All Grown Up

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Jul 2017

Member Reviews

I loved the book and the author. The character was relatable and I was invested from page 1. The prose was funny at times, sad at other times.  I loved it and couldn't put it down.
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I recently, entirely accidentally, read two Jami Attenberg books simultaneously: The Middlesteins and All Grown Up. Both were impressive examples of Attenberg's powers of observation and her ability to write about the mundane, the everyday, the ordinary in ways that feel unique, universal, and extraordinary. Both are packed with an emotional depth and honesty that resonated with me in ways I'm still working out.

But at the end of the day, I loved the former and struggled through the latter. I've spent the last week muddling over why, and I still have no clear answer. So I want to know: have you read these both? Did you love them? Hate them? Want to fall into them or throw them against a wall?

The Middlesteins centers on a Jewish family in Chicago. Edie Middlestein is a sharp-witted, intelligent, dominant woman with a less-than-healthy relationship with food, and her slow build to obesity is pushing her into an early death. Her husband, Richard Middlestein, is a middling but not uncaring man of certain bodily desires and emotional needs. Her children, Benny and Rachel, are polar opposites (Benny married to a quintessential, perfectly put together Jewish girl; Rachel renouncing her family's faith and seeking comfort in the bottom of a pint or several). As Edie struggles with her health, the family's story kaleidoscopes inwards and outwards in ways that explore relationships in all their myriad forms: families, partnerships, marriages, children, grandchildren, lovers, friends, parents.

The Middlestein family is impossible to like, because they are real and flawed and really flawed, but also because Attenberg writes each of the Middlestein characters with a depth and honesty that brings the worst--as well as the best--of each to light. (Molly Ringwald's narration of the audiobook is also expertly done, breathing life and distinction into each of the Middlestein characters, though it trips up a bit as Ringwald attempts the British accent of one side character in particular.) So though the Middelsteins are not likeable, they are loveable, relatable, and ultimately understandable. They are sympathetic. They are every family. They are imperfectly perfectly drawn characters, and their experiences get at the truth of what it means to love another, to put your trust and faith in someone else, for better or for worse.

In many ways, All Grown Up is similar to The Middlesteins. The main character--here, Andrea, a 40-something single woman struggling with meaning and alcohol in New York--is not particularly likeable, though her actions are understandable and generally sympathetic. The story moves fluidly through time, bouncing backwards and forwards with predominantly context clues to place the reader in the right time and place in Andrea's life. But unlike The Middlesteins, the flow of All Grown Up felt aimless and ultimately irritating to me; though I cared about Andrea enough to want understand her, to know her, I felt lost within the novel, directionless, and it was a challenge to continue reading. In hindsight, this aimlessness feels like an accurate reflection of Andrea's inner life, and so I can credit Attenberg's ability to capture that feeling without directly speaking to it. Similarly, I will fully acknowledge sheer moments of brilliance embedded within All Grown Up; I read with a pen in hand and dog-eared several pages throughout the text. But reading this novel was not, at the end of the day, enjoyable or captivating.

Which begs the question: Does a book need to be enjoyable to be liked? Or merely appreciated? Where do you fall, and what do you look for you in your favorite novels?
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Andrea Bern will soon turn 40. Her life is a mess and has been for a long time. Her father, a musician and a drug addict, died from an overdose when she was in her early teens. Her mother was an activist who, after her father’s death, made a living by throwing parties, until Andrea almost got hurt during one. Andrea wanted to become a painter, but left school and never fulfilled her dreams.

At 39, Andrea is exactly where she was 10 years ago. She works at a job she hates, dates the wrong men, takes recreational drugs, and drinks a lot. She has a brother and sister-in-law, both of whom had a bright future, but they became parents to a terminally ill child and are dealing with it the best they can. Andrea also has a rocky relationship with her mother. All in all, she is not in a good place. Will she ever find a better path? Will she decide to do something with her life?
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Veers slightly too far the other way (as in, away from smug married/ happy ending narratives) to be a really good book. Its one thing to represent being single as a preferable choice, but its a bit heavy handed to counter that by showing evcery single relationship as unhappy. Where is the nuance? Nonthelss, it was darkly funny at times, and had a really refreshing approach. I just didn't really love it.
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This is the first time I've read Jami Attenberg, but after this experience I will be going through her entire backlist. I loved this book from start to finish. As thirty-something adult, I found a lot to relate to in this short book. Her prose is very realistic, simultaneously witty and longing. Each of the characters in this book shows the different paths we can take in life and that none of them are inherently wrong, and that we will all struggle at some point even if we do what society considers "right." I appreciated that this book was short, too. It was a nice break from a lot of the longer books we've seen lately. This was brief, heartfelt, and realistic. I would definitely read it again and definitely give this as a gift, particularly to friends who might be having a hard time as they age into a different period of their adult life.
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I apologize but the pdf in which I was planning to read this book expired before I had a chance of reading it, therefore I don't get the lovely/wonderful chance to review it. I wish NetGalley had some way to pre warm a book that it's only available in this format, because it lasts forever on my Kindle and doesn't make an expiration date. I deeply apologize and thank you for the chance anyways.
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This felt like another collection of stories that I disliked because it was disjointed and repetitive.
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I don't think it's controversial to say that not every book is for every person. Having heard wonderful things about Attenberg's previous books, I was excited to get the chance to read her newest novel - All Grown Up, but it just wasn't for me. I should have known when I was only lukewarm about Saint Mazie, but the prospect of a woman living in New York City and eschewing the expected path of husband and children sounded interesting. You can't win them all.

