I have no idea what compelled me to pick up this book--perhaps I was lured by the mention of Gatsby-- but I am so grateful to whatever serendipity brought me to the first book that has made me feel in a long time. The formidable Carley Wells hates books. She has an inexplicable friendship with Hunter, who loves her (or wants to) but can't see very far past his own worries. Through the heartbreak of so many relationships that lack a true understanding of who she is, even the one that is most important to her, Carley discovers, like so many of us do, that stories are the only way we can feel a true and deep connection with the world.
Set in the Egg of Jay Gatsby in a time far from dissimilar, Carley's world of privilege and image leaves her feeling lonely and rejected by everyone--family, classmates and teachers--except the golden child, the playboy, Hunter. The story of their friendship unfolds through the book, and we come to realize that not even Carley knows what really happened between them (though isn't that part of the magic of story? It unfolds differently for everyone?). Her mother, cold and self-centered, alienates Carley and tries to make her feel horrible. Her father loves her as much as he loves his career-- bra-making. From these different perspectives Carley's parents determine that what she really needs for her 16th Birthday (to top the other Sweet Sixteens at the Country Club) is a book commissioned especially for her. Through the exploration of story Carley begins the true reflection that typifies the move into maturity.
The references to Gatsby are prominent, but the true similarities are subtle enough to hook you in and leave you with the same heartbroken feeling. The overt selfishness and greed play a backseat role to the ways in which deep parts of ourselves can be selfish and hurt those that we care about over and over.
There is always someone in our lives that we let in over and over, no matter what happens, because we believe deep inside that that person cares more for us than he or she knows. What if we are wrong? Who are we then?
When reality fails us, we know that we can come alive in books. When nobody understands us, we know it doesn't matter because books mean we are never alone. The empathy of a story can make us whole again.
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