Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

4 Star

Actors aren’t the only ones trying to make it in Hollywood.…At twenty-three, Ruth Saunders left her childhood home in Massachusetts and headed west with her seventy-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to make it as a screenwriter. Six years later, she hits the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the showrunner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on her boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials. 

Lydia - 4 Star

The Next Best Thing is a fun novel full of Hollywood antics. This book takes us on Ruthie's journey - one that has definitely not always been easy - and we follow her while she takes an enormous risk to chase her dream all the way to Hollywood where she hopes to produce the television show she's written based loosely on her life with her grandmother.

Weiner knows Hollywood and the television industry first hand from her sitcom, 'The State of Georgia', which was produced last year and then cancelled after just one season. It was fascinating from this novel to see the how little a finished television product might resemble the original script, the plot, characters and ideas. And wow, do I ever have a lot more respect for all those involved in producing a television show. I was exhausted just reading about it!

For the most part, I don't get sucked into all the Hollywood hype or the gossip so it surprised me when I became so invested in this novel. For anyone with a keen interest in Hollywood, they may very well enjoy this novel even more.

Ruthie and her grandmother's down to earth personalities were juxtaposed against all of Hollywood's narcissism, head games, egos, and money and it’s easy to see how Ruthie's dreams may become derailed. I enjoyed cheering for her. You can't help but root for her, even when she makes questionable decisions. I cringed along with her, adored her naiveté and even wanted to shake her a few times. She has a complicated past, she's kind, misguided and doubts herself often, but she had a kind heart and I really wanted to see her happy in the end.

The Next Best Thing is heavy with flashbacks, especially the first half of the novel, but Weiner somehow makes them work. She draws a marvelous portrait of Ruthie's relationship with her grandmother (who was so spunky - I loved her character!) during the years after the horrific car accident that killed her parents and left Ruthie disfigured as a toddler, as well as their cross country journey to Hollywood. Novels rarely have me shedding tears early in the story, however, around thirty pages in, Weiner has me chocked up. It’s a scene when Ruthie realizes at a young age that the scars on her face were permanent and that she would never resemble the characters on TV that she loved so much. She writes one sentence in the journal her grandmother keeps prodding her to keep, and then we're privy to her grandmother’s reaction. I crumpled, tears dripping.

Although I loved this novel, there were some elements that I had trouble with. At times Ruthie’s age confused me. I thought she was in her twenties, but then certain references brought me back to my childhood which confused me because I’m older). There were also references to laptops in high school classrooms in her freshman year which tossed me another curveball. That would have been fourteen years ago based on her age of twenty eight and I’m fairly certain that wouldn’t have been the norm and the school she was at wasn’t described as a wealthy private school either. Nitpicky, I know, but these things distract me and detract from my reading experience. I think if her age was mentioned earlier it would have helped. The other thing was that because I was aware of Weiner’s failed sitcom, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the story was autobiographical and whether she was taking shots at the industry with the Hollywood-type caricatures she portrays or if this was fiction.

Regardless, I still enjoyed The Next Best Thing. Not as much as Good in Bed, which is one of my all time favourites, but more so than her latest few. And I'm sure if you go for all the Hollywood hype, you may like it even more.  As always, I look forward to more from Jennifer Weiner.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for our review copy!

Connect with Jennifer Weiner here:


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