All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (NetGalley Review)

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 7, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
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? 

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.


  1. I'm so glad to hear that you enjoyed this one, too, Andrea; I just want to get together with Andrea and drink a glass (or four, I would imagine) of wine. What a refreshing read, to be sure!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.