(Editor’s Note: Please welcome Amanda to BiblioSmiles! I’m so thrilled she’s decided to contribute a book review. Please be sure to visit her blog or follow her on Twitter!)
I recently finished reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.
I bought this book at The Strand in Union Square back in December, mainly because I’d read about Meg Wolitzer online, including reviews of her previous works, and how she is a creative writing teacher at SUNY Stonybrook (and also because the cover was colorful and eye catching).
I’d heard good things about her writing– Wolitzer is known for her long term character development, modern style, and topics concerning the relationship between men and women, as well as sexuality and gender. After finishing the book, I recognized that all of these were definitely used in her 2013 novel The Interestings.
The Interestings is about a group of teens who meet at a summer camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods in the 1970s. The summer camp is old-school but meant for diverse teens of many talents, and helps encourage their growth and development as adolescents. The book revolves around the lives of Ethan Figman, an aspiring cartoonist; Goodman Wolf, the charismatic and handsome but misguided brother of Ash Wolf, a beautiful feminist actress and dreamer; Jonah Bay, a quiet but talented musician; Cathy Kiplinger, a curvy and gifted dancer; and most importantly, Jules Jacobson.
Jules comes to the camp on scholarship, not really fitting in at first but finding a place within the group, who name themselves The Interestings. She tries her hand at acting, and finds that she enjoys it. But as she gets older, she finds that it’s not really what she was meant to do in life. While her friends grow creatively, artistically, and financially, Jules becomes a social worker and constantly struggles with feeling ordinary.
The book tells the stories of these teenagers’ lives– as they intertwine and mesh, as they fall apart and fall together. The group of talented teens learn about growing up in different worlds, and growing up to live in different worlds.
Ethan falls in love with Jules, but she spurns his advances. Jules and Ash become best friends, but Jules puts Ash on a sort of jealous pedestal. Jonah stays an unassuming member of the group, but struggles with his identity and his sexuality. Goodman and Cathy’s lives crumble, and then they slowly fall away.
Jules especially struggles with how she grew and ended up in comparison to Ash and Ethan. She spends much of her life (and much of the book) bitter and wistfully dwelling on what could have been, which affects her relationship with her husband Dennis. This can get tiresome to read, but I think it’s because it’s incredibly realistic.
What I didn’t like about this book so much was its length. I’m a fan of long books; however, the plot wasn’t all that stimulating or exciting and it took me longer to read than usual. I feel as if it was meant for an older audience than myself, because I didn’t grow up in the 70’s and didn’t understand all of the cultural/political references. However, it was still relevant because I understand what it is like to be an adolescent and grow up.
What I loved about this book was the extensive character development of each member of The Interestings. The book literally told the story of their lives growing up, specifically from the lens of this group of kids who went to camp together in the 1970s. I loved how realistic each character was– how they each had flaws that made me, as the reader, dislike them, and also qualities that redeemed them. Their story was told with a breathtaking honesty, as well as an admirable patience. It left me with a great sense of sad nostalgia, and was an extremely satisfying read.
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy realistic fiction, and who enjoy a strong but flawed female protagonist.
Amanda Livingston is currently a student at Ithaca College majoring in Writing, a teaching/editorial intern at Writopia Lab, and Vice President of Ithaca College Women in Communications. She is also a copy editor for The Ithacan and a contributing writer to Buzzsaw Magazine. She has previously held internships at Random House, The MissInformation, the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and Westchester Magazine. She is an aspiring children’s book editor, an avid reader, a writer, and a superfan of The Office. You can find her on Twitter: @amandarliving and at amandaunderconstruction.com.