Review: Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

2 girls + 3 guys + 1 house – parents = 10 things April and her friends did that they (definitely, maybe, probably) shouldn’t have.

If given the opportunity, what sixteen-year-old wouldn’t jump at the chance to move in with a friend and live parent-free? Although maybe “opportunity” isn’t the right word, since April had to tell her dad a tiny little untruth to make it happen (see #1: “Lied to Our Parents”). But she and her housemate Vi are totally responsible and able to take care of themselves. How they ended up “Skipping School” (#3), “Throwing a Crazy Party” (#8), “Buying a Hot Tub” (#4), and, um, “Harboring a Fugitive” (#7) at all is kind of a mystery to them.

In this hilarious and bittersweet tale, Sarah Mlynowski mines the heart and mind of a girl on her own for the first time. To get through the year, April will have to juggle a love triangle, learn to do her own laundry, and accept that her carefully constructed world just might be falling apart . . . one thing-she-shouldn’t-have-done at a time.*

PLOT

Well, and this is definitely stating the obvious, ten things happen. Unfortunately, these ten things all seem unrelated and the juggling act it takes to fit them into this novel is awkward. A few balls get dropped. For example, Harboring a Fugitive (#7). I couldn’t tell you now who the fugitive was in this book. It was so circumstantial and secondary to the rest of the book that it wasn’t even worth sticking in my memory.

The ten things should be interesting, and admittedly, the hot tub is pretty darn cool, but instead, more are really inconsequential to most of the larger plot: which is, unoriginally, a girlfriend afraid of losing her boyfriend. There are undertones of The Divorce & Remarriage of Parents and Fear of Starting Over, but for the most part this novel revolves around the boyfriend. Despite what April tries to claim throughout, I don’t buy that this is bigger than losing her boyfriend (who seems to be representative of Losing Everything, and that bothers me, too) and said boyfriend doesn’t seem to buy her claims either.

THE NARRATOR

April is the narrator of this novel, and her voice is definitely strong enough to carry the story. I never felt out of her mind while reading, and her approach to the things happening in her life and the events unraveling after that fateful first thing (Lied to Our Parents) are honest. From the get-go, April is a teenage girl who’s been feeling uprooted for a long time. Before the book begins, April’s mother has divorced her father, remarried, and moved to France; her father has remarried a woman named Penny, and they’ve all moved together into a new house. So it’s no shocker that when Penny and her father want to move to Ohio, April doesn’t want to go with.

It’s extremely appropriate that April feels even more uprooted once she is living in Vi’s basement, despite the fact that she’s still in her hometown and with her lifelong friends. The background drama of family in this novel is spot on, and I’d wished there had been a little more of it. The hints of her friends’ struggles with their own parents offered up both an important parallel (hey, all teenagers pretty much complain about parents) and a stark contrast (at least her friends still had their parents with them).

April also has several moments lacking self-awareness. While these moments are annoying, they are also a part of a truthful characterization. She gets herself into trouble with various people throughout the book because she becomes so caught up in herself and her situation, which is something every teenager does and must learn how to handle. It’s easy to become self-interested, and April falls into that trap for most of the book. However, I wish I could believe that by the end she learns how to put her friends first and herself second at appropriate times. Unfortunately, I don’t.  April makes one important personal growth leap, but there is nothing to make me believe anything else about her–some major personality flaws included–have even been acknowledged.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I read this book because a friend of mine read it and reviewed it and loved it. She was even the one to let me (and all of Twitter) know when this book dropped in price to 99 cents on the Nook. She’d liked it so much and it was 99 cents, so I immediately downloaded it.

I’m not saying it was completely terrible because I reached the end, and it only took me a day to read. Clearly, not terrible. It seemed a bit jumbled and, while I can’t say anything on the ending due to spoiler reasons, I didn’t buy it. There were two twists I felt were really interesting, but both were very clearly Plot Devices and didn’t seem to emerge naturally from either character interaction or event sequence. I think both Twist 1 and Twist 2 were more interesting and would have created a more substantial plot, but instead, both are just sort of dealt with quickly and set aside to move forward to the obvious and happy (it is happy, so I give it that) ending.

Rating: ★ ★

* Summary from barnesandnoble.com

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