Why I read it: The cover. I saw it while browsing goodreads giveaways, entered on a whim, and won an ARC.
Who I’d recommend it to: A lot of different people, honestly. If you like smart, funny, compulsively readable books in interesting formats (like epistolary novels, things like Illuminae, etc.) with feminist themes, I would recommend this.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What it’s about:
Flora Goldwasser has fallen in love. She won’t admit it to anyone, but something about Elijah Huck has pulled her under. When he tells her about the hippie Quaker school he attended in the Hudson Valley called Quare Academy, where he’ll be teaching next year, Flora gives up her tony upper east side prep school for a life on a farm, hoping to woo him. A fish out of water, Flora stands out like a sore thumb in her vintage suits among the tattered tunics and ripped jeans of the rest of the student body. When Elijah doesn’t show up, Flora must make the most of the situation and will ultimately learn more about herself than she ever thought possible.
Told in a series of letters, emails, journal entries and various ephemera, Flora’s dramatic first year is laid out for all to see, embarrassing moments and all.
I’m not really sure what I expected, going into this, but it’s not what I got. I think I was expecting a possibly humorous, but otherwise generic, contemporary YA story. What I got was different. It was still funny, but it was way deeper than I’d expected.
Flora is like the very best of Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl) and Cher Horowitz (Clueless). She was a privileged, upper east side, vintage-fashion-loving, private school girl, but she was also aware of and passionate about things like feminism, the environment, etc. I really thought this book and Flora, in particular, were going to make me mad, because she left her home and school to go to the Quare Academy (which actually sounded like a place I would have loved to have gone) all because of some slightly older guy she barely knew. But then amazing things happened.
During Flora’s first year, she makes some mistakes and things are generally not so great for her, at least at first. I loved how real this book felt. I had to keep reminding myself the letters and stuff were fiction, because Jenny Fran Davis did such a good job creating a realistic world and cast of characters. She didn’t shy away from difficult topics, and I think she handled all of them so well in this book.
I don’t want to say much about the plot, partly because it’s really hard to describe, but mostly because I think this is a book you should start without really knowing too much about it. While this book does cover some very serious topics, I enjoyed how it never felt like it took itself too serious.
The characters were great. Flora, of course, but also the people in her life at Quare and back home in Manhattan. She really learned a lot from many of them, and watching her grow as a character throughout the book was really nice. I hate when a book takes a character through really rapid changes (in a chapter or two, for example) because it feels too rushed. Or, on the opposite side of things, a character doesn’t grow and change at all throughout the book. Both are usually unbelievable. But with Flora, her change was gradual and never felt forced, rushed, or otherwise unrealistic.
I particularly liked Juna and Dean, and wouldn’t have minded getting to know both of them even more. Especially Dean, I think. Then there was the kind of mysterious Sinclaire, who had one of my favorite lines in the whole book (in an e-mail to Flora). I had to put the book down until I stopped laughing and could get the visual out of my head. Sam was kind of an ass, but I liked him and his relationship with Flora. Elijah, though. Ugh. I wanted to kick him in the shins repeatedly. Basically, I really liked most of the characters, even the ones we didn’t get to know very well.
The Miss Tulip subplot was fun to read about. I don’t want to say a lot about it because I don’t want to give away any potential spoilers, but the way Flora’s friends from Manhattan factored in was kind of amusing. (Also, that’s totally a blog I would probably read.) There was also the Nymphette Magazine side story that I enjoyed. (Also a magazine I would have loved, probably, back when I was a teenager.) The way the two were tied in together was funny, heartwarming, and just generally a good time.
This has been one of the hardest book reviews I’ve ever written. I have so many feelings about it, and the characters, but it’s hard to talk about it without giving things away There are a lot of things I really want to talk about, but I’m afraid it would be spoiler-y. Sigh.
To summarize: I definitely recommend it, and I will almost certainly be keeping an eye out for more books from Jenny Fran Davis in the future.