I can deal with unlikable characters like the book's narrator, Andrea, but she is next level unlikable. She is listless, lazy, uncaring, and prone to drug addiction, casual sex, and abandonment. She careens from one bad decision to the next, seeming only to care about moving her body to the next hour of the day.

Attenberg's writing is tight and sparse, a style I love, but I kept thinking that instead of writing Andrea's story, she was focused solely on writing a story about a woman in NYC that was the antithesis of chick lit. It felt more like form over substance and the story suffered for it.

While I can't recommend this novel based on my own tastes, it would be good for those enjoy a darker look at a woman in mid-life. The pervasive negativity and near absence of anything redemptive in the story made it a miss for me.
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"Growing up is hard to do."  When do you recognize that you are a grown up?  Is it when you move out and get your own apartment, when you get your first job and start supporting yourself?  In this novel,
All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg wrestles with this very problem.  Andrea Bern is the protagonist in this novel about growing up.  She is a 39 year old, single woman living alone in an apartment in New York City.  She dropped out of art school years ago and took a job to pay the rent.  She has a series of roommates, lovers and friends who at different times in her life, marry, have children and move on.

She is the child of a feminist mother who works as an activist and a father who died of a drug overdose.  Her brother gets married and has a child and moves to New Hampshire.  Her mother follows her brother to Vermont to help out with the baby and Andrea feels deserted.

Attenberg writes this book in what seem like connected short stories.  It is hard at times to see how they are interconnected.  This is a book for the Gen X generation.  Maybe a chance for young women to see that the idea of equality between the sexes, sleeping around without commitment does not really work out in the end.  Andrea never really seem to find happiness.  She is an an example of all the worst behaviors of the youth.  Drinking, drugs and free love.  Taking a mediocre job to pay the bills and never trying to make a career with her art.  She is also very self centered, not being there for her brother and sister-in-law when they need her, and bemoaning the fact that her mother has moved out of the city to New Hampshire.

In the end this reader thinks the message not to be self centered.  Being single is different than being unattached.  You need other people in your life, you cannot live a happy life all on your own.  you also need to extend yourself to others, it cannot be all about you.  Andrea is an example of all that can go wrong with a self centered attitude and that is not being grown up.
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Attenberg is an author that never disappoints.  Her writing allows you to relate to universal themes of maturity, loneliness and finding one's way in life.
  The story centers around Andrea Bern as she copes with the harsh circumstances that is her life.  Even in the darkest of times, she manages to keep going.  A great read for discussion!
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I wanted to love this book but I just didn't. I thought it was funny at times but I thought at times it was too choppy. Andrea has a great sense of humor and I liked her character. I feel like if the book went in chronological order, and a bit longer I would have enjoyed it more. More details would have given this book more life, in my opinion.
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Really this is a series of vignettes that jump back and forth in time and often are repetitive but they fill in the story and flesh out the characters in a strange and interesting way. Billed by the publisher as "wickedly funny", it is anything but. There are witty moments of dark humor but it was not a dance in the park. Dealing a lot with issues of "choice" and women claiming their power with lots of examples of women who don't...claim their power that is...and then there is Andrea who strongly maintains that she is choosing how to live her life. Oh, but she is so wrong. Interesting read l that would probably appeal more to younger women making these choices in their lives but still I liked it enough to give it 3.5 stars. 
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book.
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We live in a world where society  tells women that they have must get married, have 2.5 children, live up to these stereotypes of being a female in the world, yet-- what if you find that you don't want those things? Or you feel like you're being softly pushed into something that doesn't work for your lifestyle? 

