Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: The Next Best Thing

Summary: Actors aren’t the only ones trying to make it in Hollywood.…At twenty-three, Ruth Saunders left her childhood home in Massachusetts and headed west with her seventy-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to make it as a screenwriter. Six years later, she hits the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the showrunner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on her boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials.

Set against the fascinating backdrop of Los Angeles show business culture, with an insider’s ear for writer’s room showdowns and an eye for bad backstage behavior and set politics, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel is a rollicking ride on the Hollywood roller coaster, a heartfelt story about what it’s like for a young woman to love, and lose, in the land where dreams come true. -- Atria

It seems like there are so many books being published this summer that I'm dying to read. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like I'm scrambling to even keep up with all of the great releases (and frankly, I'm not really doing a very good job of it.) One book that I've been looking forward to is THE NEXT BEST THING by Jennifer Weiner. Each year, I look forward to reading Ms. Weiner's latest novel, and while I always enjoy them, I keep wishing that one will entertain me as much as GOOD IN BED did.

Keeping things real here, I liked THE NEXT BEST THING, but I didn't love it like I had hoped. I'm beginning to think it's unfair to compare everything to her earlier novel, and I just need to stop doing that. THE NEXT BEST THING tells the story of Ruth, a young woman who heads to Los Angeles to make it as a television sit-com writer. She brings her seventy year old grandmother who raised her after her parents died in a car accident when Ruth was a little girl; and together, the women live a pretty routine existence for six years. And then it finally happens! Ruth gets the opportunity to make a pilot of her television show which is called The Next Best Thing.

Ruth quickly learns some valuable lessons -- namely that Hollywood is not for the faint of heart. Once the network begins production on her show, much of Ruth's vision is tossed out for the executive's "better" ideas. She also has to deal with quirky actors and budget conscious execs. However, it's her personal life that offers some very unique challenges too. Ruth's grandmother decides to get married and leave Ruth all alone for the first time in her life, and she finds that she's very attracted to her wheelchair-bound boss who just happens to have a gorgeous girlfriend. As things heat up with The Next Best Thing, Ruth has to balance her desire to make a successful show along with her professional and personal issues; and in the process, she has to decide what's truly important in her life.

Overall, I have to say that THE NEXT BEST THING was a fun read for me. I have always been attracted to the lifestyles of Hollywood stars, so I found all of the information about show business to be extremely interesting. I felt as if Ms. Weiner did an excellent job of bringing Hollywood and the setting of television production to life; and it was apparent that she took away some interesting lessons after her stint as co-creator and co-executive producer of the sitcom State of Georgia. I especially appreciated the inside look into the writer's room as they bantered with each other and came up with original (and some not-so-original) ideas for the shows. One thing's for sure.. I don't think I'll ever watch a sitcom again without thinking about a few things I learned in this novel.

Another part of THE NEXT BEST THING that I enjoyed were the characters. Ruth was such a special character and I found myself rooting for her to succeed, especially since she had so many setbacks as a child. Ruth was such a multi-dimensional character, and I appreciated her character's complexity in a book (and town) where so many people were fake and stereotypical. Ruth was dealing with some major baggage -- she was scarred from the automobile accident that killed her parents; and as a result, she was extremely insecure in both relationships and life in general. (Can you imagine having a huge scar on one side of your face and trying to make a go of in in Hollywood -- the place where appearances are so important?) My heart went out to her many times in this novel, and I sincerely hoped that she would find some happiness.

I also adored Ruth's grandmother. She was another really special character, and I loved how much she took care of Ruth (although I could argue that she was a little too involved in her life given that Ruth was almost 30 years old!) In addition, Ruth's bosses, the Daves, were both very likable; and I enjoyed how they were a so supportive of Ruth and her career. It was nice to see a side of Hollywood where some people weren't shallow and selfish!

And finally, I found THE NEXT BEST THING to be a very funny novel -- which should come as no surprise to you if you've ever read a Ms. Weiner book. The novel was told in Ruth's voice and her insights were fantastic. Ruth was a hilarious woman just like I'm sure sitcom writers are, and I loved laughing at the Hollywood stereotypes and Ruth's reaction to them. However, this book wasn't all fun and games. It was also very touching and dealt with some very serious issues; and in many ways, it was a coming-of-age story for Ruth.

As is the case with all of Ms. Weiner's books, I thing THE NEXT BEST THING would make a wonderful book club pick. It's a fun read for the summer, yet it still offers some very real issues to discuss. I wasn't able to find a reader's guide yet, but I'm sure there will be one available shortly. Some of the themes you might want to explore are parent/child relationships, love, insecurities, the importance of appearances, loyalty, friendship, and staying true to one's self.

I enjoyed THE NEXT BEST THING and think it would make a great addition to your beach or pool bag this summer!

Thanks to Engelman & Co. for providing a review copy of this novel.

And there's lots of exciting news surrounding the release of THE NEXT BEST THING:

You can enter a sweepstakes for Ms. Weiner to personally visit your book club. If you pre-order any version of THE NEXT BEST THING between now and July 1, 2012 and sends Ms. Weiner your receipt, you will be entered to win a visit from Jennifer Weiner to your book club (or dinner with Jennifer and a group of friends)!! The following is a link to the contest page and official rules:

There is also Jen’s "Cupcakes Across America" book tour! To celebrate the launch of THE NEXT BEST THING (July 3rd 2012), Jen will be embarking on a “Cupcakes Across America” tour to bookstores across the country -- as thanks to all of her fans for their enormous support, she will be bringing delicious cupcakes for the audience catered by local bakeries! The following is a link to her book tour schedule:


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I am definitely with you on feeling like I can't keep up with all the new releases I want to read - old ones too, for that matter!

The Book Chick said...

I agree- this summer is filled with fantastic releases and I may have to quit my job just to keep up with them all!!

I skimmed your review because I am not quite finished the book yet (still on part 3) but I agree- I keep waiting for a book from her that I love as much as `Good in Bed`and `Certain Girls`. Oh, well.

bermudaonion said...

I read one of Weiner's books several years ago and didn't love it as much as everyone else did so I kind of dismissed her work. I think I should probably give it another chance - this one sounds good for when I need a laugh!

Serena said...

I still have not read a book by Weiner, but these sound like some good ones that I've been missing out on. Boy do I hear you on the number of new releases I want to keep up with. I feel very behind this summer.

Alyce said...

Very cool that you enjoyed this one so much! I've definitely been scrambling to keep up with all of the new releases that I want to read this summer!

Beth F said...

I was on the fence about reading this one ... hummm. Maybe I'll give it a chance.

Anonymous said...

I just finished listening to Weiner's book Then Came you. Another
good summer read! I think I will pick up a copy of The next Best Thing! Thanks!