Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
**Thank you to Little Brown for Young Readers for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**
I think you need to like either (a) J.D. Salinger and/or (b) The Catcher in the Rye in order to fully appreciate this novel. Unfortunately, I’m not such a huge fan of either of those things, so I’m left rather conflicted by this novel, the story of a young teen connecting with a reclusive author whose cult-classic novel is one of teenage angst and rebellion.
Half of me wishes to save Nanette from what is (in my opinion) a toxic relationship with a particular boy; the other half knows that such things are a part of the learning experience that is life. Sometimes we have to go wild and do things we regret. Sometimes we need to look at our lives and reexamine everything about it — we are humans and, such, we change.
I think Mr. Quick captures the turbulence of a(n undiagnosed) teenage mind quite well, and I also think he draws out the adults with equal care. Of particular note, I think, is our protagonist’s English teacher, Mr. Graves, who behaves in a very responsible manner when something rather unfortunate occurs in the middle of the novel. Despite the hurt I felt at losing the interaction of a great character, I’m glad that Mr. Graves behaved the way he did — had he not, I might have grown to dislike his character.
I don’t deny that Nanette was in need of her therapist, June, and I don’t deny that she spends the majority of the novel clearly undiagnosed with depression, at the very least, in a place that largely ignores her…but I do also think that she is rather selfish. Is this just a part of growing up and being a teen? Sure — I’m not going to get on some moral pedestal and claim I was a perfect teenager, because I wasn’t. I, too, was selfish and messed and did things that were horrible to myself, my parents, and to other people. But there is a chunk of the novel spent with Nanette conducting a kind of social experiment that, even while I understand the intent behind it, I found despicable.
Sometimes I wonder if that was the author’s intent: to have me feel sick at the idea of Nanette pretending to be someone that she is not. The only difference between this experiment and what was happening at the start of the story, is that Nanette is making the conscious choice to behave this way, knowing that she is being entirely deceitful. I may not have liked her friends/classmates very much — not at all, really — but this entire section of the novel left a horrible taste in my mouth that, unfortunately, I still have even now that I’ve completed the book. It is the only thing keeping me from giving it a full 5-star rating because, without it, I thought this novel was quite wonderful.
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