Many probably heard last week’s buzz around the Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign to end the stigma around mental health. You may have been one of the three million who tweeted the hashtag #BellLetsTalk that helped raise over $5.5 million for mental health initiatives.
In UBC’s latest pick, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, Wolitzer provides a realistic account of trials and tribulations of a group of teenagers from their time at “Spirit in the Woods” a creative arts summer camp, through adulthood in New York City. This realism is depicted mostly through the lens of the protagonist and narrator of the book, Jules – a funny, intelligent girl, with modest rural upbringings and frizzy hair.
Jules suffers extreme insecurity and constantly dismisses her own valuable traits and instead admiring the money, the looks of her closest friends–and everything that is not her own. Further, Jules is married to a man with clinical depression. (I know this doesn’t sound like the happiest read so far, but it is a meaningful one).
Wolitzer has sympathy for the most of the main characters she creates, and can be applauded for providing a convincing account of what it would be like to be by the side of someone suffering so severely from depression for their entire lives.
Love, deceit and fear are present throughout the novel: Ethan Figman, the multimillionaire cartoonist and producer of Figland, a Simpsons-like cartoon, marries the beautiful and talented best friend of Jules, Ash Goodman. However, it is clear throughout the book that Jules is his true love;
Ash keeps a huge secret about the location of her brother Wolf Goodman who flees the country after being accused of rape. While Ethan feels betrayed by this, he meanwhile cannot learn to love their autistic son;
And Jonah, the quiet, talented musician in the group of “interestings” was betrayed at a young age by a close friend of his famous folk-singing mother, who drugged him and stole his music. Jonah never told his mother, or anyone, that the songs playing on the radio for the many years to follow actually belonged to him. Jonah was favored the least among UBC members, but was my favourite of them all.
Listed here are only a handful of examples of obstacles encountered by characters in this novel. Some UBC members were moved by the character development and the variety of situations each of them faced. For others it was not their cup of tea.
One thing The Interestings provided was a great book club discussion. There is a lot of currency to the book, with themes easily linked to today’s public conversation: from mental illness, marriage, the arts, to underage and underpaid factory workers abroad.
If you’re looking for a character novel and interested in how the creativity or talent of youth translates into adult life, and everything that comes in between– I would definitely recommend it.