Book Review: Life is Fine by Allison Whittenberg

Title: Life Is Fine

Author: Allison Whittenberg

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 192

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes

Contrary to the title, the protagonist of this book (Samara)’s life basically sucks. Her mother is negligent and uncaring, and she was sexually abused by Mom’s old boyfriend and physically abused by the new one. When she tries to tell her what’s happening to her, she doesn’t want to hear it. Samara feels alienated at school and finds comfort in visiting an orangutan at the zoo, who she calls Dru.

Other than Dru she doesn’t have any friends. When she meets her new English sub, Mr. Jerome Halbrook, Samara starts crushing on him almost immediately. He gets her interested in poetry and is attentive and kind. I thought this book was going to be about an inappropriate relationship between the two of them but while Samara tries to seduce him, he stays professional and doesn’t reciprocate her feelings.

Samara gradually makes friends with a female classmate and starts getting interested in Jeff, a guy she met at the zoo. She finds out her mom’s boyfriend Q (no, not the Star Trek character, unfortunately) is having an affair and wants to tell her mom so she’ll kick him to the curb, but as usual her mom doesn’t want to listen to anything she has to say. I found Samara to be an engaging and believably flawed protagonist and the writing style was simple but interesting. It reads a bit like a middle grade book, even though some of the content might not be appropriate for middle graders.

I was a little bit worried about Jeff having his own apartment when she was in high school and whether it was a jailbait type situation. I’m glad it didn’t go in the perv direction with the substitute teacher and he genuinely cared about her and wanted to help. The novel is so short some of the relationship aspects felt underdeveloped, and I would have liked to see more detail on Samara’s friendship with Mr. Halbrook. We didn’t really get to know any of the characters except Samara, even though what we did see of them (like her awful mother) felt believable.

There are too many moms like Samara’s, who are quick to believe their boyfriend over their child and blame the child for the abuse. I was glad that she didn’t end up ‘making up’ with her mom or reaching any kind of understanding with her. She was mostly an obstacle for Samara to overcome, long past the point of growing and changing. Samara was strong but sometimes even strong people need help. This is a pretty obscure book, but I think young adults and adults who read YA fiction will enjoy this short, simple but emotionally affecting coming-of-age story.

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