Sunday 9 April 2017

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Published by Serpent's Tail on April 6, 2017

There is somewhat of a perception in society of what growing up is all about. Moving out of your parents’ home, drinking, having sex, and then falling in love, getting married, having a good career or having kids and then spending the next couple of decades of your life responsible for another person even though sometimes you struggle looking after yourself never mind anybody else. This is not the way everyone’s life goes but it is the way it is expected to go. After all, when you’re getting older, all the conversations revolve around who you’re having sex with or if you’re in a relationship it’s about when you’re getting married, and if you’re getting married it’s about when you’re having a baby. This is growing up.

But what if life doesn’t work like that for you? What if you’re doing all the drinking and having lots of sex but you don’t want to get married or have a baby and your job is not something you love? What if you choose to be single and childfree? All Grown Up introduces us to Andrea Bern and she is exactly that – single and childfree. Andrea is 39 years old. People have given up expecting her to get married and kids are very unlikely to be on the cards given Andrea struggles at the idea of holding someone else’s baby never mind having one of her own. Andrea doesn’t really know what she wants from life but she does know she is starting to feel disconnected from her friends and family as weddings and babies are on the cards.

All Grown Up is told in a series of unflinchingly honest vignettes, different moments in Andrea’s life which in all honesty show us what a flawed character she is. Andrea’s life is full of mistakes, reckless moments where she is drunk and taking drugs and having sex with men who are obviously wrong for her or anybody else. Reading the book I saw those moments, and there are lots of them, as mistakes, but for Andrea, this was her life. Whilst I didn’t feel like I could relate to a lot of the things Andrea did, I could relate to a lot of her observations of life and this is the part I liked about this book the most. Jami Attenberg has crafted the voice of Andrea brilliantly. She is a wholly believable character unafraid to voice the things many of us are thinking, especially in her therapy sessions where the things she came out with had me nodding my head in agreement.

This book is intelligently written and engaging. I think it’s supposed to be witty but, despite enjoying the read, I struggled to find much humour. Andrea’s way of living is not because she is a horrible, unlovable person. Andrea’s lifestyle is made up of her own choices. There are plenty of men who show an interest in her and her friends and family do seem to like spending time with her but they have their own responsibilities now. I didn’t particularly find her life funny but I did find it fascinating. As Andrea’s life continues in car-crash fashion, through her conversations with her therapist and the relationships she has with her best friend, her brother and her mum, I felt like there was a deep-rooted sense of loneliness about her, like she wanted to be single and carefree but at the same time she wanted to be loved.

One lasting impression All Grown Up had on me was the notion that life should be lived on your own terms. It’s unhealthy to go through life seeing other people getting married and having kids and deciding that’s what you should do because everyone else your age is doing that. All Grown Up shows us that other people’s lives aren’t what they expect. There are break-ups, sacrifices and desperately poorly kids in this book that show the reader that life isn’t black and white and things work out differently for everyone. Andrea’s story represents what it is like to be a woman in this age and the thoughts we have. We’re not all like Andrea but we all have our own opinions on life, and Andrea is here to voice them. Andrea is there to say the things so many of us are thinking. She’s there to mess up society’s stereotype of how a woman should live. Jami Attenberg’s compelling storytelling shows that we are not going to wake up one day “all grown up”, but we are free to go through life living on our own terms. And whether you love or hate her, Andrea Bern is a truly unforgettable character.

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