Katie Reads: Carpe Diem

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“I’ve got my entire life planned out for the next ten years — including my PhD and Pulitzer Prize,” claims 16-year-old overachiever Vassar Spore, daughter of overachiever parents, who in true overachiever fashion named her after an elite women’s college. Vassar expects her sophomore summer to include AP and AAP (Advanced Advanced Placement) classes. Surprise! Enter a world-traveling relative who sends her plans into a tailspin when she blackmails Vassar’s parents into forcing their only child to backpack with her through Southeast Asia.

On a journey from Malaysia to Cambodia to the remote jungles of Laos, Vassar sweats, falls in love, hones her outdoor survival skills — and uncovers a family secret that turns her whole world upside-down.

Vassar Spore can plan on one thing: she’ll never be the same again.

Random side note – I bought a used advanced reader’s copy of this book and the cover is entirely different from the official one, and gives it a completely different vibe. Oddly, I must have a super advanced reader’s copy because while I found alternate covers for the book I didn’t find any pictures online of the cover I have, which is too bad because I think it fits the book better.

This book was pretty hilarious. Especially the beginning which satirizes the extreme over achievement needed to get into college these days. “A 5.3 gpa is the new 4.0.” As someone who finds the trend of over-achievement to border on ridiculous, reading the early chapters of this book was a delight. I think going into this book it is important to recognize that the characters are all caricatures to some degree.

I really enjoyed getting to explore Southeast Asia along side Vassar and her crazy Grandma Gerd. We see the good and the bad of the countries they visit. My only complaint was that I felt like we didn’t see enough. Vassar is supposed to be there for 6 (?) weeks, and we got nice detail on the scenes we did get, but then would gloss over another week spent in a place.

The romance in the book was refreshing. Hank was very far your typical YA male love interest so that was nice. I could have done without the sudden “I love him” aspect – why do characters always seem to skip the stage of “liking” someone and skip straight to be loving someone? Why at 16 are you suddenly considering changing your dream college to go to one so you can be near your new boyfriend. Calm down you’ve known him a few weeks.

While it is obvious to anyone where Vassar’s character arc is headed, I was little disappointed in the outcome. Learning to live in the moment and evaluate what is really important is a great message, but there is also something to be said for being organized and responsible. I would have liked to see Vassar find a better balance between the two. Particularly given how her character begins the novel, I didn’t wholly believe in Vassar suddenly becoming a free spirited wild child.

The twist and climax of the novel managed to surprise me and I overall really liked this book. I have a thing for books where I can live vicariously through people who go visit exotic lands and have life changing adventures.

Stay magical readers!

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