Book Review: Future Perfect – Jen Larsen

Future-Perfect-Book-Review-Jen-Larsen

Title: Future Perfect (2015)
Author: Jen Larsen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 320 pages
Release Date: October 6, 2015
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Goodreads Description

Every year on her birthday, Ashley Perkins gets a card from her grandmother—a card that always contains a promise: lose enough weight, and I will buy your happiness.

Ashley doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the way she looks, but no amount of arguing can persuade her grandmother that “fat” isn’t a dirty word—that Ashley is happy with her life, and her body, as it is.

 But Ashley wasn’t counting on having her dreams served up on a silver platter at her latest birthday party. She falters when Grandmother offers the one thing she’s always wanted: tuition to attend Harvard University—in exchange for undergoing weight loss surgery.

As Ashley grapples with the choice that little white card has given her, she feels pressured by her friends, her family, even administrators at school. But what’s a girl to do when the reflection in her mirror seems to bother everyone but her?

Through her indecisions and doubts, Ashley’s story is a liberating one—a tale of one girl, who knows that weight is just a number, and that no one is completely perfect.

Review

I’m honestly a bit surprised at the low rating Future Perfect has on Goodreads (3.13 at the time of writing). I picked this up because I saw it being compared to Dumplin’, and while there were some things I didn’t like about this book, I personally think it’s a better read than Dumplin’ when it comes to body issues.

Future Perfect deals with the question of perception.

The main character of this book, Ashley Perkins, is a strong, independent, high-achieving teenage girl who also happens to be fat. Every year on her birthday, her grandmother — also strong, independent and high-achieving — gives her a card-slash-coupon that promises Ashley something good if she would only lose weight. It used to be a shopping trip or a car, but this year, it’s tuition to Harvard… in other words, Ashley’s dream school that she couldn’t afford.

But my grandmother thinks that not being fat is the part of me I should focus on. That being a size 18 (or sometimes 20) will ruin my life. She says, “You do not deserve to be automatically dismissed for utterly arbitrary aesthetic reasons that have nothing to do with your worth as a human being.”

Her grandmother means well — she wants Ashley to go through life the easiest way she can, and this (to the grandmother) means losing weight. Unpalatable as it sounds, society does judge by appearance, and people who aren’t conventionally attractive — whether that be in face, body, personality, hobbies or otherwise — often get the short end of the stick. People might say they try not to judge a book by its cover, but the truth is that most people can’t help themselves.

Future Perfect deals with Ashley’s struggle to balance between who she is and who society assumes she is. It asks: Does it matter if you feel beautiful if no one else thinks you are? Should you change what you look like so that other people won’t underestimate you? If you’re happy just as you are, why should you bend to what other people think of you? At what point is enough enough? Where’s the line?

The characters and plot are diverse, but sometimes, the focus is lost.

The diversity of characters is an ongoing issue touted in the book community. Future Perfect doesn’t shy away from this and instead confronts it full-on. Ashley is half-Colombian, her best friend Laura is a POC, her other best friend Jolene is a trans. Other than being diverse, all the characters in this book are remarkably human — they’re kind but flawed, they mean well but they’re also selfish, they’re troubled but also infuriating. This is a great thing to see.

The problem is that Larsen didn’t only focus on Ashley’s ongoing weight issues but also Laura’s and Jolene’s personal struggles, which results in a clutter of different plotlines merging and occasionally overtaking each other. Don’t get me wrong, Larsen’s writing style is extremely accessible and fast-paced enough to engage me, but there some moments where I felt disconnected from the book as I didn’t know or care enough about the other characters to want to focus on them.

Relationship-wise there is some romance in Future Perfect, but I would say that it’s not particularly important. I didn’t really care for Ashley’s love interest(s) and was infinitely more interested in her relationship with her family members, particularly her grandmother. We didn’t really get to see that, which leads me to my next point:

The resolution is weak.

The blurb of this book essentially asks if Ashley will end up getting the weight loss surgery her grandmother wants her to get or not, and the resolution is centred around answering that. It’s not bad by any means, but it does happen too quickly and caught me rather off-guard.  

“I am the sum of my parts. Everything I’ve ever done and everything I’ve ever achieved and everything I have ever been.”

Plenty of things were left vague or plain unresolved, including Ashley’s future. I would have personally loved a better resolution especially with Ashley’s grandmother, as I think she’s the most interesting character here.

Overall an interesting, thought-provoking book dealing with body issues.

Have you read this book yet? What do you think? 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Future Perfect – Jen Larsen

  1. First. YAY for diversity. I’m so happy to hear that there’s a variety of ethnicity and backgrounds. I also love the fact that the characters are flawed. There’s nothing more irritating that seeing a character that’s just so perfect and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. I get what you mean by having the focus be scattered among all of the different issues that it lessens the impact of what is meant to be the main plotline. I’m definitely intrigued by the book but I don’t think I’ll be making it a priority read as of right now. Lovely review. 😀

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    • Somehow I completely missed this comment, oops. 😛

      No, definitely — I think this book wins in diversity, and it doesn’t do it in a way that shoves it in the reader’s face either, so it doesn’t feel all “LOOK AT ME I’M SO DIVERSE, NOW LOVE ME!”. As for the scattered focus… it’s just that some parts of the book felt like the protagonist moved from one person to another for brief glimpses, and it did distract.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic review, Reg! I know you wrote this review awhile ago, but I discovered this review at a very interesting (and perfect) time.

    “If you’re happy just as you are, why should you bend to what other people think of you? At what point is enough enough? Where’s the line?”

    Today a friend and I were talking about the issues of perception, particularly when it comes to weight loss. Why do we lose weight when there are so many voices telling us to be happy with who we are? Regardless of the answer, I think there is a lot of conflicting messages out there, and this troubled my friend immensely. (Idk I thought I would share this with you because it was just such a profound conversation.)

    I’m sad to hear that this book lost focus; what a shame because the book seems to raise a lot of questions I’d love to explore myself. I think I might give this book a go though – it is thought-provoking, at least I can get something out of it.

    Thank you for the review!

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    • Yeah, it’s definitely prevalent nowadays — you get people (and the media!) telling you to embrace who you are and accept yourself, but then you also get the same people (and the same media!) telling you that you need to buy XYZ or be ABC. The messages out there are downright contradictory sometimes!

      It’s interesting that you had that conversation with your friend, because I’ve always been having those sorts of conversations as well, weight loss or career or life choices or otherwise. Getting a bit tangential here but one of my biggest puzzles for me is the idea of a long, fulfilling ‘career’. Is a career worth pursuing one that society approves of and applauds — one that everyone thinks is hard, difficult, impossible, etc.? Am I a ‘failure’ if my dream is to become, say, a housewife? Should we only encourage people to do things that society approves of? What if society’s wrong?

      Sorry, I think I didn’t articulate myself very clearly there! But these are definitely some questions that I’ve asked myself over and over again, just because it’s really interesting to think about where these thoughts/perceptions/values have come from and whether or not they are — as objectively as possible — ‘good’, I suppose.

      Thank you so much for your always very thoughtful comments. ❤

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