Saturday, October 17, 2015

Better Than Perfect, by Melissa Kantor

Juliet has a pretty good life.  She's smart, she's got a handsome and intelligent boyfriend, her family is affluent, and she has plenty of friends.  But when her parents separate and her Mom overdoses, Juliet discovers that her perfect life really isn't all it's cracked up to be.  And realizing that causes her to examine the rest of her life as well.  And that, in turn, leads her to explore some alternatives.

A number of other readers seem to focus in on Juliet's decision (twice) to cheat on her boyfriend, but that particular bad choice worked for me from a dramatic standpoint.  What I found harder to stomach was Juliet's privileged and coddled existence, and the lack of consequences for any of her decisions.  Yes, I was a bit relieved (plot spoiler!) that we are saved from the predictable boyfriend-finding-out scene, but the fact that she can blow off her school and her scholarship and basically accepts no responsibility for flipping off all of these fantastic opportunities she gets handed was what bothered me.  And I never could quite figure out what was so wonderful about her perfect boyfriend.

All that said, the plot is the classic learning-to-understand-yourself trope that fulfills all of the basic dramatic requirements of a YA novel.  You start with the clueless slave to parental and peer expectations, you throw your little sheep for a loop with a few traumas, mix stuff up for a hundred+ pages, and end up with a cathartic Moment of Truth where the young person throws away their perfect life and decides to become a llama herder in Peru.  It's beautiful and touching, and utterly unrealistic.

But hey, it's well written and a good read!  Kantor does human interaction beautifully, capturing the imperfections of child and adult fairly and evenly.  This makes Juliet's scenes with her parents particularly memorable and authentic.  And they work so well, because these characters are anything but perfect, which is probably what makes them better....

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