How to Buy a Love of Reading: A Novel by Tanya Egan Gibson (Plume; $15.00; 400 pages)
Two highbrow writers and several low brow nouveau riche folks who reside in a community ruled by excess and one-upmanship are skewered with wicked satire in this irresistible debut novel by Tanya Egan Gibson. Rest assured, Ms. Gibson takes the time, and she has the talent, to fully develop her characters. Everyone from the protagonist, Carley Wells, to the object of her affection, Hunter Cay, takes their turn in the spotlight.
This is far from the usual ugly duckling or misfit gone berserk story. Rather, the reader is permitted to delve into the complexities of what appears to be a very “simple” girl. Carley is the vulnerable 16-year-old daughter of a brassiere mogul. She does not fit in size-wise or intellectually with her prep school classmates. Moreover, Carly has not encountered a book that she likes. This is problematic as she is expected to earn a passing grade in prep school literature and go on to college. To make matters worse, her harridan of a mother, Gretchen, lacks even a smidgen of empathy or love for anyone but herself.
Hunter Cay is a brilliant writer and obscenely beautiful fellow who is one year Carley’s senior. He and Carley formed an unusual friendship when he and his mother became part of the wealthy community following his mother’s divorce from his billionaire father. Carley loves him unconditionally and proves it by her willingness to accept whatever attention and caring he gives her. She dotes on him and is also a first-class enabler of his vices.
There are parties galore to celebrate birthdays, literature and Hunter’s mother’s engagement. The descriptions of the elaborate decorations, clothing and food for these events are spot on for a wealthy enclave, which makes this reviewer think that Ms. Gibson may have attended a few such parties in her own lifetime. Carley’s birthday party has the craziness reminiscent of the masquerade ball in the classic film “The Pink Panther.”
All of this foolishness aside, there is much more to this book than a satirical plot. The theme explores the idea of growing up into who you need to be to allow yourself to lead a meaningful life. There are casualties along the way – the notion of the value of extreme wealth being one of them. Even with billions, some of the characters are hard pressed to escape their personal fears and demons. By the end of the tale, the reader will have a deeper understanding of human frailties and an expanded sense of compassion.
Highly recommended. The trade paper version was recently released.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.