Hello lovelies and welcome back to my blog! If you’re here because you want to know what all the hype for Lianne Oelke’s Nice Try, Jane Sinner is about — well, I’m here to tell you.
Disclaimer: I purchased this book myself to review, however, links in this post may be affiliate. All opinions are my own and can’t be bought.
More legal information is available here.
First of all, like the title suggests, this is a spoiler-filled review. If you don’t want to be spoiled, then go explore some of my other book reviews instead!
Now to the good stuff.
I have been putting off writing this review for so long now and the only thing I can blame for that is myself: I’m so hesitant to share my feelings about this book because I don’t want to be taken the wrong way!
But alas, I have carefully crafted this review and convinced myself that this is as clear as I can possibly be about my true feelings about Nice Try, Jane Sinner, so here we go.
First things first, I freaking loved this book.
If you have read any of my last couple reviews, you’ll know that I haven’t really enjoyed any of the last books I’ve read — and honestly, that was putting me in a real reading rut. That’s why I was so excited when I started reading NTJS, because it was captivating right from the start.
First things first, we meet the wonderfully funny 17-year-old Jane Sinner, the book’s aptly named main character who has a lot going on: she is in her senior year of high school (in Canada!) when she gets expelled for a suicidal episode (if you find this to be unrealistic, let me tell you: high schools are stupid). Meanwhile, she finds herself in the midst of what can only be described as an existential crisis, as she was raised wholeheartedly youth-group Christian, and is now questioning her beliefs.
After being expelled from high school, Jane decides to finish up her required classes at a local community college, where she plans to later continue her education into psychology. At the community college, she becomes involved in a reality TV show called “House of Orange,” which kind of reminds me of an MTV reality show but with only 6 stars, less cussing, and less pointless drama.
Jane and her new co-stars are put up to a variety of challenges by the House of Orange (HOO) producers, and one of them gets “voted off the island” by their peers every few weeks. HOO becomes wildly popular in the area, but somehow not popular enough for Jane’s parents to find out about it until about halfway through the book.
Jane also has a devotion to her high school best friend, Bonnie, who remains in the back of her mind as a little subplot, as well as a connection with her little sister, Carol, who seemed to have taken Jane’s suicidal episode worse than anyone else.
So now you know the basics. Here’s what I thought:
Firstly, I loved that NTJS was written in such a unique style. The book is basically Jane’s diary, so we get to see her innermost thoughts, but there is still dialogue, which is formatted sort of like a screenplay would be.
I couldn’t get enough of that.
I felt like I got through the book so quickly because I didn’t have to deal with pesky dialogue tags around every corner, plus, the 17-year-old mindset of Miss Sinner kept the book’s voice youthful and humorous. It’s been a long time since I read a funny book.
I also loved how real the book was.
A lot of times, authors (particularly YA authors) try to throw in modern slang and buzz words — and when it’s an adult writer writing YA, that can be problematic. And awkward.
This wasn’t the case with this book. In just the first few pages, the author, Lianne Oelke, mentioned Facebook and Netflix, but unlike many other authors, it didn’t sound like she was our 50-year-old great aunt trying to “connect” with us youngsters. (I don’t think she’s anywhere close to 50 years old, for the record.) It was real and raw, and I have so much appreciation for that.
(The only thing I really couldn’t get behind as far as realism goes is how little interaction Jane has with her parents after moving out — and that they even let her move out knowing how the state of her mental health — but I’m attributing that to the fact that we can only see this story through the eyes of Jane, and she very well could just be leaving out the parts involving Mama and Papa Sinner.)
Regardless of that menial plot hole, I also couldn’t get enough of Jane’s silly quips — in my notes, I called them “unexpected anti-clichés.” Basically, Jane messes up idioms on purpose: e.g., the domino that broke the camel’s back, or, letting the cat out of the building.
It’s stupid and silly and wonderful. Don’t fight me on it.
Additionally, Oelke writes in her author bio that she works in the film industry, and that’s pretty obvious by her writing style (screenplay-esque dialogue!), and by her sheer knowledge of film production, which was obviously integral to a story about a reality show.
It was honestly refreshing to read an author who knows what she’s talking about.
I’m not sure whether or not this is an own-voices novel as far as depression goes, but as someone who has dealt with mental health issues myself as well as having been around others who have suffered from major depressive disorder, I have to say that NTJS was pretty realistic as far as that was concerned, too.
Except for one VERY problematic line.
I hate to bring this up, but I have to if I’m going to review this book honestly. I loved every single part of this book, and I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars for its amazing entertainment value and great message for YA/NA readers.
Let me step back and repeat: I loved this book more than I’ve loved any book in a LONG time.
But I could only give it 4.9 out of 5 stars, because despite the fact that Jane takes her depression very seriously (as she should), she had a really, really insensitive line on page 209 — a line that took me out of the story, that never would be uttered by someone who had experienced a mental health crisis like Jane had, that never should have made it into this book.
“If I have to retake Bio,” Jane/Oelke writes, “I’ll kill myself. For real this time.”
Put simply: that’s not okay. Humor in stories is great. Mental health representation in stories is great. But mental health (read: suicidal depression) is not a joke. And I really wish someone had caught this before the book was published.
To me, the message of the book was ruined by just this line. Suicide is not caused by “retaking Bio” or failing a class. And while some people may joke about it, I find it hard to believe that Jane Sinner, who legitimately tried to kill herself before the beginning of this book/journal/diary, would make a statement like this.
And what is that saying to young girls and boys who do suffer from suicidal thoughts stemming from depression? That one failure can or should push them over the edge?
I feel like a lot of time and effort was put into making this book an accurate representation of teen life in the 2010s, complete with mental health representation and even faith questioning. But I still can’t get over that one line.
Honestly, I’m pretty upset about the fact that I can’t overlook it, because otherwise, this is one of my favorite books, possibly of all time. I’ve recommended it to so many people, and I will continue to. But in a later edition, if that line on page 209 was omitted (because it does nothing for the story anyway), I would be able to stand even taller behind Oelke and her debut novel, Nice Try, Jane Sinner.
With that, I give this book 4.9 out of 5 stars. This is Oelke’s debut novel, and I can honestly say that I will be picking up anything this woman writes from this moment forward. She’s that good. In fact, she could be the next Meg Cabot. (And I really hope she is! Can someone say movie deals?)
Until then, I’ll probably read Nice Try, Jane Sinner at least once more. It’s my favorite book of 2018 (so far), and my favorite YA book since I read Twilight in sixth grade.
Seriously. You need to read this book. That’s all I have to say.