You Take it From Here by Pamela Ribon.
Warning: There are some minor spoilers in this review (See Disclaimers, Section Three). Review continues after the fold.
TL;DR: Disappointing compared to Ribon’s other books, but still very well written. Recommended for those who enjoy dysfunctional friendships and crying.
I’ve been a fan of Pamela Ribon (aka Pamie.com) for several years. I’ve read her blog religiously since around 2003 or so. I haven’t taken the time to go back through her archives and I wasn’t around in the TWOP or Squishy days. But I feel like my fandom is pretty well established.
I love the way she writes and I love her sense of humor and I kinda have an internet-semi-celebrity crush on her.
I’ve read and really enjoyed Ribon’s three other novels. I can earnestly recommend them to just about anyone who likes to read. All of this explains why I pre-ordered You Take it From Here months in advance and was eager to consume it.
It really bummed me out that I didn’t like it more than I did. Pamie’s writing is, as always, crisp and accessible. She often makes me laugh out loud while reading. (And not in that instant messenger “I’m gonna say ‘lol’ but no sound is coming out of my mouth” kind of way. I mean sitting alone in my house at 11pm laughing. Out loud.)
I wanted very badly to like this book. But in the end I couldn’t.
This book is principally about a relationship. The narrator, Danielle, and Smidge have been best friends since they were fourteen. When Smidge gets terminal cancer, she asks Danielle to take over her life, stepping into the role of mother for her teenage daughter and wife to her widowed husband. The idea at the heart of the book is a good one. It’s a premise that is at once absurd enough to be entertaining and realistic enough to be compelling: that a friendship could be so powerful that it could cause the someone to completely uproot her life. That’s a beautiful idea, and one that resonates with me.
So what went wrong?
It’s Smidge. I didn’t … couldn’t … like her.
I know that Smidge has some real-life inspirations. Pamie has written about her, as she calls them, “bossy friends” enough times, and she’s always done so with good humor and love. They are women who I’ve never met, but from the obvious affection that Pamie puts on the page (err … blog) I would like to. But in You Take it From Here their fictional surrogate, Smidge, is so pushy, needy and demanding that she elicits no sympathy in me. Much of her bad behavior is motivated from a desire to maintain control while her life is, literally, falling apart. I get that. But she has no caring, generous side to counter-balance that behavior, or if she does it never appears on the page. Danielle tells us over and over how lovable Smidge is, but in the face of her behavior I just couldn’t believe it.
What’s worse is that once I realized I didn’t like Smidge, I started to not like Danielle either. Our narrator allows herself to be pushed around in egregious fashion by someone who obviously views friendship as a one-way street. This eventually caused me to lose respect and affection for Danielle.
Secondary characters like Tucker and Smidge’s husband and daughter are more sympathetic and engaging, but they are just that: secondary. Their humanizing influences from the margins were not enough to draw me back into the story.
I hate being so critical about an author who I really like and admire. Don’t imagine for a moment that this (to me) misstep will diminish my love for Ribon’s work. I’m probably going to go back and re-read Why Girls Are Weird for the fourth time, just to rediscover that affection. It is only because my expectations were so high that I was so disappointed.
I hope you’re not mad at me, Pamie. I promise to buy two copies of your next book. 🙂