Nice Try, Jane Sinner
By Lianne Oelke
Published January 9, 2018 by Clarion Books
This book is really funny and delightful, and it has mental health representation. Jane Sinner (what a name) is at a crossroads. She’s been asked to leave her high school for unknown reasons (she alludes to a big event, but we don’t learn what happened until well into the book), and she’s enrolling in a community college to finish out her high school coursework. When she learns of a reality show featuring students at the college, she decides that it’s the perfect opportunity to reinvent herself.
House of Orange is a decidedly low-budget reality show. The grand prize is a used car. The participants get discounted rent in a house where they have to live together. There are periodic challenges for smaller prizes, like a restaurant gift card. The show is on YouTube, although it gains popularity quickly and ends up being broadcast on local TV, which leads to some complications for Jane. I don’t watch any reality shows, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the portrayal, but everything about House of Orange is very funny.
The novel’s format is entries from Jane’s diary. This makes her an extremely unreliable narrator since we only see things from her point of view, and she even admits at times that she’s not being entirely honest with herself. A big chunk of the diary entries are dialogue between Jane and the other characters, with unspoken commentary from her. Jane is hilarious. She’s snarky and awesome, and she’s determined to win the contest, so her behavior is pretty ruthless. She’s taking a psychology class, and she tends to treat the show like it’s one big psychology experiment. There are also conversations between Jane and her imaginary psychiatrist, in which she tries to psychoanalyze herself, which is hilarious.
Jane is dealing with some mental health issues, and she has quit therapy, so in a sense, she’s using the reality show as a form of therapy. As you can imagine, this is not terribly effective. Part of Jane’s issues is coming to terms with religious differences between her and her parents. Jane’s parents are very religious and think every problem can be solved by prayers, while Jane has come to realize that she no longer shares her parents’ beliefs. I liked the way this issue was handled
I did have a couple of issues with the book. My main complaint is that I found it unrealistic that Jane’s parents would allow their 17-year-old daughter, who has some pretty serious issues, to move out on her own. I also found that the book was a bit choppy in places. A couples of times something happened that confused me and I had to flip back to see if I had missed something. I read an advanced copy, so it’s possible that this issue will be tweaked before publication. In any case, neither of these issues were dealbreakers for me, and I really enjoyed the book.
I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.