Monday, March 26, 2012

If You Were Here - Jen Lancaster

If You Were Here
Jen Lancaster
New American Library

It’s time for Mia and Mac to buy a house.  If you’ve ever gone house-hunting, you will recognize every moment of their ordeal.  Looking at houses starts out as an adventure.  Then it gets funny; finally it turns into a soul-crushing slog through wrong places.  Mia and Mac see a Porn House – a house with mirrored everything.  We saw one, too.  Maybe there’s some universal law that every MLS must contain a Porn House?  The best ‘wrong place’ we saw, though, was a house that contained no oven or stove, but had knocked out walls to create one huge hair salon-cum-tiki bar.  The salon came complete with three styling stations and a couple of shampoo sinks; the tiki bar boasted a thatched roof attached to the ceiling.  No lie.  Amazingly, we did not buy that house.
Mia and Mac have reached the point that many people do: they’re not happy in their rental property.  Their unhappiness stems from a tagger and his gangster-wannabe friends who will not stop, and in fact become dangerous; and their landlord, tabloid staple Vienna Hyatt.  I have to admit, as annoyed as I got with Mac later in the book, his counter-measure solutions to the tagger were things of beauty. 

Since Mia writes a successful YA book series about teenaged Amish zombies in love, they’ve got the means to look for a house in the neighborhood of their choice.  And, since Mia harbors a deep and abiding love for the late filmmaker John Hughes and his body of work, her dream is to live in the Cambs, a Chicago suburb where Hughes did some filming.  When it turns out that Jake Ryan’s house (the house used for filming Sixteen Candles) is for sale, Mia knows the universe is smiling on her.  Never mind that the place clearly hasn’t been updated since the 80s; an addiction to HGTV convinces her that renovations are not a deal-breaker.  In fact, she’d quite like to put her own stamp on the place.  And so it begins.

Anyone who ever bought a fixer-upper (or knows anyone who knows anyone who has) can see what’s coming next.  Despite an enviable bank account, renovations always cost more and take longer than you think.  Imagine The Money Pit, only with more pathos and Amish zombies.  A project like this can really impact jobs, friendships, and relationships, as Mia and Mac discover. 
Narrated by Mia, the story winds through the purchase and renovation phases, with a stop in L.A. to discuss a movie deal, just for good measure.  It’s written in a breezy and sarcastic style, and clearly for laughs.  While I’m not usually a fan of the ‘…and zany antics ensue’ school, somehow the author never quite crosses that line for me.  The frustrations and problems come across as very real and potentially life-changing.  I had a problem putting it down once I became involved with Mia and her friends.  The supporting cast is uniformly entertaining and I’m alternately terrified of and wish I knew Mia’s Babcia.
Rating: 7 ½
March 2012
ISBN# 978-0-451-23668-5 (trade paperback)



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