Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Review: "Who Do You Love" by Jennifer Weiner

Who Do You Love Jennifer Weiner
Published: August 11, 2015
ISBN: 9781451617818
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy

You might enjoy this book if you like: Anything by Jennifer Weiner, "First Love" Love Stories, Forrest Gump-like travels through time, When Harry Met Sally

Rachel Blum and Andy Landis are eight years old when they meet late one night in an ER waiting room. Born with a congenital heart defect, Rachel is a veteran of hospitals, and she's intrigued by the boy who shows up all alone with a broken arm. He tells her his name. She tells him a story. After Andy's taken back to the emergency room and Rachel's sent back to her bed, they think they'll never see each other again.

Rachel, the beloved, popular, and protected daughter of two doting parents, grows up wanting for nothing in a fancy Florida suburb. Andy grows up poor in Philadelphia with a single mom and a rare talent that will let him become one of the best runners of his generation.

Over the course of three decades, through high school and college, marriages and divorces, from the pinnacles of victory and the heartbreak of defeat, Andy and Rachel will find each other again and again, until they are finally given a chance to decide whether love can surmount difference and distance and if they've been running toward each other all along.

My Thoughts:
Jennifer Weiner is one of my go-to authors.  I find her incredibly entertaining, but not fluffy.  She is amusing without being comic and touching without being maudlin.  Mostly, I enjoy her take on modern women's lives.  This particular book has a special bit of notoriety in my reading life:  it is the title that drew me out of the worst reading slump I've ever encountered.

On the whole, I enjoyed this book  However, I can't say that I enjoyed all of it. The love story is pretty straightforward, but I never felt that in lacked in complexity.  While I didn't find it to be one of those love stories that just knocked the breath out of me, it was an entertaining one to read  I enjoyed how Andy's character developed.  He's quite different from other characters that Weiner has created and I found his growth both natural and surprising.  I understood his emotions as portrayed in the book and his actions made sense (even if they sometimes made me furious).

Rachel was a different story for me.  Frankly, she's a mess.  I don't mean she's an emotional mess (or a slob), but she is messily constructed.  She is initially presented as being defined by her heart condition and I found that interesting.  However, that is dropped completely as she grows older.  I understand that her condition is under control, but it was such a formative influence on her early life and then it was just sort of erased from her character.   I also found the trajectory of her character frustrating.  She starts as a young girl with a heart condition, then she is a teenager looking for love.  Once she goes to college, she becomes a shallow sorority sister who doesn't seem to be at all connected to her childhood.  Then, the next time she appears, she's the complete opposite of what she was as she becomes a social worker working with families in need.  Finally, she becomes, well, a character I know I've read in other books by Jennifer Weiner--the unsatisfied Jewish woman who, in her mind, is just not good enough.  That on its own is fine, except that Weiner has used that trope a bit too frequently in her books.  At the end of it all, I was never able to form any kind of connection with Rachel and I wished that the book had been Andy's story, with Rachel as a supporting character.

The book is told from Andy's and Rachel's viewpoints in alternating chapters.  This in itself is fine--and probably necessary for the way Weiner had constructed the book.  But I found it disconcerting  that Andy's chapters were in 3rd person and Rachel's were in 1st person.  I can't say I have a preference of one viewpoint over the other, but constantly switching between the two created what I considered an unnecessary challenge for the reader.

Weiner includes a lot of cultural detail in this book.  At first, I loved it--these characters are about my age and, when I was reading their stories in their younger years, I became very nostalgic.  As the story--and time in the story--progressed, however, it began to just be gimmicky to me.  Andy and Rachel found themselves in the midst of several "generation defining" events, the two most notable being 9/11 and the athletic doping scandals.  The latter was necessary for the story, but the former seemed a little too, well, Forrest Gump-ish to me.

But, as I said, I did enjoy this book--enough that it pulled me out of my slump (and, trust me, that is quite an accomplishment).  Do I think it was Weiner's best work?  No.  (I'd still go to In Her Shoes for that....), but it certainly wasn't her worst. If you are looking for a not-so-fluffy love story and are willing to overlook a few flaws, Who Do You Love might be for you.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Who Do You Love
by Jennifer Weiner

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