I try to relate books to other books, or movies. This YA novel was like Garden State mixed with Juno, mixed with Perks of Being a Wallflower, with snippets of Fault in Our Stars. And I ate it up (pun kind of intended).
This is the story of Emmy and Justin. Both are 16. Both are "messed up."
Emmy is adopted. She's Chinese, and her real parents left her, because, well, she's a girl. Her adoptive parents and sister are all tall, thin, and blonde. She always feels like an outsider. After threatening a bully at school, she is sent to Heartland Academy.
Justin feels numb. When his Dad walks in on him with a girl, in a compromising position, things just go downhill. After a handful of Tylenol, he is sent to Heartland Academy.
The two find each other, and an unconventional group of friends, at this reform school. They are denied Internet, TV, razors, nail clippers, tweezers, and books like 13 Reasons Why. Through classes, therapy sessions, and different antics, they learn to deal with their issues, discover themselves, and let others in.
Oh goodness, I loved this book. It's snarky and sarcastic, sad and cynical, quippy and crass...a full range of teenage emotion. With some serious laugh-out-loud moments.
It's told from alternating points-of-view, and does so as well as a David Levithan novel.
The supporting cast was as good as the two main players. We've got Mohammed, Justin's roommate, who's the "only black kid in 100 miles" and has some anger issues. Jenny, Emmy's roommate, who has selective mutism and a bit of an obsession with pigs. Diana, the 13-year old, cute-as-pie "psycho" and Chip, the mullet-sporting gamer, round out the Anger Management Group-turned-friends.
As Justin and Emmy try to make their way through the 6-tiered system, they made their way into my mind and heart. I was rooting for these kids, who have these deep-seated issues. I wanted them to achieve the next breakthrough (as much as I wanted them to backtalk the counselor trying to help them). As I got deeper and deeper into their issues, my heart hurt for them. And that made the breakthroughs that much more sweet.
If anything, read the book for an epic bout of Porcine Pandemonium at the State Fair. I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of Ellen Page/Michael Cera movies & David Levithan or John Green books. I would also recommend it to anyone who has an interest in teens and mental health, unconventional heroes, and bacon.
A Really Awesome Mess is published by Egmont USA. ARC provided by NetGalley.