Honestly, this reads like J. D. Salinger fanfic.
But, y’know, I didn’t think I’d like Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year either, especially with its dreadful prologue, and I’ve since taken to evangelizing that excellent memoir and hoping the upcoming movie does it justice. Ashley Schumacher’s Amelia Unabridged shares a tendency towards gorgeous writing with Ms Rakoff’s book, particularly in the first few thorny chapters, but unfortunately dulls as the book progresses, with too many clever winds and whales flogged to death by repetition, and with a narrative bogged down by utterly nonsense choices.
And okay, a lot of my disagreement with the main character’s ultimate decision comes from being from the same background as her dead best friend Jenna’s family, where of course you go to college, especially if someone is offering to pay for the entire ride. So what if you don’t want to become an English professor: you can take courses in the things you do want and focus on just getting the damn degree, because that’s really all that matters in the marketplace anyway. Instead — and here be spoilers because I’m still incensed at the perfect storm of stupidity that makes up the ending, so you can stop reading here if you’d rather not be spoiled. That said, this is definitely a YA romance novel, and not a comedic, light-hearted examination-of-modern-expectations romance but a fantasy-tinged srs bznz novel that barely deals with the real world as the heroine finds her HEA.
Okay, you ready for some spoilers? Here we go.
So in the end, fucking Amelia declines a full ride to Missoula so her 18 year-old ass can spend time with a rich entitled narcissist while taking photography classes at the local-to-him community college. I can forgive her choice to pursue an alternative educational path if all she really wants is to take photos (which she sorta does only it feels like one of those half-hearted things, especially with her irritating One Shot policy. I mean, ffs, the two most memorable photos taken in this book are by Jenna and Alex! Compared to the photographer heroine of Emma Lord’s You Have A Match, Amelia is infuriatingly passive.) But the fact that she does this because of one week — ONE WEEK! — spent with her favorite author, who is a weird asshole and not at all an intriguing hero to me, absolutely boggles my mind. So yes, he has personal trauma and he doesn’t open up easily but he somehow learns to trust her then, despite the fact that she’s been very candid about needing to leave at the end of the week, has a complete accusatory meltdown when she actually does that, screaming at her that he opened up to her about his trauma so she needs to stay. I didn’t really mind him till then but I was all, bitch, hold up! Did little man seriously think he was buying her continued attendance by telling her personal stories? What kind of malignant narcissist does that?!
And frankly, I did not care for the fact that Amelia’s journey is propelled by the refrigeration of her best friend, dynamic, wealthy Jenna, whose parents basically adopt Amelia as their other daughter. Essentially, Amelia and Jenna are best friends growing up in Texas who get into a fight after a California book convention where they were supposed to meet their favorite YA fantasy author, the handsome, mysterious N. E. Endsley. Jenna accidentally ran into him while he was having a panic attack and convinced him to look out for his own health, even if it meant canceling the panel she and Amelia had come so far to see. Amelia was infuriated when she found out, but the best friends were working through it, fully expecting to go to college together once Jenna got back from a trip to Ireland. But then Jenna dies, and a mysterious volume by N. E. Endsley shows up for Amelia. Convinced that Jenna had something to do with it, Amelia makes the trip to the Michigan bookstore that sent the impossible volume to see if her friend left any other messages for her, only to meet the very human N. E. Endsley himself.
Cool if refrigerated bookish premise, absolutely disappointing execution. Setting aside the utter ridiculousness of an 18 year-old blithely renting cars any time she feels like it, it boggled my mind how Amelia never had to worry about money, even tho her own parents are allegedly poor, because someone is always on hand to pay or provide for her food and lodging and books. She only ever feels like her choices are limited because a) she utterly lacks imagination, and b) she doesn’t want to disappoint Jenna’s parents by not taking their money. The girl is first world problems for real. I feel like I’m supposed to sympathize because she’s from a low-income background, except the depiction of it makes it look like all her flaws come from there and none of her strengths. Like, I’m not one of those people who thinks poverty is character building but I also hate when it’s used as an excuse for all a person’s flaws, especially when she never has to worry about money anyway! There’s a flashback scene where Amelia’s shopping with Jenna, and Amelia doesn’t like trying on clothes because it makes her feel “fake”, and another where her dad encourages her to grift as much as she can from Jenna’s family, which makes her cry because she doesn’t want Jenna to think she’s using her. The girl cares more about how others see her than about who she actually is, and this is attributed to her being poor instead of just being shallow. She’s allegedly empathetic and kind (according to Alex, Endsley’s best friend — always beware whenever a supporting character has to point out a protagonist’s positive personality traits) but she’s basically just showing her best self to the favorite author whom she’s crushing on. She was meh, he was worse, I guess they deserve each other, happily ever after or whatever. Personally, I would have liked to see Alex and Endsley end up together but this was a strictly hetero book, so blergh.
Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher will be published tomorrow February 16th 2021 by Wednesday Books and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.