FUTURE PERFECT

NPR, Best Books of 2015: “A gorgeous, fiercely moving debut.”

 

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Overview

Jen Larsen, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Stranger Here and a subject of the Oprah Winfrey Network TV show In Deep Shift with Jonas Elrod, tells a liberating story of hard-won self-acceptance—a tale of one girl, who knows that weight is just a number, and that no one is completely perfect.

This is a distinct, complex debut from a new voice in YA with an unforgettable main character whose doubts and insecurities will resonate with readers, and shed light on the dangers of taking on others’ expectations instead of your own.

Underscored by a fierce intelligence and a dry, disarming wit, Future Perfect will satisfy fans of such authors as Maureen Johnson.

Summary

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.

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NPR’s Book Concierge

Our Guide To 2015’s Great Reads

Ashley Perkins is a 17-year-old biracial Latina girl growing up in her grandmother’s house. She’s smart, funny, driven, ambitious — and fat; so far as her grandmother is concerned, that last quality obliterates everything else. Every year, Ashley’s grandmother offers her birthday gifts in exchange for losing weight, and every year Ashley rejects them out of hand — until the year her grandmother offers her full tuition to Harvard in exchange for weight-loss surgery. For the first time, Ashley finds herself seriously considering making the horrific bargain — and the book follows her temptations and resistance, her friendships and soul-searching. A gorgeous, fiercely moving debut.

 

KIRKUS REVIEW

A high school senior strives to realize her dream of attending Harvard despite financial limitations and her dysfunctional family.

Ashley Maria Perkins has plenty going for her—she’s the valedictorian at her academically challenging private high school, class president, and former captain of the volleyball team. She holds down a job, rescues stray dogs, and aspires to be a doctor. She’s also fat and of mixed ethnicity: her emotionally unavailable, ineffectual father is Caucasian, her absent mother’s Latina, from Colombia. Larsen’s engrossing first-person narrative reveals these details quickly, then layers on incidents and emotions to build an immersive experience as Ashley struggles to write her college application essay and to stand strong in the face of her paternal grandmother’s coercive manipulation. Relationship complications with friends (one of whom is transgender and has her own set of issues, which are sensitively explored), a current boyfriend, a longtime crush, and a jealous classmate add to the intensity, which builds to an expected but nonetheless powerful confrontation. The book is not perfect—more time is spent on conversation and internal rumination than action, the plot can feel overstuffed, and the drama is occasionally over-the-top—but the abundant angst will resonate with many teens.

An absorbing look at the cultural obsession with women’s weight and how much energy and effort it takes to live an authentic life on one’s own terms.

PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

Larsen’s 2013 adult memoir, Stranger Here, detailed her own experience with having weight-loss surgery; in her first book for teens, a high school student must decide whether she will do the same. Ashley is beautiful and popular, has a loving boyfriend, and is valedictorian of the best high school around. But Ashley is also fat—something that doesn’t bother her at all, but that her grandmother believes stands in the way of a successful future. Each birthday, Ashley is wracked with anxiety as she awaits her grandmother’s inevitable present: a homemade coupon for something Ashley desperately wants (a shopping spree, a trip to Paris) in exchange for losing weight. On Ashley’s 17th birthday, her grandmother offers to pay for Ashley’s Harvard education if she will undergo weight-loss surgery. A drawn-out lead-up to Ashley’s grandmother’s yearly wager and digressions about Ashley’s friends cause the plot to drag, but when Larsen focuses on Ashley’s struggle to make her decision regarding surgery, as well as her pride in her natural shape, the novel is a moving, empowering read.

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