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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

I enjoyed the glimpses of Alaska and peeks into Greta's musical inspirations and aspirations, although I remained confused about why her father was so set against her musical career.

In Jennifer E. Smith's new (published yesterday!) light fiction novel The Unsinkable Greta James, Greta is an up-and-coming indie rock star whose father has never approved of her career.

To say that stubborn Greta and her equally stubborn father clash (and always have) would be putting it mildly.

But Greta's beloved mother passed away recently, and the couples' trip to Alaska that her mother had planned for her fortieth wedding anniversary is looming. Greta's brother Asher convinces Greta to go along to keep their dad company. Asher also not-so-secretly hopes that the trip will help Greta and her father find their way to each other somehow.

I found myself waiting for more explanation regarding Greta's father's refusal to accept her (now successful) music career, especially because he is shown to have been supportive of her musical passion in her youth. Was it that he wanted her to be more typical for some reason? Did he want her to settle down like her brother with a more common career and a spouse? Was it that he feared that she would have to chase fame or sell out in order to succeed? Did he fear that with an unpredictable schedule and future, she wouldn't give him grandchildren, which he wanted? But why any of this, when she is clearly happy and is not struggling--and when his soul mate, Greta's mother, fully supported the endeavor and Greta's happiness? I hoped for the revelation about some reasoning on his part, no matter how nonsensical it may have ended up feeling to Greta or even to him.

But his motivation for creating this wedge, this long-term, significant, emotional distance from Greta, was never delved into to my satisfaction, nor was his generally curmudgeonly attitude explored. The foul attitude seemed to have predated his wife's death. So was his grumpiness about Greta and her music, or did he behave like this with everyone, as it seemed he did? And if the latter, why were his friends willing to travel with him, much less remain friendly on a regular basis at home? And why on earth did Greta's beatified, beloved mother put up with him and adore him? There are allusions within Greta's memories to her mother's "you don't know him like I know him" attitude--but she and we never do know him this way, so this all fell flat for me. There are tiny moves forward until a big shift that occurs at the end of the book, and the timing and drastic change felt too convenient for me to have emotional investment in it.

There's an unlikely-to-be-long-term, nerdy but sweet, complicated and messy love interest that I enjoyed, and I loved the peeks into Alaska. Greta spends a lot of time day drinking (and night drinking) on the cruise, and she uses alcohol to connect with her new beau, to dull the pain of her mother's death, to soften her annoyance at her father, and to kill time.

I loved the glimpses into Greta's musical aspirations and inspirations--and the brief exchanges with her young number-one fan.

I received a prepublication digital galley of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group's Ballantine Books.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

If you like books about music, you might also like the titles on the Greedy Reading List Six Rockin' Books about Bands and Music.

Jennifer E. Smith is also the author of nine books for young adults, including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between.


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