I received this book for free from Edelweiss, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 13th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
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Some secrets are too good to keep.
Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat.
Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.
Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe.
Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.
But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?
Here’s the thing, technically, Life By Committee is not bad. The writing is solid, the main characters that matter are fairly well developed (Tabitha’s parents are particularly awesome) and, with the exception of a few things I’ll get into momentarily plus an incredibly cheesy end scene, the plot flows smoothly in a sensical arc.
That said, I didn’t like it.
A large part of my problem is Tabitha, the main character. At the beginning of the book, Tabitha is a pretty bitter person. Her parents are expecting a new baby thus ending seventeen years of established family dynamic and she has recently been dumped by her best friend for having the audacity to develop boobs and an interest in boys causing. For reasons I don’t fully understand and having to do with said “friend” this has given Tabitha’s peer group the impression that she is a slut because teenagers are wonderful human beings (sorry teenagers, I don’t mean all of you).
The funny thing is, in many ways I have lots of personal sympathy for this (not the baby part, my sister has been around since I was too young to remember), but the being dumped by your former best friends for having boobs and an awakened sex drive? Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, wore the t-shirt around for awhile before realizing it was a shitty t-shirt and why was I getting all hung up on it anyway? Screw that t-shirt. However, being so intimately acquainted with the t-shirt (apparently I’m still going with this metaphor), even if Tabitha’s continual ranty thought-process on the subject weren’t enough to eventually bore me, I’ve spent so much of my own mental energy in this space, I have very little interest in revisiting it.
I recognize that this is a hugely personal problem and maybe other people who have worn this t-shirt will find comforting solace in seeing themselves in the character. For those fortunate enough to have never had a t-shirt like this, maybe it will be a new and interesting point of view and perhaps it will encourage people to not assume that boobs and a short skirt automatically equal promiscuous (or, even if they go hand in hand this is not necessarily a bad thing and let’s stop talking shit, okay?) Sadly, I am not any of these theoretical people and this was not my only problem with Tabitha.
The other thing that troubled me so much about her is how okay she was with hooking up with another girl’s boyfriend (I mean, she occasionally would mention it being wrong but she didn’t really seem to be all that bothered by it). And then, cherry on top, how obsessively she hated the girlfriend. If she wasn’t moaning about her parents or her perceived status as town merry-go-round, she’s hating on Sasha. Poor, free-spirited Sasha who dares to be fragile, glamorously unusual and, most importantly, dating the asshole Tabitha has convinced herself she’s in love with. The nerve of that girl.
The whole thing takes on the hollow, again I’ll say bitter, feel of a person who’s trying too hard to convince themselves that the thing standing in their way is the devil. While I will agree that this is believable characterization (if you haven’t been there you’re either a liar or so fantastically well-adjusted you should be giving seminars) but it’s not a lot of fun to read over and over and over again.
Moving on, my other issue is with the whole Life By Committee concept and crew. Tabitha stumbles across a mysterious online community where members share their darkest secrets and receive Assignments to be carried out within twenty-four hours or their secrets are “no longer safe.” Sounds a little ominous, but okay, I’m intrigued. The goal of these Assignments is supposedly to help people throw off their personal and societal shackles and embrace a limitless life of possibility and self-love and awesomeness (I think anyway, it’s a little unclear but that seems to be their mission).
In many ways, this is a beautiful idea. Hell yeah you should go for it and not hold yourself back with fear and insecurity. But, and this is an important but, you should not do whatever you want at the expense of everyone else. I am all for being you, letting your freak flag fly and embracing your inner weird as long as you are not infringing on the rights of other people.
One thing I adored about the community is how supportive and encouraging they were of each other. They were wonderful hand-holders and cheerleaders and I wish high school Meg could’ve found a group like this to get her through some of her dark moments (sadly, when I was a teen, the internet was made of dial-up AOL connections and we had chat rooms filled with the kind of perverts who would go on to star in episodes of To Catch A Predator). One thing I abhorred about the community is how quick they were to encourage Tabitha to take drastic actions that she wasn’t always comfortable with (in several instances, strongly against) and had serious consequences not just for her, but for the people around her.
Bad advice aside, the thing that truly bothered me about the LBC situation, is how Tabitha went along with everything. Not only went along with, but stressed herself to the point of extreme anxiety and asseholeish behavior over it. On the one hand, I get it, when your beloved peer group is leaning on you to do something it can be really hard to say no. On the other, TABITHA NO. STOP. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND THEN THINK ABOUT WHY. Eventually, Tabitha grows and learns to stand up for herself over the course of the book, but it gets so incredibly frustrating waiting for her to get there.
The final thing that I take massive issues with is the lack of consequences and shame directed at the guy Tabitha is hooking up with. People who cheat are assholes and this book seems to largely gloss over that. When Tabitha tells the LBC group that she kissed another girl’s boyfriend, what do they say? KISS HIM AGAIN (not a spoiler. it’s on the cover). First clue that you are dealing with a questionable group of people. This is terrible advice. A better Assignment would be STOP HOOKING UP WITH HIM AND TELL HIM HE NEEDS TO BE HONEST WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND IF HE DOESN’T WANT ‘LYING FUCKER’ STAMPED ON HIS PERMANENT RECORD. I understand that everyone makes mistakes and personal relationships are tangled, complicated webs and blah blah blah. There are circumstances in which I can get over cheating but this book featured none of them.
Basically, Life By Committee is a decent book that I probably would’ve rated in the 3.5-4 star range if it hadn’t alternated between frustrating and pissing me off as much as it did. I can see how many of the things I take issue with are realistic parts of Tabitha’s story and growth but holy shit do I take issue. Would I recommend this book? Theoretically yes, no, maybe? I don’t know. I didn’t like it, but you might. Do with that what you will.