Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review: 'Enter Title Here' by Rahul Kanakia

Let me just start by saying that Enter Title Here is like no other YA book I've read before. This has both good and bad implications.

This book follows Reshma Kapoor, a teenage girl described as "any college counselor's dream". She's the top of her class, and she believes that perfection is something that is easily obtainable and achieved if only you set out to get there. Essentially, she is so aware of what it takes to succeed and get good grades in the current North American high school system that she pretty much has it rigged. This is why it's appalling to her when she an English teacher fails her for a poem she wrote that showed no originality or genuineness; because it doesn't. This is where the downfall of Reshma's perfection comes into play; she's so obsessed with knowing what it takes to get good grades that she has absolutely no sense of what it means to be genuine.

Enter Title Here provides a really fresh and original perspective in that it shows what it's like for an Indian-American student who's been shown the harsh differences between the schooling her parents received in India, which gives new definition to the word overachieving, and the schooling she's receiving in America. That's why Reshma has herself convinced that she is better than everyone in her school. And her marks clearly reflect this. But the downside? Reshma has no friends, no one who likes her (with good reason, but I'll get to that later), and no real "high school experiences". She's also addicted to Adderall, despite the fact that she tells the reader that she stops taking it from time to time just to prove she's not addicted. And because she has none of this, she's convinced that she has no "hook" that will secure her a top spot at Stanford. So what does she do? She gets herself a literary agent after writing a well-received article in the Huffington Post so she can publish a novel and get herself noticed. But now, in order to have something to write about for this novel, Reshma needs some friends, a boyfriend and some of those "experiences" she's had no time to have because she's been too busy popping behavioral meds and scoring nothing under an 87 in any class for years. She even calls reading for pleasure and listening to music a waste of time.

You're probably realizing now that Enter Title Here not only has a unique premise, but a completely unrealistic premise. And I think that's the point, because its unrealistic elements become quickly apparent to the reader. To me, it read more like a satirical, comedy of manners, all while maintaining a pretty typical YA style. I mean, what teenage girl just gets an email out of the blue from a literary agent telling her she wants her to write a book? In my dreams.

The main problem with this book? Reshma Kapoor is an extremely unlikable protagonist. She's cruel, vindictive, and the way she's willing to screw anyone over just to maintain her own academic standing borders on the sociopathic. Not only that, she sued her high school when they didn't name her valedictorian, claiming racial prejudice. When that English teacher failed her poem? She immediately threatens to sue her ass off. Yet, even with all these very appalling character traits that completely turned me away from liking the character, I can't say that I disliked this character's perspective completely. While she is downright unlikable and off-putting, I can't deny that it was interesting to read about a character who doesn't take shit from anyone regarding her schooling and academics, because she has the American school system twisted around her little finger. While it wasn't enjoyable in the slightest most of the time, it was still a pretty refreshing perspective.

Even with these original and refreshing attributes, Enter Title Here is pretty much a mess. The book's structure is all over the place, as are its supporting characters, and the author seems to change his mind by the chapter on who exactly he wants Reshma to be. She changes her mind like she changes her shirt, despite repeated claims that she's not your typical teenage girl. I think this is why this book has received such largely mixed reviews; it's a very refreshing portrait of what it's like to be an overachiever in American high school culture, but the protagonist is so cruel and unlikable that it completely crushes the mood, flat like a pancake. I'm not saying that all protagonists have to be likable, but if you continually make the list of her negative attributes longer (like this author does for the entire book), then it's kind of hard to find a sense of enjoyment whatsoever. 3/5 stars.

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