Happy Saturday, guys!
I'm sure most of you are out catching Pokémon right now, but why not take a break and read?
And if you're looking for a book that will blow your mind just like a good catch, look no further than Enter Title Here. I was already excited for the book when I heard it was pitched as House of Cards meets Gossip Girl, but Rahul - who is also a very, very nice and considerate guy - defied my expectations even further.
Read on for more! :)
Expected publication: August 2nd 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Format read: ARC via publisher
Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.
What's a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent's help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.
But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she's already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.
Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)
In this wholly unique, wickedly funny debut novel, Rahul Kanakia consciously uses the rules of storytelling—and then breaks them to pieces.
But that's what's so fantastic and compelling about Enter Title Here. Rahul Kanakia has written a book where Reshma is very much an awful and troubled antihero, but readers are still skillfully drawn into her journey, and left feeling nothing sympathy and empathy until the very last page.
When we first meet Reshma, she's at a place that anyone can relate to: it's senior year, and she's desperate to get into Stanford, her first-choice college. However, that desperation evolves into questionable behavior, as she struggles to figure out what can make her stand out from the thousands of other high school students with similar backgrounds, who are also vying for a spot.
Enter writing, and the promise of a literary agent. Kanakia unabashedly goes meta with the book, having Reshma write a book about "Reshma" and her high school experiences. (The book essentially functions as the manuscript, in some sense.) Along the way, the real Reshma is forced to continuously up the ante on her behavior, in ways that had me cringing, and feeling empathy that she would feel pushed to such lengths - e.g. suing the school to get a certain ranking; trying to force friendships and more.
(So basically, it's Blair Waldorf on Adderall - which will actually make sense, once you read this book)
While it's easy to hate Reshma for being so desperate and calculating, Kanakia is careful to have moments of clarity shine through her machinations. Her need to prove herself to an unrelenting critic of her own imagination is palpable, and readers can't help but feel sympathy for her as she's forced to counter each negative action with an even more grandiose reaction. Her behavior is basically akin to a person lying: you have to tell an even bigger lie each time, to cover it up.
When her house of cards begins to teeter, Kanakia brilliantly shows the struggle Reshman undergoes between wanting to be good, and wanting to win. There are clear-cut moments when the pendulum could have swung in a more forgiving direction, but Reshma's desire to be on top is too ingrained in her for her to change. Though it's never outright stated, Reshma's struggles are also a pointed reminder of the challenges that real-world high school seniors likely undergo every year, and older readers can stand to learn from this vivid representation of their daily stressors.
Kanakia turns the structure and conceit of a YA novel on its head, and produces a work starring an antihero that's not only fascinating, but also an empathetic look at many of the challenges that real-world high school students likely face on a daily basis.
Reshma is initially highly unlikable, but readers will come away having an appreciation of her journey, and learning a little more about themselves at the end of the day. Strongly recommend.
About the author:
Rahul Kanakia’s short stories have been published in Clarkesworld, The Indiana Review, Lightspeed, and Nature. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins, and a BA in economics from Stanford. Rahul lives in Berkeley, California, where he works as an international development consultant. This is Rahul’s debut novel. Visit him online at blotter-paper.com or on Twitter @rahkan.