I loved Katie Heaney's first book, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, a memoir that was published two years ago. (Review is here.) So, when I heard Heaney was writing a novel I was thrilled. Thrilled! I didn't have any expectations of Dear Emma going in (I hardly even read the synopsis because I knew I'd want to read her novel no matter what), though I do think I had higher hopes for it than it delivered. I really enjoyed it though!
Here's the synopsis:
Harriet, the author of her college newspaper's pseudonymous student advice column "Dear Emma," is great at telling others what to do, dispensing wisdom for the lovelorn and lonely on her Midwestern campus. Somehow, though, she can't take her own advice, especially after Keith, the guy she's dating, blows her off completely. When Harriet discovers that Keith has started seeing the beautiful and intimidating Remy, she wants to hate her. But she can't help warming to Remy, who soon writes to "Dear Emma" asking for romantic advice.I'm going to tell you something I wish I had realized/been told right off the bat. And it's kind of embarrassing to admit this because I always say I'm such a Jane Austen fan...but...Dear Emma is kind of an homage to Austen's Emma. I know. Duh. It made so much sense after I read that in the acknowledgements/interview with the author. Side note: who else reads those sections? It wasn't until I got into blogging that reading them became a regular thing. This is a prime example why I do because it really did add to my reading experience. Anyway. I really dislike Emma - both the book and the heroine. She's meddling and frustrating and downright cruel at times and I just never understood the appeal to that particular Austen novel. But I do think it explains why I had a teeny bit of annoyance with Harriet and her story. She sometimes gets too into providing advice and trying to fix things (something a friend eventually calls her out on) that she forgets to allow friends, and herself, to make those "mistakes" we all need to learn from. Unlike Emma, I could see the growth in Harriet and I definitely liked her more as a person than Emma!
Now Harriet has the perfect opportunity to take revenge on the person who broke her heart. But as she begins to doubt her own motivations and presumably faultless guidance, she's forced to question how much she really knows about love, friendship and well-meaning advice.
Even though Dear Emma is a play on another novel...the story still felt fresh. I don't think there are enough contemporary New Adult novels that are light, fun, with a touch of real life drama. They all tend to be quite angsty. Where are the books that resemble my own post-secondary experiences? As you'll see in the next paragraph, Dear Emma was totally the kind of New Adult novel I've been looking for. Harriet is smart, funny, and real. She has flaws just like everyone else and that's what made her so likeable and realistic. They're not major flaws...they're ordinary, really. She focuses a little bit too much on herself sometimes, for example, even though she really is a great friend. Who hasn't been that person at least once? I also liked that Harriet and her roommates were juniors (it is so weird for me, a Canadian, to write that...I would call it third year!). Too often novels that take place in college/university have characters who are in their first year or their last so this was another, subtle, thing I really appreciated.
At first I found it difficult to get myself back into the university age mindset. It's been awhile since I've been in school but once I got into a reading groove it was like I was right there with Harriet, Logan, and Mel (her two roommates). In fact, I started to picture the library (where Harriet worked) as my own university's library. Same with the campus. And the house the three girls lived in looked suspiciously like the place my friends and I shared our last two years at school (even though the set up was nothing like Harriet's house). I was right back to being 22/23 and it was...well, it was nice. Adulting is hard so it was kind of awesome to be thrown into a story where the biggest issues were school, dating, and figuring out how to function hungover (I miss the hangovers I had in my early 20s...they're so much worse now).
What kept me from giving this a higher rating (I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads though it's definitely 3.5), was actually the writing. Well, maybe not the writing, exactly, because Heaney knows what she's doing. The thing that kind of bugged me was that sometimes there was too much explanation, like every part of Harriet's day needed to be accounted for kind of thing. And sometimes I felt like the information was just kind of thrown at you. I don't have a finished copy so I can't quote any particular lines, I just knew there were scenes where I felt a little bored and wanted things to keep on moving.
While I'm not shouting on the rooftops about how much I adored Dear Emma, I still think it's a thoroughly enjoyable novel that every contemporary story loving twentysomething should pick up. Katie Heaney is an author I will continue to watch and I cannot wait for her next novel!
*An egalley copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, via NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are honest and my own.*