Hello, my name is Susan, and I’m an adult who reads YA books. Well, the truth is, I love to read good books and I thought Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, might be worth a passing glance for New Title Tuesday. Well, a glance turned into a gaze, then a stare, and within ten pages, I was immersed in this tale about a teenager’s first love – of a book. Naturally, that book-love leads directly to Nanette’s first romance.
Summary: Nanette O’Hare, a star student and athlete, is given a mysterious out-of-print cult classic novel by her beloved teacher that sparks the rebel within her, but as she befriends the reclusive author and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that sometimes rebellion comes at a high price.
The author’s efficient prose tempts the reader to guzzle it down in one sitting. But Quick also creates complex and relatable characters who have problems and gifts in equal measure. Although one New York Times reviewer said Nanette’s foils were limited to “…vapid, undifferentiated, peach-schnapps-swilling sexpots…,” I contend that we’re seeing her peers through Nanette’s narrow-focused lens. Often, young people lack the depth perception to recognize that their classmates are also desperately trying to tamp down their own faults and fears. Likewise, as the fault-line between childhood and adolescence quavers, teenagers begin seeing their parents’ imperfections as Nanette does through this journey to define herself.
Quick’s insight about the pressures teens face is informed by his career as an English teacher in a high school not unlike the one he describes in Every Exquisite Thing. In a radio interview with WUNC Frank Stasio, Quick stated he recognized and then questioned the assumption that a student’s future hinges on a high SAT score, an excellent GPA, and performing well enough in something to get a scholarship. He said that it never occurs to some young people that there are other options.
The characters in his book struggle with these pressures, this type of conformity, at home and at the hands of school tormentors.
Mental health is a theme Quick explores through the overarching theme that literature provides individuals facing life’s challenges a catharsis. Throughout their relationship, Nanette reads the suggestions by Nigel Booker, the author of her favorite book. He guides her and his other fan, now Nanette’s boyfriend, Alex, to poetry by real writers Charles Bukowski and Philip Larkin. She and her Alex have long discussions about literature and the meaning of existence.
Educators have long known, and now empirical evidence supports the use of literary fiction to teach empathy and help children and teens understand what they, their friends, or parents are experiencing. Quick is doing for his characters the same as he did for his students – putting the right book into the right hands at the right time.
Every Exquisite Thing was the right book for my weekend read and a lovely escape from the pre-election incessant political coverage. It can be read both as a coming-of-age book and as a study of the adolescent’s social milieu.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also by Matthew Quick: