Monday, March 13, 2017

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Title: All Grown Up
Author: Jami Attenberg
Publisher: HMH
Publication Year: 2017
Pages: 197
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Ratiing:4/5

Can we talk about that cover tho??


Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she’s a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it’s what she leaves unsaid—she’s alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh—that feels the most true. Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult: her best friend, Indigo, is getting married; her brother—who miraculously seems unscathed by their shared tumultuous childhood—and sister-in-law are having a hoped-for baby; and her friend Matthew continues to wholly devote himself to making dark paintings at the cost of being flat broke. But when Andrea’s niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart? 

Told in gut-wrenchingly honest, mordantly comic vignettes, All Grown Up is a breathtaking display of Jami Attenberg’s power as a storyteller, a whip-smart examination of one woman’s life, lived entirely on her own terms.


This is a closely-examined story of one woman's life as she grows up and learns to 'adult' or not in NYC. This book is sharp in it's prose, observations and criticisms and Attenberg has a voice unlike any other author I have ever read; she is a true master of her craft. If you are a young person living in NYC or someone who wonders about this whole growing up business this is probably a book for you. As the summary implies, the story is told in short chapters following a different time period in Andrea's life often jumping backwards in time to more fully illustrate meaningful events that Andrea as a 40-year old alludes to.

Attenberg's book is refreshing and important in two ways. First, it gives us a realistic portrait of a modern urban woman in literature with all her flaws . Andrea is complex. She is unsure, selfish and lazy. All things that all of us are at some point or another. She is not a hero, but she is not a villain or anti-hero either. She is not a caricature or one-dimensional she is a little bit of all of us. It is a great breath of fresh air seeing the less polished side of being a woman coming of age in NYC in the age of Instagram lives.

Second of all, Attenberg calls into question conventional ideas of what it means to be an adult and a successful woman: Getting married, having children, having a career and explores social and familial pressures to conform to this path and what happens when a woman doesn't take this path. Even as someone who considers herself to be content to march off the beaten path of traditional womanhood, this book challenged me to think about why we assign value to these 'milestones' and how we characterized successful lives.

This book in theory should have rung all my bells: NYC? check! Female protagonist questioning convention? Check! However, there was something that stopped me from absolutely loving this book and I believe that it has to do with false advertising, particularly with the phrase "examination of one woman’s life, lived entirely on her own terms". Please excuse this small rant:

Andrea is not a healthy or happy person. Complex family issues lead her to a series of self-destructive relationships with drugs and alcohol, she is in therapy for multiple years with little effect and hates many aspects of her life but does not take any steps to ameliorate them. This left me a little disheartened, Andrea does not seem to lead a single or child-less life by choice but rather by inertia, often confessing that she is unsure of what she wants or doesn't want from partners a state that does not seem to change over the years. This is not a portrait of an empowered, confident adult that serves to illustrate that women can live fulfilling lives without having children or marriages. I am not saying that this book necessarily has to be that. I think that her portrayal as a flawed and complex individual is a feminist triumph in itself and that this book is worth reading for it's wickedly smart writing and character building alone. However, I felt that it was billed as a portrait of a woman who has taken the reins of her life in her hands and that was what I was in the mood to read when I picked the book up. This unmet expectation coupled with an ambiguous ending left me feeling deflated. Maybe this wasn't the book for me and this time. I feel that perhaps in a different mindset I will be able to better appreciate this book which everyone seems to love, but didn't quite get there for me.

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