Published by Disney-Hyperion on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Reading Challenges: 2016 50 Book Challenge
Source: ARC from NCTE Conference
I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.
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.)
Holy unlikeable protagonist, Batman!
Where do I even start? Enter Title Here can best be described as a meta-novel. The protagonist, Reshma Kapoor, has been graced with connections to a literary agent who has expressed a legit interest in publishing a book that Reshma has pitched. According to Reshma, this book will be a fascinating expose of a straight-A student who tries to live a “normal” high school life. Reshma imagines her book as a sort of high school-dramedy type of story where the nerd gets her first kiss, learns to live a little, and still makes it into her dream school. She’s got it all planned out…until everything, at every turn, doesn’t happen as planned. The novel is told as Reshma is writing it, so she regularly writes about writing — where she sees the story going, how’s she’s plotting out the narrative, etc.
Reshma herself is a fascinating character. She’s pretty much entirely unlikable from page one, and this does not let up as the story continues. In particular, she will do anything it takes to secure her spot as valedictorian and ensure her admission to Stanford — including litigation, cheating, and blackmail. She’s suing her school for changing the GPA formula, suing her teacher for being racist, and blackmailing people into being her friend (and she adds more to this plate as the novel moves forward). One thing’s for sure: the girl is driven. She’s driving down a seedy back alley while running over anyone in her path, but she’s driven.
The narrative arc of the story revolves around a few key plot points. First, will Reshma remain valedictorian and get into her dream school? Second, will Reshma write a great book? Third, will she become a better person in the process? These plots are bolstered by several subplots, including the possibility of a romantic relationship and Reshma’s lingering anger at her parents for allowing their Silicon Valley company to be taken over by their business partner (Mark Zuckerberg-style).
However, I did not end up loving the plot of Enter Title Here, for several reasons. Though I respect Kanakia’s intelligence here and the almost-absurdity of some of the things that happen, the story was immensely confusing. Upon finishing, I realized this was because the story all over the place. It had too much going on, it had too many plots, and the plots would be left hanging, picked up later, underdeveloped, etc. I’m all for pushing the envelope, but this felt like cutting up the envelope and trying to put it back together again. The story was certainly interesting and certainly there, so I do have to give it props for what it did do: make me think.
Y’all know I love a thinker. I love when a book brings up issues of social class, race, gender, sexuality, and all that jazz. Of all the books I’ve read, Enter Title Here probably comes closest to looking like the real people I’ve met in my own schooling experience. My experience has never been one with clearly defined social groups or stereotypical jocks/nerds. And my experience has definitely been one where race matters in very complex ways. Reshma both benefits AND suffers from the model minority stereotype, and this complicates her motivations. This book tackles racism head-on and realistically, a task left incomplete or unattempted by so much of what’s out there today. But I think it also has some subtle commentaries on gender, considering the especially hard-headed and conniving protagonist. There is sex scene in the novel that challenges the butterfly-and-rainbow first times in other contemporary novels, while remaining funny and realistic…and avoiding forcing the characters to ride off into the sunset together when it’s all over.
FINAL GRADE: C+
Though Enter Title Here made me think, my feelings about it overall were ultimately mixed. This book was interesting for sure, and surprisingly different at every turn than the standard YA novel. I really didn’t know where this was going up until the very last page. It has all the good things: an anti-hero, issues of race, issues of class, a completely realistic sex scene that didn’t make me want to vomit, and students who reminded me SO MUCH of the ACTUAL kids I knew in high school. While I did not love the meandering plot and addition of too many plots/subplots that threw the reading experience off track at times, I do think this was a worthwhile read and I’m glad I read it.