Review: Tell Me Three Things – Julie Buxbaum

tell me three thingEverything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tell Me Three Things is well-worth the high praise it’s been receiving, and is the pitch-perfect combination of serious and sweet.

The book also makes use of one my favourite plot devices – that of the mysterious message sender. In this case, the missives come in the form of emails from someone who reaches out to new girl Jessie and offers her advice on navigating the vicious waters of a new LA high school.

My mom once told me that the world is divided into two kinds of people: the ones who love their high school years and the ones who spend the next decade recovering from them. 

The humour in this book is spot-on – funny, yet understated. The serious stuff is equally well done – particularly Jessie’s navigation of grief following the death of her mother, and the complete isolation and displacement she feels when she is uprooted from her home in Chicago to the sterile, stylish mansion of her father’s new wife. I particularly enjoyed the depiction of the dynamics of this new, suddenly blended family – step-mother Rachel is not portrayed as the stereotypical bitch, but rather a seemingly-detached figure who nevertheless tries to make an effort; a figure who still mourns her own dearly departed. The relationship between Jessie and her new step-brother Theo is also rather sweet to behold – they start out fairly antagonistic, but reach a supportive understanding with one another.

There’s nothing lonelier than a hand on glass. Maybe because its so rarely reciprocated. 

The female friendships are another positive aspect of this book. Dri and Agnes, for example, who come to take Jessie under their wing when she is so unbearable lonely. Scarlett, the best friend that Jessie left behind in Chicago, and the way that you don’t quite fit properly anymore after being away for so long – more importantly, the way you work to overcome these changes as the friendship evolves.

And finally, of course, there’s the romance. Since the actual getting together only takes place on the last page, the relationship really builds over the messaging. Which, as our MC also realizes, is also problematic – it’s nice and easy when you can carefully pick your words and curate your image – real-life is much different.

Jessie as a character is really someone with whom you can empathise. She’s mature, but not an adult in a teenager’s body. She’s insecure at times, scared, lonely and disorientated, but she’s also resilient, determined and recognizes her own problematic behavior. She’s someone we can all identify with, and more importantly, root for.

Honestly, there are so many other aspects I could comment on – the frank discussions about sex, and depiction of teen sexuality, the mention of a character with IBS  (Represent!)… but this review is beginning to take on thesis-like proportions.

Overall, a really wonderful YA contemporary.

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10 thoughts on “Review: Tell Me Three Things – Julie Buxbaum

  1. I have this sitting in front of me and I have to say, the premise of the anonymous notes is not really grabbing me (both from a gimmicky point of view and a not-fan-of-epistolary-fiction point of view). But both you and Joy loved this, so I am going to try it this weekend!

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  2. You just confirmed what I’ve heard previously with regard to this. I’m not normally one for contemporary YA, I find many of them immature and eye-watering boring, but this one sounds different and I will try it. Wonderful review 🙂

    Like

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