I loathed this. You need to read it.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner - Lianne Oelke

 Disclaimer: reviewing digital proof via NetGalley; final version may differ.


This is one of those hard-to-pin-down reviews. I almost put down the book in the first pages, and dragged myself through the first half, and finally adjusted by the second. The voice and format are distinctive, so if you like them in the first place, it'll help. Basically, it's one of those so-real-it-hurts contemporary fiction pieces that capture all the things about teens that makes people avoid them. Snark and superiority, carelessness and endless appetite for causing misery and pushing other people's buttons, willful destruction etc.


High school dropout Jane Sinner is depressed, bored, and checked out of life when she comes across a flyer for a student production; a reality TV roommate show at the local community college. It's a chance to move out of the family home and cut down on conflict with her parents, so she jumps at the chance. Cue snarky thoughts and meaningful silences, passive-aggressive housekeeping battles and pranks, and low-key hijinks, all chronicled in a distinctive journal-and-interior-thoughts format that often reads like a script.


It's painful - and all too familiar. Oelke captures an authentically nihilistic voice, unironic Canadian culture (note the outward politeness, while massively pranking and internally back-talking others). Bizarrely, one of the most unique elements is Jane's background as a church kid, and her experience of questioning and discarding her parent's religion once she realizes she doesn't know God or believe in any of it. Lots of Canadians, and even more Americans, have at least some exposure to North American Christian culture/religion, and yet it never makes it into books outside of the Christian Lit aisle. The way aimlessness and lack of goals/direction, dismal future outlook and relational/romantic ineptness are handled are likewise on point.


At the risk of spoilers, this isn't a heartwarming teen special about overcoming depression/finding a dream/fitting in/adjusting etc. The plot picks up as the tension rises in the reality show Jane participates in, and there are some good twists as it nears the finish line that keep tension high and provide a moderate level of catharsis. The next chapter of Jane's life struck me as unrealistic and too convenient, but maybe it fits well in the world of reality TV/pop entertainment anyways.


I wouldn't call this an enjoyable book (and definitely not a clean one - older teens and adults only for foul language, substance abuse, and some sexual situations), but it does an excellent job at capturing a certain experience of our time. It's the sort of book you may or may not want to read, but you absolutely should spend some time with.