Fair disclaimer: I haven’t read any other Jami Attenberg novels which means that there can’t be any bias to this review. Right? It should be said that I was sent an advance copy of Saint Mazie two years ago, but never was able to get around to it. It’s always stayed at the top of my to-read list, especially after J. Ryan Stradal told me it was one of his favorite books of the year. Nevertheless it persisted at the top of my unending stack of books, until now. Until I read All Grown Up.
I can be really honest here and say that I didn’t know a lot about All Grown Up before reading it. Sometimes that’s a better choice for me when it comes to reading a new book. Fresh eyes, fresh perspective. Even though it only was releasing in about a month’s time, I decided to give it a go one Sunday afternoon. Having never read any of Attenberg’s writing, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly I was sprinting through the book; it’s a short one, clocking in almost precisely at 200 pages. The novel tells the story of Andrea Bern, a single, almost 40 year old New Yorker sans kids. The kids part is by choice. She works in advertising (unhappily), recreationally enjoys drugs (occasionally) and volleys herself from relationship to relationship (repeatedly). She was once an artist, but has since given up her days of sketching the Empire State Building. She used to fill sketchbooks full of drawings of New York City’s most famous building but now those books sit untouched in her apartment. She attends therapy on a semi-regular basis, full well knowing her own problems but hoping that a therapist can reinforce and help her fully realize what she needs to do to improve her life.
All Grown Up is funny and sad and heartwarming and poignant. It knows right where your buttons are and isn’t afraid to push them. Attenberg (obviously) does a fantastic job of drawing on her own experiences as a woman to create this amazing story of another woman, all the while making it wholly accessible for men too. I’ll be the first to admit that more of this novel resonated with me than most books that I’ve read that were written by men, about male characters. It’s split setting simultaneously makes you want to live in the woods, all the while making you yearn for the bustling city. It’s a how-to book disguised as a novel that teaches the reader how to be more honest and more human than they ever could have expected.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – All Grown Up teaches. It teaches you how to be honest and human and how to not be okay. It’s therapy for those procrastinating on their own therapy appointments.