Fourteen year old Tessa is NOT impressed when her mother uproots them (yet again) in order to move to a religious compound – especially when it turns out their new home is very similar to a cult, where the members don’t seem to want to think for themselves and follow their leader blindly. In order to cope with this new situation, Tessa starts to hang out with Colin, a guy who works in the compound as a mechanic, and Colin introduces Tessa to a completely different way of life (including sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll) than the one she is surrounded with at the compound.
I’m going to start by saying that there were parts of this book that made me very angry – but not angy because it wasn’t good. Angry because the characters were doing some really stupid things and I couldn’t reach into the pages and slap them across the backside of the head. And because some things in the book disturbed me A LOT.
And I think those “some things” mostly center around the fact that 14/15 year-old Tessa is in a relationship (and sleeping) with a 20 year-old boy. Uh, can we say dumb on both their part? First – hello statutory rape! Second – at that age, there is a HUGE difference as far as where they are in their lives. And it’s just like … wrong and gross on so many levels. The fact that he introduced her to drugs didn’t bother me as much, because teens get into that stuff. It’s realistic that you’d find a high school student doing that stuff. But the fact that the two of them are sleeping together bothered me a lot. And that his friends thought it was cool and would hit on her – and that he didn’t do much to prevent his friends from taking advantage of her in one specific situation.
But then there was a lot that was awesome about this book. The fact that it was able to cause such a strong reaction in me, and the fact that I needed to keep reading it even though it was making me this angry, well! And I totally couldn’t put it down – needed to know what happened next and needed to know that Tessa and her mother would get through the book okay.
Music was such a vital part of this book. Especially once the relationship between Tessa and Colin (the 20-year old) start to develop. I loved the music in Audrey, Wait!, but the music included in this book was SO MUCH BETTER. This was more like my music – the Stones, Violent Femmes, Led Zeppelin, ah! And it added the right atmosphere to the book, set the stage perfectly for events and feelings.
One thing that really makes this book stand out for me is the fact that while it was published this year, it takes place in the 80’s. There are so many young adults and children’s books that are being updated and republished to be more appealing to current audiences. While Karma For Beginners does take place in the 80’s, I have no doubt that it would be completely releatable to current readers nonetheless because there are some issues that remain the same, no matter when you are growing up – there’s still issues with parents, falling in love for the first time, experimenting with the forbidden (sex, drugs, whatever). And it’s awesome that Blank was able to take a story set in a time about 20 years in the past and make is still so resounding.
The Bottom Line
Highly recommend this book, and not just to readers of YA books. Yes it has disturbing parts that made me angry, but it was a very powerful read (and perhaps is made more powerful because of those disturbing parts). However, for younger teen readers, I would definitely recommend that parents read this before deciding whether this is suitable for their daughter/son. It does deal A LOT with sex and drugs in the last half of it, and some may not feel it is appropriate for their children.
Have you reviewed this book on your blog? Let me know and I’ll add your link.