Where Is He Now?, by Jennifer Greene

>> Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Where Is He Now?, was my first book by Jennifer Greene. I think I might have a couple of her old categories in my TBR, but I haven't read them yet.

A 15-year high school reunion can be a fun-filled occasion, or a stark reminder of things lost or not accomplished. Jeanne Claire Cassiday and her two friends make up the reunion committee, but they are having a tough time rounding up speakers.

Voted 'Most Likely to Succeed' in school, Nate Donneli is their first choice. However, he broke Jeanne's heart and—in her mind—sidetracked her life plan. Should she use this opportunity to learn why?

Nate's life was once filled with hopes and dreams he'd share with Jeanne. But just after starting college, everything changed with the unexpected death of his father. Over the years he's managed to turn the rundown Donneli garage into the much-sought-after Donneli Motors. Life rarely offers second chances—does this reunion offer new opportunities?
I wasn't impressed by my first Greene. There wasn't anything I really, really hated here, but it was all pretty dull, dull, dull. My grade: a C-.

The book takes place during the run-up to a 15-year reunion, and features a romance between a couple of high school sweethearts who get back together, so obviously, there's a lot of high school-ey themes here, and that was the first turn-off. This universe is completely alien to me, and I was aghast at the way certain things I found incredible were taken so matter-of-factly by the characters. Is this really common, the institutionalization of popularity and labels? Voting people Most Likely to Succeed, or Best Athlete, or most popular (I guess that's more or less what a prom queen would be)? I was really turned off by how the characters would go around refering to each other by these labels "Hi there, Best Brain" - "Hey, Best Musician". Blegh! Also, it seemed like some of these people hadn't got over their high school years yet, and that felt stupid.

Luckily, this high school theme was left behind before long, and the real theme of the book came to the forefront: new dreams, how all the characters now had to reassess what they wanted from life. That was ok.

I didn't much like the characters, especially the main couple. Jeanne Claire was an irritating martyr. I just couldn't believe how she dealt with her dad and business. That's not being a good daughter, that's being stupid. I found her boring, basically. Too goody-goody and too bland. The only thing that gave her a bit of colour was her friendship with Tamara, a much more interesting character. I really liked the portrayal of their friendship.

Nate was also bland and unremarkable. I did like that he was a real bully at first, but in the end he realized what he'd been doing and stops, that was interesting at least, if not particularly nice of him. I got the feeling that he was punishing his family for the fact that he had had to sacrifice his dreams for them, and he was doing it by forcing them to go into the family business / not go into the family business (depending on the person), and sacrifice their dreams, too. Oh, and I really, really dislike the very sexual way he and his brothers would refer to those old cars. Probably the problem is I simply dislike cars...

I just couldn't bring myself to care about Nate and Jeanne Claire's relationship. They were bland and boring in themselves, and they were bland and boring as a couple. Plus, their relationship was narrated with long jumps in time between the different events, so I never got the feeling it flowed naturally.

I found the secondary relationship, between Jeanne Claire's best friend, Tamara, and Arnold, who used to be the class nerd, potentially much more interesting than the protagonists, and they got way too few scenes for my taste.

The book has a lot of references to pop culture, and these were something else I just didn't get. 90% of the songs and movies and so on that were mentioned I simply didn't recognize. That's, of course, not the author's fault, as her target audience is obviously not a Uruguayan in her mid-20s, but it contributed to my dissatisfaction with the book.

I might be open to trying one of the author's category titles, as they're supposed to be excellent, but I think I'll stay clear of her single titles.


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