What’s So Great About A Depression Anyway?

The Not-So-Great-Depression by Amy Goldman Koss

A TIMELY, WARMHEARTED NOVEL ABOUT LIFE IN HARD ECONOMIC TIMES.

Jacki’s ninth–grade teacher is always going on about the unemployment index and the recession, but nothing sinks in until her mom is laid off and everything seems to cost more than they can afford. Acclaimed author Amy Goldman Koss delivers a warm hearted and timely tale about the things we lose and the insights we gain.

This book dives right into a subject most of us 30-something-year-olds are knee deep in presently (at least my family and friends are): the bitch-who-stole-my-pads of a bad economy.  If it’s not affecting you, it’s affecting someone you know and most likely love.

Jacki lives a pretty idylic life in the fancy fabulous town of Pasadena, CA.  Though her parents are divorced, she seems pretty ay’t with this.  Her worst issues presently are a) her great disdain for her nanny (who honestly is a byotch though not like in an evil way…she’s just obnoxious), b) forgetting to wear socks to track practice on a regular basis and c) living through piano practices (which she hates) for her upcoming piano recital (which she has major jitters about).

We soon meet the rest of her siblings and find they, much like her, worry about equally trivial issues, blissfully unaware of the real life issues coming at them in about two chapters.  Big sis Brooke is busy, busy, busy being an overachiever…running off to dance class, awaiting for the replies from the Ivy League schools she applied and is sure to get into, and hanging out with her handsome/popular/wealthy/seemingly ideal BF David on the campus of Palm Canyon Academy, the pricy private school where all three siblings attend.  Jacki’s younger brother, Mitch, is always hungry (constantly on the prowl for Cap’n Crunch), and eternally lost in his room with the iPod on full blast.  Pretty regular stuff, right?  Moo.

Then the shizzle hits the fizzle…mom goes from a super busy, high-powered exec of some sort or another to a being laid off lady.  (Jacki is too busy concentrating on her own difficult life issues like forgetting her gym socks to know what her mom actually does for a living…hmm….).  So in a moment they go from a pretty fabu life, driving around town in mama’s BMW, picking up take-out, like, whenever the mood strikes, with a nanny, a “phantom” gardenener (they didn’t know they had one until the lawn stopped “mowing itself”), and a housekeeper, to NOTHING.  No more nanny (even if she was a byotch she was still their ride to and from school), no more self-cutting lawn, no more magical fairy-housekeeper who washes the clothes and makes the shizz under their bed dissapear *poof* like magic before they get home from school every Wednesday!

Add to this that their dad’s kind of a hippy type and is used to depending on mom, pretty much, for all things having to do with supporting the kids.  He’s been following his dream of living a simple life (living rent free at his mom’s house BTW), and working part time as a baker.  So, forget about asking him for a little help with the dough (the green stuff, not the kind he makes bagels with), while mom finds another job and figures out what to do about all the money she lost on account of what the stock market did to her money…uh, oh.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved reading all about delicious rosemary loaves and sesame bagels fresh out of the oven, I did.  I, who yell to the winds that being surrounded by loved ones is better than one surrounded by riches…I, who annoy the shizz out of my beloved due to my lack of concern for creating an “empire” (“I have an empire”, I tell him, “the one my boys build me with their legos every third day!” )…I was driven nutters by this dad!  Dude, you have these kids, who granted could use a little less indulgences, but stiiiill…where you at my brothah?  You’d think when mom shared the news about her lack of income he’d have said, ok, time to quit this whole “living like a college dude who doesn’t know what to major in” nonsense and help pay the bills by looking for another job.  Or at least offer to, right?  Nope.  Dad came off like a selfish putz, a “buddy” that was there to serve the purpose of having heart-to-hearts with Jacki whenever the story line needed her to, but that’s about it.  Jacki’s adoration of this dude was a bit of a mystery to me.

Evidently this is because, like him, she’s supposed to be (acccording to her BFF Emily and her family) someone who sees life as a spectrum of possibilities, an eternal optimist, if you will.  This is a major hiccup for me as I only realized this was supposed to be a character trait of Jacki’s when sometime early in the book her sister calls her “Miss Sweety Pants Happy Face”.  Apparently this is a term Brooke calls her all the time.  In this particular instance it’s in reaction to Jacki putting her hands to her ears to stop from listening to her sister’s perfectly non-aggro, non-perturbing, non-especially-anything-out-of-the-normal convo about how dad is out of luck on the spousal support for a while.  So this whole idea that Jacki is an optimist and always wants to see the bright side of life is exemplified by her wanting to be in denial and block out reality?  Say what?  And before that, she’d pretty much — as far as I was concerned — been going off on whiny rants about her above listed major concerns…you know, like hating the piano lessons…boo-friggidy-hoo.  Up until that un-charming “happy face pants” comment I’d tolerated all the complaining because I thought it was setting us up for the contrast to come when she learned to live in poor-ville and be thankful for another bowl of porridge.  Apparently, what I perceived as annoying whining was supposed to be charming observations mixed with tangents that were meant to be amusing.  Kind of like when Mia (you know Princess Thermopolis) would rant about things that drove her nutters or otherwise tormented her existence?  Except Mia was funny and I got what Meg Cabot (a.k.a. Queen of the YA Novel) was doing right away.  This time…not so much.

Once the fam starts living through what happens when your budget shrinks like a favorite cashmere sweater that accidentally gets thrown into the dryer, the author and her characters shine.  She gives a very real picture of the mourning process of losing a comfy, carefree lifestyle, showing us how each characters digests the situation and how, once they come to terms with it and come together as a family, they are able to persevere.  It exemplifies how attitude has much to do with outlook.  The author is able to paint a realistic picture of something so real in our present world through the eyes of a young adult who obv’s has a different perspective than say, me.  OK, maybe I’m a bad example, but you know, some regular adult out there.

Along the way we also get to meet “Adam B. for Brownfeld”.  He is a fellow student of Mr. Woo, Jacki’s piano teacher, who she knows on account of the yearly torturous excercise that is her piano recital.  As they’ve grown, he has become her silver lining to these torture-fests.  We first meet Adam while they sit and wait their turn to play their tune – all the cute 5 year olds get to go before them, so they get to talk for quite a while and they are utterly adorable (Adam and Jacki, not the 5 year olds, though I am sure they are also very cute).  Adam is the perfect mix of charming and awkward.  You can totally tell he digs her and yet doesn’t want to reveal too much.  Totally makes you go, “Aw shucks!”  He gives a little tiny swoon to the story every few chapters that’s super fun, adding a little needed lightness.

Crush Level: 3/5 — Though I ultimately liked this book, it wasn’t until the 2nd half of it that I was convinced I’d made a good choice checking it out of the library.  I won’t be buying it anytime soon but I do think it’s a good read.

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