Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Rich and Pretty" by Rumaan Alam

This book feels mostly mis-marketed. Its summer release, its light & happy cover, its description of two best friends living enviable lives in New York City all scream light-hearted beach read. It is not light, and not overly happy. There are stakes in this story of childhood BFFs Sarah and Lauren figuring out how their friendship works now that they are adults living separate and rapidly diverging lives. 

It's not an incessantly light, happy book, but it is a true one. Alam describes the ins and outs of deep friendship with ease and intimacy. How you can love someone while you also hate their flaws more than you could with a blood relative or partner. How you can understand someone better than they understand themselves, but still be surprised by their decisions and actions. How you want what is best for your friend, but have to support them even when they don't listen to you. Sarah and Lauren navigate their changing friendship as they grow older, reaching different stages of their lives at different times. They decide what and when to tell their best friend, and what to keep to themselves.

The core friendship is portrayed honestly and truthfully. Though, unfortunately it really is all the book has. There isn't much of a plot, and even time passes strangely. We check in with Sarah and Lauren weekly, then monthly, then after years go by without any real reason for the acceleration of time in the second half other than the absence of a true plot or stakes that would prevent such and acceleration. But neither does a plot exactly call for it. It was nice to check in with the characters at these points in their lives, but I wish they had felt more deliberately chosen or the pacing structured more consistently. 

Alam's writing is solid, with interesting descriptions and turns of phrase. The audio narration is good, though I would have preferred two narrators as the book shifts from Sarah to Lauren. It was sometimes difficult to determine whose thoughts I was privy to at any given moment, particularly because there is no indication of a new chapter beginning that I noticed. Overall, it was worth the listen for the deep character study, despite its structural flaws. 

Verdict: Jury's Out. In a year of strong reads, it's not going to make my top 10, or even 20. But I enjoyed getting to know Sarah and Lauren and think book clubs would find a lot to discussing in their different lives. 

"Rich and Pretty" by Rumaan Alam, published June 7, 2016 by Ecco. Audio narration by Julie McKay, published June 7, 2016 by HarperAudio.

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