I wanted to give the author another chance to win me over after really disliking her first book’s writing style and characters and while this book is an easier read, I was shocked when the Empire Records inspired story really crossed over to me to being almost plagiarism. I was a huge fan of Empire Records as a teen in the 90s, and can quote the movie, recall with little effort when Rex Manning Day is (it was yesterday), and know what is going to happen at 1:37 exactly, so I was really excited to see what this Muslim author did with her spin of turning a music store in to an idie bookstore and focusing the story on three high school females. I wasn’t expecting the spin to be so minor though, and to still find an AJ and a Warren in the character list, a girl shaving her head, an employee dance party on the roof, a scummy celebrity, a celebrity assistant hinted at romance, a character deciding that today is the day to tell her crush how she feels, you get the point, it is remarkably similar. If you haven’t seen the PG 13 movie, the book isn’t terrible, but it is very scattered with three voices, a lot of side characters- often random, and unresolved story threads, the book takes place in one day after all, I don’t know that it is really worth the time to read it. There is straight and LGBTQ+ romance and break ups mentioned, a kiss, alcohol, vape pens, marijuana, sexual assault, some violence (slapping), a theft, language and one character has Arab parents and mentions Middle Eastern poets as well as likens the book store connecting people to the concept of an Ummah in Islam. I can’t think of a demographic that I’d really recommend the book to, nor do I think that I’d ever read it again, the author’s writing style for me improved slightly but the characters are forgettable and the story un original. In terms of appropriateness probably high school readers, 14 and up.
Eli is closing up Wild Nights Bookstore and Emporium and accidentally opens the manager’s computer and accidentally logs in to her accounts and accidentally learns from her emails that the book store is closing in less than two weeks. He then sees that the bank account is still logged in and finds a petty-cash account that has $9,000 and decides that he for once in his life is going to try and help out the store and invest in something to grow the money and hopefully delay the closing. Unfortunately he buys nine grand worth of Air Jordan knock-off shoes, and is unable to return them. The next day when the entire staff rolls in to work, bits of the story come out, some know the store is closing, others are sensing something is amiss when boxes are being unloaded that don’t contain books, and to top it all off a famous author is doing a book signing later in the day.
Each of the characters has something going on as well on this particular day, Rinn is going to tell AJ she loves him and use her influencer status to try and rally support for Wild Night, Daniella is going to lift the veil on her secret poetry writing and share it, and Imogen is going to break up with her girlfriend of nine months and shave her head. None of the girls like each other, and go out of their way to be down right nasty to one another, but eventually they come around, they support one another in the face of them losing their beloved store, and helping each other when one is sexually assaulted by the famous author. Along the way the reader meets the quirky characters that come to the bookstore regularly, some that never leave, a manager who never seems to be there, and an owner with weird rules about technology in the store.
The climax is the girls stepping in to their own and becoming vulnerable to who they are to one another, the world, and ultimately themselves. The book store isn’t saved in it’s entirety, but it isn’t lost either and the direction forward looks infinitely more unified than the crazy day the they all just had.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that the wave of nostalgia that hit me as I recalled the regular watching and quoting of Empire Records from my younger days, but that really was about all the book gave me. I wanted to love the girls coming together to save the day, but they were really crass and rough and while I’m glad they did get to a place of tolerance, the transition wasn’t cathartic because their original irritations with one another didn’t seem justified. The lack of character connection made it hard to cheer for them when they broke free from what they perceived was holding them back as well. For example, I wanted to be giddy with nerves when Daniella stepped on that stage, but the emotion just wasn’t there. There was a lot of telling, not showing, and with three perspectives, it was just stretched too thin.
I kind of like that Islam and the concept of Ummah was referenced at the end, but really only someone like me looking for it and piecing together the poets she mentioned, her one parent being from Lebanon and the other coming to America after the six day war would even take that conversation as being in sync with the character. She might not be Muslim, she is a lesbian has/had a girlfriend, and it is a non issue. Religion is otherwise not mentioned in relation to her or any other character. A French Tunisian customer calls her habibti and says ‘Handulullah.” I probably am reading to much in to it, old habits die hard and even after writing over 500 reviews, I still get so excited to see someone in literature possibly identifying as Muslim.
One thing that really stood out to me as a hole in the story was that it never said what Danny’s plan was, just kept hearing that it was a terrible, awful plan. That bothered me. The pacing is also off, to have all this happen in one day you would think it was all happening so quick, but then there are really long winded tangents about cell phone cases and grape soda. At times it is such a time crunch and at other times everyone is chilling on the roof or in the alleyway it is no surprise there is not enough business.
Copied from above: There is straight and LGBTQ+ romance and break ups mentioned, kissing, alcohol consumption, a massive hangover, vape pens, marijuana, sexual assault, some violence (slapping), a theft, language. Nothing is really sensationalized though, the
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Not even tempted to use this as a book club, or recommend others to do so. There is no real literary or representation value, in my opinion.