Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor [twitter • website]
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: college preparation, Harvard, parent in rehab, cheating
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)
Summary: Juliet’s picture-perfect life goes downhill when her parents split, her dad moves out, her mom tries to pop pills and drink away her depression, and Juliet kisses a guy that’s not her boyfriend. She takes on every responsibility and activity she can to keep herself busy and moving forward, but she begins to realize that perhaps what she’s working so hard for isn’t what she wants.
• • •
Juliet’s perfect life has gone to crap. Her parents have separated, and her dad’s officially moved to the city in his own apartment. Her mom can’t handle the change and Juliet notices she’s drinking more and popping pills frequently. This eventually leads to Juliet finding her on the bathroom floor in a barely conscious state, uncertain if the overdose was intentional or accidental, and left alone to tackle her tumultuous senior year while her mom recovers. While she’s dealing with her grief, her boyfriend is out of the country on vacation with his family. She runs to her best friend’s work where she waits until she’s able to get off work; Juliet gets wrapped up with the new band playing at the country club that night, and one thing leads to another and …she kisses Declan, the sexiest guy in the group.
Very clearly Juliet just doesn’t know how to deal with all of these things piling up in her life; it was quite a lot to handle, especially once school begins and attending Harvard with her boyfriend is her main focus. Her AP classes, extra tutoring, and SAT prep-sessions felt like an insane amount for a girl to handle, but Juliet adds to that by joining a band (without ever really noticing that she could sing before?). I think the key is that she must have been gifted more than 24 hours in a day because I don’t know how she would have balanced it all otherwise. She thinks the kiss (ahem, make-out session) with Declan won’t matter until he enrolls in her school and becomes Public Enemy #1 that she can’t seem to avoid. (Did I mention she joins his band?)
All of last year, I certainly felt like I was fighting to keep my head above the water and Dori’s “Just keep swimming” mantra became my own. But there’s a point where something being plausible begins to feel unrealistic when a certain line is crossed. Perhaps what kept me reading was seeing if Juliet was next in line for an emotional breakdown or panic attack. There were times I wasn’t sure I loved her character — she wasn’t always the nicest, particularly to her father, and the major life realizations she had felt so different from where she was headed that I just wish she would have had more backbone to not follow everyone else’s dreams and to speak up for herself a lot sooner. Juliet tried to live up to crazy high standards, but was critical when people seemed to be functioning at that level (her boyfriend’s mom). The whole cheating topic isn’t really addressed either; things worked out a little too easily for Juliet in this regard and that didn’t really sit well for me.
Better Than Perfect was my first Kantor novel, and I think I would be more inclined to recommend it if the story had felt a little more authentic or tightly pieced together, and possibly if more time had been spent really smoothing out Juliet’s character. It’s so much fun to root for a character going through a bad situation, but when she seems really judgmental and needs a lot of personal growth, it makes her successes a little bittersweet.