Published by Clarion Books on January 9th 2018
The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out. Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don't know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she'll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight. As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She'll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Content warnings: suicide, depression, religious family
This book was such an unexpected delight. I can already sense that Nice Try, Jane Sinner is a book readers will either completely love or completely hate. It follows our main character, Jane Sinner, who has been kicked out of her high school due to some mysterious event. She decides to finish her high school education at the local community college, and while there, she joins a reality show called House of Orange. This book documents the ridiculous antics that go along with the reality show, but it also shows Jane’s growth as a person during the course of her time on HOO.
I’ll start by talking about the thing that, to me, stands out most about Nice Try, Jane Sinner: Jane herself. She has a ridiculously dry, sarcastic sense of humor, and honestly? I saw some of myself in her. She’s excellent at observing people and, in the case of her fellow contestants on HOO who piss her off, manipulating them. Her antics often had me both cringing and laughing out loud. I found her so refreshing because, though she deals with mental illness, Jane employs a sort of gallows humor (which she sometimes takes too far) to cope with her depression. This is something I, and a lot of other people with mental illness, do, as well, so I found that refreshingly realistic. Jane, while hilarious, often frustrates the people in her life for her refusal to take anything seriously. What I love most about her, though? She’s flawed. She’s such an imperfect character; her nonchalance is all bluster that she uses to hide the fact that she deeply, deeply cares what other people think of her. As someone with social anxiety, I have always, always struggled with this, and it both broke my heart and validated my feelings to see a YA character dealing with the same struggles. Jane’s voice is one of the strongest I’ve read in recent memory, and she’s a welcome addition to my list of favorite YA protagonists.
Nice Try, Jane Sinner deals subtly with so many important themes. From friendship, to familial relationships, to mental illness, everything was handled thoughtfully and realistically. Not only is Jane dealing with the aftermath of her suicide attempt a few months prior, she is also navigating how to proceed with her friendships, which were somewhat damaged in that process. She also struggles with the fact that she no longer identifies with her Christian family’s beliefs. Jane’s relationship with her younger sister, Carol, was one of my favorite parts of this story. Plus, of course, Jane meets tons of new people through her time living in the House of Orange. The author deals with all of these seemingly heavy subjects with no shortage of humor and heart.
I also loved reading about a YA protagonist in a college setting! More of this, please– after all, many older teens are in college. The reality show plot itself was just as ridiculous as you’d expect, which of course made it TONS of fun to read about. The questionable challenges, the cringeworthy sponsorships, the way the contestants strategize and plot against each other… all of it is hilarious. Another unique thing about this book: most of the dialogue is told script-style. I think this is because this book is Jane’s journal, and she kinda paints the people in her life as characters. It’s really clever, and it makes Nice Try, Jane Sinner a much quicker read than you’d expect from its long (for a contemporary, at least) length.
All in all, while this wasn’t a perfect book for me, it was still lots of fun. I adore the narrator, and I think the topics addressed in this story are so important for a YA audience to read about. I recommend Nice Try, Jane Sinner to anyone looking for a witty, sarcastic protagonist and/or a fun contemporary plot!
Have you read Nice Try, Jane Sinner? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, do you plan to read it?