Sunday, January 07, 2018

Jane Sinner Has Left the Building: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

Carol barged into my room as soon as she got home from her youth group.

CAROL: But why do you have to move out? Why won't you stay home and go to school?

JS: Don't tell the parents, but their heavy-handed approach to religion and my inability to fit into their narrow, conservative framework is crushing my delicate and blossoming identity as an autonomous individual.

CAROL: Sorry, what??

JS: They're killing my buzz.

CAROL: But what about me?

JS: You'll get over it.

CAROL: You've changed, Jane.

Poor sweet Carol. She wouldn't know an existential crisis if it punched her in the face.

Jane Sinner, on the other hand, knows an existential crisis when she sees one, and one has punched her in the face.

Along with the usual teen-aged angst, her internal conflict over being an atheist in an evangelical family prompts an impromptu suicide attempt, and her refusal to continue therapy gets her expelled from high school. Now, Jane has a new thought:

Ditching high school five months before graduation isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The only option Jane sees for herself is enroll at Elbow River Community College in their high school completion program--if she can find a way to pay for a place to live near campus.

And then she is recruited by Alexander, a film student who's recruiting a mixed bag of students to participate in an online streaming reality show. All Jane has to do is to live in sleazy communal housing, The House of Orange, compete in endless aimless contests for the prize--Alexander's old car--against Chaunt'Elle, the girl in orange makeup, Marc, a 39-year-old "student" who likes to hit on teen-aged girls, and Robbie, an otherwise seemingly nice guy who seems to be OCD about germs--all the while being filmed and recorded virtually every minute. And Marc steals her food. Of course, if Jane gets voted out, the whole plan is kaput!

And just as she begins to believe that she and Robbie have a nice romance going, he finagles a way to get her voted off the show so he can win. She's got to move out of the House of Orange to... somewhere..., her heart is broken, and finals are coming up.

No stress there, right?

Luckily, Jane has two old friends, Bonnie and Tom, and an (imaginary) psychiatrist with the best shrink name ever, Dr. Freudenschade, on her side.
Jane settled down on Dr. Freudenschade's couch. Her hair is a rat's nest, and her eyes are bloodshot.
JS: Help.
DFS: What's on TV tonight?
JS: That's
it? What happened to professionalism?
DFS. You know it was all bullshit anyway. Stop trying so hard.

With much ironic talk about Chicken McNuggets and Twizzlers, theodicies and apologetics, and teen sturm und drang, progress is made toward understanding The Meaning of Life, in Lianne Oelke's first book, Nice Try, Jane Sinner (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018). As a smart, savvy, and preternaturally comic protagonist, Oelke's Jane makes her way through her own improbably successful first semester as a semi-college student. Narrated in Jane's diary entries and script-like dialog with her cohorts, this young adult novel has the feel of a day in the life, with dry wittiness and the undercurrent of a plucky heroine feeling her way through her own coming-of-age story in which she learns a Shroedering-esque lesson, that life is, and is not, a reality show. Jane doesn't get it all together, but she's on her way.
Dr. Fraudenschade: I wish you wouldn't put your feet on the table.
JS: Who cares? It's not real.
DFS. It's the thought that counts.
J.S. So how long do I have to keep coming back here?
DFS: What did you expect? That at age eighteen you'd have all your shit together?
JS: Yes.


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