always surrounds him, she might even be able to kill two birds with one stone.  After all, #17 on The List just so happens to be Have A Summer Fling.  

As it turns out, getting Matt's attention isn't the difficult part.  Hanging out with him isn't exactly a chore either—Matt's funny, down-to-Earth and just as much of an adrenaline junkie as Ashley.  The problem is keeping their developing relationship from becoming more than just an easy, breezy fling.  Ashley's been up front with Matt about the fact that she wants to go back to BYU with no attachments, but is that what she really wants?  What's more important, after all, The List or Matt?  It's a decision she'll wrestle with all summer, a choice she'll have to make before her time in California dwindles away completely.

So, you know how I'm always dissing on LDS novels, calling them melodramatic, cheesy and unrealistic?  Well, I'm not going to hurl my usual accusations at The List, a debut novel by Melanie Jacobson.  Which isn't to say the book doesn't have its issues, because of course it does.  Still, it's much better written than most of the contemporary LDS  novels on the market today.  For one thing, it has a fun, lighthearted tone that promises a story that's quick, upbeat and, most of all, entertaining.  Plus, its heroine actually has a discernible voice.  And a personality!  Amazing!  Ashley's confident, sure of herself in a way most fictional females are not.  Plus, she's snarky, something goody-goody Molly Mormon/Peter Priesthood story people usually are not.  As a character, I must say I find Ashley Barrett quite refreshing.  Irritating, but refreshing.  What's not to like about her, then?  Well, here's the thing:  she's selfish.  And shallow.  Not to mention egotistical, self-absorbed and heartless.  There's a reason heroes and heroines are supposed to have a story goal that's selfless, or at least admirable in some way—if they don't, they come across as narcissistic brats.  Like Ashley.  I kept wondering what in the world Matt saw in her and why he would keep chasing her when it was perfectly obvious the only person she was interested in was herself.  So, yeah.  Without that unfortunate aspect of the story, I would have enjoyed The List a whole lot more.  Still, Jacobson's debut impressed me with its fun tone, its more realistic depiction of LDS life, and the fact that the cast (most of it, anyway) was made up of more than just the usual cookie-cutter Mormon characters.  All of which convinces me that Melanie Jacobson can and will create LDS novels I actually want to read.  And if that doesn't make her a writer to watch, I don't know what does.              

(Readalikes:  Not My Type by Melanie Jacobson)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a PDF of The List from the Whitney Awards Committee.  Thank you!  

5 comments:

  1. The fact that an LDS book wasn't awful makes me maybe consider this one but I don't want to read about a character THAT selfish. Nor do I like books where the character is all determined to not get married and then does. Like it's SOOOO easy. ;)

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    1. Remember how I said the MC is a *bit* of a narcissist? The whole premise of the book revolves around her sense of how gorgeous and desirable she is -- because she's so amazing, OF COURSE she'll have tons of marriage proposals, so therefore she has to put off the inevitable by crossing 25 things off her bucket list before she ties the knot. I would have liked the story a whole lot better if the guy she wanted DIDN'T like her and she actually had to try (you know, like a GONE WITH THE WIND sort of deal). That would have been a more enjoyable plotline, in my (not so) humble opinion.

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  2. Ooh, an LDS author I might actually want to read? I'll be watching to see what you say about her other stuff. (if you're going to read it, that is).

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    1. I know, right? The thing I like about Jacobson is that she uses a fun, contemporary voice to tell her stories. And, so far, the characters have been less cliche than the ones you find in most LDS novels.

      I read NOT MY TYPE, Jacobson's second book, and liked it better than this one. It's not flawless by any means, but liked it quite a bit. The author's got a new one out--TWITTERPATED--but I haven't read it yet.

      P.S. Can't wait to hang out with you tonight!

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  3. I love Melanie's work. They are the perfect "had a hard week and need to unwind" read. After reading her, I thought I might have not known I like LDS romances (or modern romances in general) and tried reading more. Nope. It is rare I find a book I like in the genre and hers are about it.

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