Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: If You Were Here

Summary: Told in the uproariously entertaining voice readers have come to expect from Jen Lancaster, If You Were Here follows Amish-zombie-teen- romance author Mia and her husband Mac (and their pets) through the alternately frustrating, exciting, terrifying-but always funny-process of buying and renovating their first home in the Chicago suburbs that John hughes's movies made famous. Along their harrowing renovation journey, Mia and Mac get caught up in various wars with the homeowners' association, meet some less-than-friendly neighbors, and are joined by a hilarious cast of supporting characters, including a celebutard ex- landlady. As they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings- with Mac taking on the renovations himself- Mia and Mac will discover if their marriage is strong enough to survive months of DIY renovations. -- New American Library

Don't ask me why, but prior to now, I've never read a book by Jen Lancaster. And do I start with one of her critically acclaimed collection of hilarious essays like SUCH A PRETTY FAT or BITTER IS THE NEW BLACK? Nope! My first experience with Ms. Lancaster was IF YOU WERE HERE, her debut novel. IF YOU WERE HERE tells the story of Mia, a best-selling YA author, and her husband's attempts to buy (and then renovate) their dream home. It's witty and funny and I have a feeling that this book demonstrates many of the reasons why Ms. Lancaster's books (and blog) are so successful.

I really wanted to love this book, and while I definitely enjoyed parts of it, I'm not sure I'd say that I loved it. The story was cute and there were quite a few funny parts but it's just going to be one of those books that entertained me for a few hours. In fact, it very much read like a movie to me. And that's okay, not every book has to be serious and make me think. I found IF YOU WERE HERE to be just a fun summer escape read.

IF YOU WERE HERE is written in the voice of Mia and I suspect that Mia sounds a lot like Ms. Lancaster! Mia is extremely smart and witty and I loved her sense of humor -- both her humor at others' expense as well as the self-deprecating kind. And I could totally relate to Mia because she is a product of the 1980s (or at least the '80s fads.) Mia was obsessed with anything and everything related to John Hughes, and there are loads of references to his classic films. In fact, when Mia has the opportunity to buy Jake Ryan's house (remember him from the movie Sixteen Candles?), she jumps at the chance -- even though the house is considered a fixer upper.

IF YOU WERE HERE has a great cast of characters and it is an entertaining story about a couple's first attempt at home ownership. Anyone who has ever attempted repairing something (or even contracted to repair something) will find themselves laughing at this couple's experiences. I continually shook my head at their constant mishaps and overall nightmarish situation, and this novel reiterated why my husband and I buy new homes and don't do work ourselves. I definitely don't have the patience or endurance that Mia had. Of course, she did get to live in Jake Ryan's home....

While I'd certainly say that the vast majority of this book was humorous, there were a few more serious fallouts from the home purchase. Mia and her husband had to try to adapt to their new neighborhood and neighbors (which if you've ever moved, you know isn't always easy.) In addition, their relationship was affected by the stresses of home ownership and home repair. I aks, how could it not be?

IF YOU WERE HERE might make a fun book club pick -- especially if you pair it with a John Hughes' flick. There is a reading guide available with nine questions, and it does touch upon some of the more serious issues in the book. For example, you might want to discuss marriage, friendship, change, relationships, coping, and acceptance. Or you could just talk about Ms. Lancaster, Mr. Hughes, and his film's characters. Either way, I think it would be a lively meeting!

I enjoyed IF YOU WERE HERE, but it probably won't go down as one of my favorites of the year. However, what I did discover is that I liked Ms. Lancaster's writing so much that I now want to read more of her books! Any suggestions?

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.

7 comments:

iwriteinbooks said...

Oh, I've LOVED her nonfiction. She's simply hysterical BUT I think that maybe she's not so good on the fiction?

Sandy Nawrot said...

I don't think these types of books will ever make my top ten, but they are good for a break from the heavy stuff. The first movie I thought of was actually "She's Having a Baby"...I think they were in the Chicago burbs too. Renovation is definitely something you have to laugh at to keep from crying. My husband and I have learned to just PAY THE MAN versus do it ourselves, but that isn't perfect either.

lsl_scrapper said...

Interesting review. I'll have to check it out as a book club pick.

Serena said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I haven't read this author either, but this sounds like it could be fun.

bermudaonion said...

A book like this is a nice break from heavier reading material. I think I might start with Lancaster's essays.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I always appreciate your book club suggestions - they come in very handy!

Rachel said...

I would start with her first memior, Bitter is the New Black. You really have to get to know her through that book to be able to appreciate her in her other books. She's kind of obnoxious but the first book makes you have empathy for her too so that you will still like her in later books.

Rachel@www.chaosisafriendofmine.com