I picked up Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner, because it was a sequel to Good In Bed, which I had read many years back and enjoyed thoroughly. Jennifer Weiner is also one of the better chick-lit writers out there whose books always offer something a bit more meaningful than the Sophie Kinsella-esque fluff that is so common these days.
If you have not read Good in Bed, do read it if you get a chance. It is a really good read, and far better than it’s rather suggestive title and cover would imply. It is also far better than this rather tepid sequel.
Certain Girls takes place about 15 years after Good in Bed ends. Cannie Shapiro (the heroine in Good in Bed) is now happily married to her dream guy, and she has a 13 year old daughter (from a previous relationship). She spends her time ghost-writing some science fiction novels and planning how to organize her daughter (Joy’s) upcoming bat mitzvah.
Cannie’s husband Peter is dreaming about having another baby and convinces his wife to try out for another baby. Following the trauma of Joy’s birth, Cannie’s not able to have more children, so it means finding a surrogate.
Joy is struggling with an identity crisis. She feels stifled and embarassed by her mother’s over-protectiveness. She has also stumbled across an old book written by her mother, which reveals certain family truths that disturb her.
The story alternates between Joy’s and Cannie’s points of view, so it makes it easy for the reader to understand their motivations.
Eventually, this is a family story that revolves around how mother and daughter resolve various issues that are tearing the family apart, and the life lessons they learn along the way.
My take on this novel
I don’t know what I was expecting when I checked out Certain Girls but it definitely wasn’t this.
The first half of the story was quite predictable and I found the mother-daughter fights to be a wee bit on the hysterical side – way too much drama for very trivial things.
For example, for half the book there is an ongoing drama about a Badgley Mischka dress that Joy wants to wear for her bat mitzvah and to which her mother strenuously objects. I just didn’t get why there was so much fuss over what seemed to be a non-issue. Cannie objects (not for financial reasons, which might make sense), but because it is too party-like for what is essentially a religious ceremony. I really felt that she was being quite unreasonable there. A young girl on the brink of a ceremony that symbolizes her entry into adulthood would definitely want something a little grown-up. Also, the dress sounded perfectly lovely and perfectly suitable to me.
In addition, I was quite disappointed by Cannie’s character. She was very lively and witty in Good in Bed, but here, she seemed to have settled down into becoming a suburban and somewhat whiny mum. She is unable to forget and forgive the people who have done her wrong in the past. I found that rather childish; I mean it’s been more than 10 years for God’s sake. Surely, you can’t still be holding a grudge against people!!
Well, anyway the hysteria builds up to a point where Joy decides to run away from home. And I must say, that is the point onwards where the story direction starts to move in a very unexpected manner. The end of the novel is a complete shocker; I just did not see it coming and neither will you.
In the end, I think the final bits of the novel redeemed it for me. I know the ending would have disappointed some other readers who were looking for something more upbeat, but for me I felt it was the only way to end the story in a strong manner, which gives enough substance to the rest of this otherwise lukewarm novel.
Be warned, it is a tearjerker though. Just perfect for those rainy days when you just want to curl up with a book under a blanket and go sob, sob, sob. I must say, I ended up with a rather runny nose after reading this one!