Have you ever had one of those weeks when a couple of the books you’re reading seem to be related even if they’re from two different sections of the bookstore or library?
In the case of Every Fifteen Minutes and To All the Boys I’ve Loved, it’s not a thematic similarity the books share, but instead my growing frustration with the main characters of each novel. Reading/listening to both books, I kept having to resist the urge to want to reach into the novel and tell the protagonist to wake up and smell the coffee already!
With Every Fifteen Minutes this urge comes about a third of the way into the novel, after Lisa Scottoline has spent a hundred or so pages setting up the story and situation of Dr. Eric Parrish. Separated from his wife, Parrish is the head of an elite psychiatric department who also has his own private practice. Parish is introduced to a young man whose grandmother is dying and who has other issues due to his lack of any parental figures. Parrish takes the boy on as a patient and quickly becomes concerned about his mental health and the boy’s apparent obsession with a young girl he tutors as part of his job.
The hook of Every Fifteen Minutes is that every couple of chapters, a first-person, self-admitted sociopath shows up to remind us that he or she is working to destroy Parrish’s life. And just as you reach the middle third of the novel, the unnamed sociopath begins to pull the rug out from Parrish, slowly manipulating him into making decisions that can and would ruin his personal and professional lives. It’s as this point I began to get increasingly frustrated with Parrish, if only because he makes a series of well-intentioned decisions that aren’t necessarily the most practical. For example, when the young boy goes missing after his grandmother passes away, Eric throws caution to the wind to try and find the boy, fearing he’s suicidal. Eric goes so far as to track down the girl who is the focus of his patients obsession, stalking her at her job and then following her home to try and catch a glimpse of his patient. This doesn’t end well when bad things happen to the girl and Eric suddenly becomes the prime suspect in the case.
There are moments when I can see what Scottoline is trying to do by putting Eric in a situation where his professional ethics can’t be violated — even if it means damning himself by his silence. And yet I still couldn’t help but feel that Eric brought a lot of his trouble on himself through some of his decisions and not thinking through how this would all look to someone on the outside.
Interestingly, Scottoline includes a few nice red herrings before the final revelation of who the sociopath really is. I had a guess and it turned out to be off-base (though I’d argue that if Scottoline had chosen to go the route I thought she was going, there was enough ground work in place to make it seem like a reasonable choice within the structure of the story).
The first third of the novel hooked me, the middle third had me rolling my eyes at the moves being made by Eric and the final third had me guessing and then second guessing the identity of our main antagonist. That’s not necessarily a bad way to spend four hundred or so pages. If Every Fifteen Minutes were a movie, it’d be one of those popcorn thrillers that everyone talked about for a few weeks. As a summer read, it works very well — all frustration with the main characters aside.
Now, I’ve made little or no secret that when I run, I sometimes enjoy a good young adult fiction audio book. The reason for this is that these books can be a bit lighter and don’t always require that I pay as close attention for details as I might for other novels. And sometimes a little teenage angst can be a nice way to pound out those miles as I run.
With To All The Boys, I found the more time I spent with LaraJean, the less I liked her and the situation she finds herself in. The middle of three sisters, LaraJean has never had a boyfriend before. She’s had guys she loves and when she felt she was over them, she wrote them a letter and then put into a hat box. LaraJean never intended these letters to see the light of day, much less be read by the five guys she once loved.
One was her good friend from junior high, Peter K and another was the boy next door, Josh, who dated her older sister Margo for several years, before the two separated when Margo goes to Scotland for college. LaraJean begins her junior year with the knowledge that someone has mailed the letters to the one-time objects of her affection. She decides to avoid Josh (hard to do since they are good friends and he lives next door) while Peter K decides the two should take advantage of her once feelings by creating a fake relationship to make certain people jealous (in his case, his ex-girlfriend who is the queen of school and in LaraJean’s case, maybe Josh might get jealous). The two even sign a contract, laying out what is expected from each side in this pretend relationship.
If you can’t see where this is all headed, odds are you haven’t seen a romantic comedy in the last dozen or so years. And while I don’t mind a book that treads the same ground that others have in the past, I do mind when the book doesn’t really try to do much new with the material. This even boils down the thread that Peter and Josh don’t like each other and that the lady’s man Peter might have more to him than meets the eyes while Josh may not be the white knight that LaraJean has built him up to be in her mind.
Where my frustration began to set in with LaraJean and the story as a whole is that little, if any consideration is given to the fact that Josh was her older sister’s boyfriend for a significant amount of time. Neither LaraJean nor Josh come out looking good when they’re both willing to consider a relationship with each other or when they admit they were attracted to each other before Margo entered the picture. Couple this with the revelation mid-way through the book that Margo and Josh slept together and I kept looking around for Barney Stinson to show up and give Josh a lesson in the Bro Code. Or for someone to realize that maybe trying to be romantically involved with sisters isn’t going to be a good idea.
Another frustration comes from LaraJean and her lack of maturity. It’s hard to believe she’s a junior in high school when, at times, it feels like she’s acting like someone in middle school. I can see what Jenny Han is trying to do with making her a bit more sheltered and having Margo be the one who had to grow up quickly and sheltering her sisters from certain things. But I still found myself scratching my head at times at just how LaraJean was behaving and relating to the world. I also kept thinking that it was fortunate that Peter isn’t the bad boy his reputation suggests because a guy like that could do a real number on LaraJean.
The audio version of the book may not have helped things here. Maybe hearing the performance by Laura Knight Keating as LaraJean took me out of things a bit — or maybe it made LaraJean seem whiner than might on the printed page. It’s nothing against the performance, but this could be why I felt LaraJean came across as younger than she really is.
Of course, a lot of my frustration could have been dealt with if I felt like we could a satisfactory ending to things. I don’t feel like this happened and instead we’re left with an emotional cliffhanger to lead into the next book. Whether or not I’m going to spent more time with LaraJean remains to be seen. After listening to her story all week, I feel like I’m invested enough to see if everything at I’m not sure that spending more time with these characters right now would be a good thing.