Well read and see.
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I was so excited for the latest by Jami Attenberg, All Grown Up, but it fell a bit flat. The chapters are individual stories in the life of Andrea Bern but I could never quite understand why I should care about Andrea Bern.
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This is therapy for all of us who are grown up and wonder where it all went and where it is all going!
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All Grown Up is a raw, compact story of a young woman (Andrea) trying to find her way in the world, but it’s taking longer than society says it should. Attenberg uses little snapshots of Andrea’s life to share her struggles with being single in New York City (a situation I could relate to from years ago) and provide “yes, that’s exactly how it is” commentary on how society treats single ladies in their thirties. Andrea’s floundering is frustrating, but also relatable and endearing. What really made All Grown Up for me was the unexpectedly funny writing. It’s snarky and filled with the type of dry, morbid humor that’s not for everyone, but is for me. All Grown Up tackles the quarter-life crisis theme in a brutally honest rather than grating way (I’m looking at you, The Futures) and is one of my favorite books of 2017 so far!
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What does it mean to be a grown up? The term is pretty narrowly circumscribed for American women. Get married, or at least get a serious healthy relationship, have children - or at least express a desire to do so - and, somehow, also be committed to a career you love. At this, Andrea is a total failure and it's for total lack of trying. She wants none of these things which makes virtually every social interaction difficult to navigate. All Grown Up is an exploration of our expectations of modern women.
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Wine filled misadventures of a woman trying and often failing to grow up and navigating stagnating work life/creative drive, terminal illness, and a multitude of relationship mishaps in the process. Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up is sharp, sincere, and oftentimes ridiculous-but-on-point with the generally one step forward-two steps back nature of finding one's footing while traversing the minefield of adulthood with the ever increasing awareness of its finiteness.
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I am torn between 2 and 4 stars and this is why: this novel is both good and terrible at the same time. 

It is good because it's a 100% New York novel: raw, unfiltered yet sincere. The main character is egocentric, delusional but true to herself.
It is terrible because, at some point, Andrea (the main character) becomes unbearable and too whiny. There's no real story to follow and it gets boring.

In the end though I appreciate the concept of this novel, a story about a young woman who's not perfect but real...yep, believe it or not, not everyone is his/her 30s is a CEO of some fancy start-up..some are messy, rough on the edges and still trying to find their place in this world, but that's what makes us interesting.
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I found this book to be a refreshing surprise! There have been a spate of novels in recent years of introspective female protagonists, without much in the way of plot. Most of what I've read, I didn't care for because there was nothing to connect me emotionally to these characters. However, Attenberg brought to life a woman that was so very compelling and impossible not to root for, even if she was infuriating at times. Well, a lot of the time! But, Andrea just seems so real, like someone I know, used to know, or parts of someone I used to be. I felt like I was able to understand her modus operandi, which I think is lacking in many introspective narratives, and her emotions just leap off the page:
"The permanence of my impermanence. I stand in possession of it. I stand before him at the entrance to a subway station, in possession of nothing but myself.  Myself is everything, I want to tell him. But to him it is nothing, because that's how he feels about himself right now. He is alone, and so he nothing. How do I explain to him that what applies to him does not apply to me? His context is not my context. How do you blow up the bus you've been forced to ride your entire life? It wasn't your fault there were not other means of transportation available"
Her family is also written with such authenticity, and I adored the interactions between her and her mother. Especially when she quips to Andrea:
 "I'm just saying you've lived without me appearing regularly in your life before, you'll do it again."
I was also caught off guard by the way the book was structured. It read like a collection of short stories, or pages ripped from a diary and told out of order - but in juuuust the right way for the author to paint a full portrait of Andrea's life. This was jarring at first, feeling like I was on a fast moving train and looking out the window, only to go through a tunnel and end up in a different time and place. One minute I'd be laughing at her cheeky wit, and the next I'd be reeling from an emotional gut punch. It seemed symbolic of her life:
"Her life is architected, elegant and angular, a beauty to behold, and mine is a stew, a juicy, sloppy mess of ingredients and feelings and emotions, too much salt and spice, too much anxiety, always a little dribbling down the front of my shirt. But have you tasted it? Have you tasted it. It's delicious."
This 'stew' unfolded in an exceeding clever way, layering tension and suspense to a novel that is not plot driven, yet kept me turning the pages. I read it in two nights of "just one more chapter, just one more chapter..." It's barely over 200 pages, so even if it doesn't necessarily sound up your alley, I'd HIGHLY recommend giving it the short amount of time it takes to read. It is, indeed, delicious.
Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an advance copy for my review.
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