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2021 Children's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
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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!  
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