Book: NICE TRY, JANE SINNER
Author: Lianne Oekle
Publisher: Clarion Books (an imprint of HMH)
ARC?: Yes, generously provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Release date: 01/09/2018
TW/CW: Attempted suicide, sexist language (briefly), alcohol, drug mentions.
Rep: mental illness (especially depression), OCD (compulsive cleanliness), Indian-American, Korean-American, high school dropout, suicide survivor.
The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.
Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.
As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.
I’m always weary of book suggestions when people pitch them as “You’ll love this book. This character is 100% you.” Which I heard twice. I also had it generally recommend as “You’ll love this book because you love crunchy characters” which I am much more accepting of. There’s also this hesitation with the first because it feels like I may be stepping into some introspection that I didn’t ask for. However, the whole “You are Jane Sinner” was spot on.
And I fell in love with this book.
I would like to start this review off with a warning. Jane did attempt suicide before this book picks up. What we see in NICE TRY, JANE SINNER is Jane living with the consequences and social stigma that follows a failed suicide attempt. No one warned me about this going in because I think it’s supposed to read almost like a plot twist- Jane mentions it as “The Event” until she reveals what actually happened. I’m sure someone is going to think that I’ve ruined some part of the book, but I haven’t. This book is about Jane trying to die. This is about Jane trying to live, and she’s trying to live while being mentally ill, while dealing with her own shame. It was refreshing to see a character who wasn’t instantly like “Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t actually die.” Jane never says that she’s glad or regrets that she survived- she’s just trying to move forward which felt so authentic and real to me. Jane finds ways to be happy, she finds joy in parts of her life, but she still has an underlying sadness that made her feel so relatable. Jane is your best friend who slips in and out of focus- she’s there but not always. She’s surviving but not necessarily thriving… and she’s working hard to change all of that. That’s what makes Jane Sinner such an important character. Not what she did but that she’s trying to fix it.
The relationships in this book are amazing. I like that the love interest, Robbie, isn’t a perfect guy. He’s not your typical YA love interest- Robbie is a nice person who does shitty things. I’ve seen a lot of hate for him for things that happened in the book but I honestly loved him more for what he did. I think we’re so used to these self-sacrificing characters that when one breaks away from the mold, it seems horrifying. However, Robbie and Jane didn’t know each other that well. Yes, there was a friendship and it felt like they were moving towards more, but at the end of the day, they were two people who were competing in a game. I don’t blame Robbie for what he did and I don’t blame Jane for her reactions. Those emotions, those feelings, those actions are what made them real for me. Even the fights Jane had with her sister and her best friend were real- small fights that felt so devastating to the characters in the moment but were later forgiven. There were no giant grudges held. Jane and her best friend go weeks without seeing each other and guess what? They were still best friends! It was refreshing to see two best friends living separate lives and still loving each other.
I don’t have much to say about the Park siblings other than I love them. I love them so much. Especially Alexander who has tons of ambition and is trying to prove himself. Does he do really shitty things? Yes. And he feels guilty about them. And he apologizes.
The last thing I want to talk about in this book is religion. Jane grew up in a devout Christian family. She grew up going to church, being a part of youth groups, and surrounded by church people. She even admits that she used to tell her best friend she was going to hell for being bisexual (she admits this, has apologized, and feels terrible for it- this does not go unchallenged on page). But when Jane realizes she no longer believes the way her parents do, it shakes her world. I think that’s what tied in the realness of this book for me. In YA book, religion goes one of two ways: the character either finds God or the character doesn’t believe in God because lol science. This was the first book I’ve ever read where a character loses their faith and feels like they’ve lost a part of who they are. From personal experience, when you grow up in church and start questioning what you’ve been taught, what you believe, and what your family believes… it’s shattering. When I realized that I didn’t believe the same way my parents did, it felt like someone had died, like I had lost this person I loved, and I was worried that it would mean losing the people who still did believe the way I used to. Jane goes through those emotions. She questions herself. She is terrified. She mourns losing that part of her identity. That was such an important part of this book and I am SO glad that it was included.
I honestly feel like I could go on and on about this book, but I don’t want to get into spoilers. If you like Crunchy On The Outside, Soft On The Inside characters, this book is for you.