I’m not sure why, but when I first read about this book, I was envisioning a very Sex and the City kind of vibe. I’m not sure exactly why I had that impression, and I’m not saying this book would have been bad if it had met that expectation, but I’m ridiculously glad that All Grown Up took a totally different path. Instead of Carrie Bradshaw, readers get much more of a cross between Esther Greenwood (The Bell Jar) and Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye), which basically combines my two favorite literary characters into one amazing character–Andrea Bern.
Andrea is almost perfect in her imperfection, and she made me realize that growing up doesn’t mean not making mistakes anymore. At 39 and then 40, Andrea is at a place in life where many people have settled into what we have always been taught is the “right” kind of life–married with 2.5 children–or are at least on their way there. In that sense, everything about Andrea’s life is “wrong.” She has never been married, has no real desire to GET married, and doesn’t want (or really like) kids. But my favorite thing about Andrea’s character is that she still screws up. She makes mistakes, behaves selfishly at times, and has many moments where she acts irresponsibly. Her discussions of drinking, drugs, and sex are raw and unfiltered, and every time I thought she might redeem herself, she made another thoughtless decision. However, I knew that however selfish and stubborn that Andrea was at times, ultimately, she loved her family and friends.
Jami Attenberg did a fantastic job of demonstrating that being a grown up doesn’t mean that you suddenly have all the right answers to life’s great questions or that all your choices are the right ones and you never do anything stupid or irresponsible. In addition, Attenberg’s style allows the reader to become immersed in Andrea’s thoughts while still being held a bit at arm’s length, just like those Andrea loves in the book. As bits and pieces of Andrea’s past were revealed, I almost felt as though Andrea herself was allowing me in, just a little at a time. Her unapologetic manner and the honesty with which she described her mistakes made me glad that she did. Attenberg has created a true gem of a character, one whose flaws are what make her priceless.