year of mistaken discoveries

I was drawn to Year of Mistaken Discoveries because it was about a teen girl searching for her birthmom and, well, hi. I’ve done that, sort of. (Though honestly, to call it a “search” was a bit of a stretch, as it basically fell into my lap.)

I dunno. The premise is that Avery’s childhood best friend Nora, from whom she has sort of lost touch with even though they go to the same school (I think we know how that goes), has overdosed on pills, right after cryptically telling Avery how important it is to search for your birthmother, even if it turns out to be shitty, like Nora’s experience. So Avery, who has never been particularly interested in searching, decides it would make a great senior project to finish Nora’s journey for her. This is convenient, because she has just broken up with her boyfriend Colton, so they totally can’t do a project together anymore. And this kid Brody (the whitest names u’know) also needs a partner, so he thinks helping Avery find her birthmom is not at all awkward or strange or sort of a violation of privacy or irrelevant to his life, I guess. Also, this senior project has no adult oversight, no check-ins with teachers, or any requirements or grading standards at all. Because that makes it easier for this premise to make sense, except that it’s totally unbelievable that this would be a thing you could actually do in a school without telling anyone you were doing it. Also, this makes for a great Duke application thing, and Avery needs to get into Duke because her parents there, but they’re not rich enough to make a donation that would get her in. People and colleges, man. (Working at a fancy school has given me new insight into what crazy business this is. So that part, with Avery obsessively trying every angle to get into Duke, and the part with her parents saying “we” every time they mention her application process is sadly completely believable. If you’re a parent, please don’t be awful and take over your child’s college application process. “We” are not going to college together.)

So then things ensue, like realizing the horrible truth that adoptees are the only American citizens who do not have the right to access their birth certificates, and it’s even harder for Avery to find anything, because she’s not yet 18. She also had what she calls an open adoption, but I would call a semi-open adoption, since her parents never met her birthmom but did exchange a few letters, until the birthmother, Lisa, terminated contact (it’s also never clear whether she did this in a legally binding sort of way or just by growing up and going to college and not wanting to continue writing letters). So she has some random bits of information and does very tween-movie-about-teens detective things to find out more information. And basically it ends how I expected, but since I don’t know what you expect, I won’t say any more than that.

So there’s nothing wrong with this book. But I also found nothing to love about it. For one thing, that premise is absurd. It’s just utterly implausible that Avery could get away with doing this as a graded assignment, and it’s even less plausible that a teenage boy would want to do this with her, especially in such a strangely emotionally supportive way, once he learns it has nothing to do with Nora and everything to do with Avery. Also, I don’t see how he would get a good grade on it, since all he does is take some photos, generally not of Avery, and give her rides to places. So I can see how a teenage boy would want to glom onto a project where he didn’t actually have to do any work, but I don’t see how this project would ever be school-sanctioned in the first place.

Obviously, this kind of subject lends itself to a very emotionally gripping story that’s all about character development. But the writing was so flat that I felt no connection to Avery, and I feel like that’s worrisome, because someone who has shared her experience should probably feel even more of a connection to the character, not less. But the writing was so tell-not-show-y, and like I mentioned, all of the methods and little adventures she goes on read totally as a teen movie that really appears to tweens because of the maturity level and adorable implausibility of the tactics.

I can see this appealing to tons of readers who like lighter realistic fiction, but it really doesn’t pack any sort of punch with me.

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