In her first semester away at college, a young woman grapples with the influence of a toxic family that has-- until now-- defined her.
And it's gripping. Never before have I read a novel that so completely evokes those freshman feelings-- that sense of being young, insecure, and lost! Minus the horrible parents, I've been Lily Drummond-- bookish, insecure, introverted, anxious to please, amazed that everyone else seemed to find their way so easily... The dorm is an atmosphere in itself, and the way that Lily's home life bleeds into it (those vivid flashbacks) feels authentic, seamless! These first chapters are so well crafted. I mean, this is really good writing!
For example-- one among many passages that I highlighted:
"I want to ask him to stay on the phone, but I know he's probably trying to set up his room. He's probably hungry, too, and I should get back to my pizza. I feel the ache of needing to speak clutching at my throat, but I swallow the words and hold them back. 'I will,' I say. 'Say hi to Jon, okay?'
"I will. Love you,' he says, but he hangs up before I can tell him that I love him, too."
I could swear I've had that very conversation. (Or rather, non-conversation?)
Where this book slips a little? Where it decides to become a romance, shifting the focus away from Lily and onto a guy named Jack. In my opinion, too much emphasis is placed on Jack's (excessively) traumatic backstory and on various characters persuading Lily to "take a chance" on him. But mostly, Lily needs to "take a chance" on herself-- and Jack is at his best when influencing Lily to make peace with brokenness, both his and hers. The comfort and acceptance that she feels with Jack, with Alana (also troubled), and with other imperfect college friends is the real point here; the slightly gimmicky romantic parts feel (to me) a bit forced, less natural and organic than the exploration of Lily's psychology.
The space invested in kind-of sort-of being a romance could have been used in other ways. I would have liked to observe more of Lily's day-to-day emotional mesh with Jack, Alana, and other new friends of varied backgrounds; I would have liked to be right there as she finds her feet on the newspaper staff and (as is hinted) in the theater. I would have liked her relationship with Jack to unfold slowly as her self esteem grows. I would like to sense that all of these things supported her ultimate decisions regarding home and family.
Or maybe I just wanted a longer story-- say, a whole term rather than one semester! Perhaps a sequel to this book...?
Regardless, I highly recommend No Such Thing as Perfect to moms with daughters! Lily's narrative evokes some painful and important aspects of being a teenage girl-- things that I definitely want to keep in mind as my own little girls grow up.
[Disclosure: I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.]