The Catch by Alison Fairbrother (Fiction)

Writing: 5/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5

A humorous, well-written, millennial coming-of-age story (to be clear, the coming of age to “real” adulthood in your twenties, rather than the rocky road through puberty). Ellie is 24 when her father dies suddenly. As the eldest of his four children from three different wives, she has always felt she was his favorite, but when she is left an insulting object in his will while the “lucky baseball” she craved went to a complete stranger, she began trying to track down the truth about her father. In the meantime, she is a budding journalist trying to write something meaningful while employed at a D.C. media start-up focused solely on clickbait measures and is seeing a deeply nerdy (and deeply married) man who is (surprise) not always available when she needs him. Somehow this all comes together with a story on the local Osprey cam as a leading indicator of ecological disaster in a way that is both comical and deeply insightful. Very good writing.

I really did love the writing — so many good quotes!

“Exclamation points had become little signposts announcing, I mean well! and had become so normalized that in their absence I felt a deep sense of foreboding. But every now and then you found yourself up against someone who refused to give in to exclamation points, who typed what they meant with zero reassurances, making the rest of us look like overzealous clowns.” (My favorite quote as I am one of those clowns!)

“D.C. was like that. You were always one step away from a cockroach.”

“It was like my mother always said: ‘If you’d just lose some weight, you could enjoy your young body.’”

“It was true that I was proud of the life I’d started to make, getting on my bicycle in the morning, dismounting lightly at a glowing little start-up, then returning home to my ad hoc salon of housemates, whose drive and purpose and hopefulness about the world, I hoped, might spur me on too.”

“The earth had been diagnosed with end-stage cancer, and every morning I learned that diagnosis anew.”

“That was another thing I was learning — I had to read how much people could handle; I had to tuck in my sadness when too much of it showed. I picked the orange peel from my glass and sucked the bitter alcohol from its flesh.”

“If only Katherine hadn’t seen us on the stoop at that exact moment, with her kale body and her hornet’s nest judgement.”

“Talking to him was like getting tapped repeatedly on the shoulder by an octopus with one wet tentacle.”

“Stories could have such unsatisfying and unlikely outcomes. More and more, I felt we willingly built entire worlds on very little information. Like sandcastles, if you poked them anywhere, the whole structure would revert to its components. It was our nature to do that, to fill in the details and become convinced they were true and not our own fantasies and imaginations bumping up against someone else’s reality.”

“At points all over the earth, people were advancing toward each other and away from each other, and this was just one instance in the vast history of these of these moments. I thought that the collection of all such trajectories must make up the most complex atlas in existence.”

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 21st, 2022.

Hope and Other Punchlines by Julie Buxbaum (Young Adult)

Writing: 5 Characters: 5 Plot: 4

16-year old Abbi Weinstein is known to the world as “Baby Hope” — she was the one-year old birthday girl clutching a red balloon fleeing the towers in the arms of a day care worker in an iconic (fictional) photograph from 9/11. Noah Stern is obsessed with that photo because he holds the secret hope that one of the background figures is his father, presumed dead. Both hail from Oakdale, New Jersey, a fictional town loosely based on Middletown, New Jersey, with the dubious honor of having the largest number of 9/11 fatalities outside of New York City. Together, they slowly put together the missing pieces from that day, and the ongoing impact ripples on the people affected.

Despite the subject matter, this is an uplifting book. It’s full of humor, friendship, and love as well as a lot of heartfelt and sob inducing stories. It is a way forward from tragedy, not a hopeless and depressing fixation on it. I like YA fiction because somehow the issues are clearer — less muddied by the accreted neuroses and mental sluggishness of age — and I am able to learn more easily from it.

I think Julie Buxbaum is brilliant — I love her characters and her humorous, banter-rich, prose. Each of her books focusses on real and difficult issues — and helps the characters work on making sense of the world and their place in it. This book is easily the best of all — I read it in one sitting. The stories woven together were touching, personal, and inspiring. I sobbed through a lot of it, but finished feeling centered and hopeful.

There are so many great lines in this book — here are a few:
“I think our stories are actually what make us people. We each have a history… Stories are like the … currency of connection. And all your stories woven together might tell some larger story about the history of our country from that moment to now.”

“I was fashionably late to the existential panic party.”

“She’s the one who gave my mom her stoicism. In my mother it takes on a cheery perversion, but my grandma is all strong, clean lines, when it comes to the difficult stuff. She’s stating a fact, true words without any sentimentality.”

“My mother has always liked to outsource our difficult conversations. It was my dad, not her, who sat me down last spring and asked if I’d be interested in going on the pill.”

“Well, the good news is that awkward phases help with long-term personality development.”

“All it takes is a tiny, inexplicable tear in the fabric of the moral universe.”

Abbi’s grandmother is suffering from the beginnings of Alzheimers — this is what she tells Abbi: “You know what I think about sometimes? I think about how all the little bits of me that I’m losing will somehow find their way to you. Like they are … what’s the word … tangible. Like they are tangible things that can crawl from my bedroom to yours and so as I become less me, you will become more you, and I will continue to march on within you when I’m not me anymore. You’re going to keep growing. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

“Life can really suck, right? So why not make it at least a little bit fun whenever we can? I mean, think about it. There are few things that a well-timed joke can’t solve.”

“Pretty much everything about being in high school is embarrassing. Not only the hours spent jerking off behind locked doors, the days cooped up in windowless classrooms — not to mention the greasiness of it all. I’m talking our very existence. We are a reminder to grown-ups of how far they’ve come and how much further they wish they could go.”

“When you have a kid, it’s like letting your heart walk around outside your body. You never get used to it.”