BY SYDNEY BAUM-HAINES —
Let’s just say I wouldn’t call Jake Coburn back after the terrible blind date I had with his book, LoveSick. I picked it up at the library from the “Book Blind Dating” array in the teen section, but didn’t bother to look at the cover or title before getting home, and boy was I disappointed. I could tell immediately that I wasn’t going to enjoy reading it. The cover featured half a reflection of some girl’s face (I typically don’t read books with peoples’ faces on them. It’s tacky) and the cliché, sigh-inducing title LoveSick, which, ridiculously enough, is one word. But they say never judge a book by its cover, so I flipped to the first page and read the preface.
Coburn starts LoveSick off by kindly explaining that the contents of this novel are all things that actually happened. I work in a library. I know when a book is nonfiction or not, and this story is far too ridiculous to have ever happened. However, I stomped out all my misgivings and resigned myself to continuing the blind date.
The book continued with Ted York, a recent high school graduate and recovering alcoholic, receiving an offer by a mysterious man named Michael. The offer is simple: Ted has to look out for some girl during her freshman year of college and in exchange he will get a full ride to some unnamed Ivy League school. The girl, Erica Prakers, is a rich New York City native suffering from bulimia. Knowing about her illness and trying to control it, her father Charles hires Michael and Ted to keep tabs on her and alert him if she starts bingeing and purging again.
Early in the book, Coburn starts by graphically describing Erica eating 18 mini donuts in eight minutes and vomiting it all up. I was ready to run to the restroom and hop out the window, leaving this ill-fated blind date behind, but I grit my teeth and opened the book a few days later, forcing myself to read more.
The characters Ted and Erica deal with some very serious, unhealthy issues, but Coburn doesn’t write in a way that properly addresses this. The frivolous and unrealistic plot of Charles paying Michael and Ted several hundred thousand dollars to spy on Erica drastically takes away from an emotional story about recovery. It adds an unnecessary angle to the story, which defeats the point of writing about characters with real issues.
When Erica finds out about Ted’s job immediately after they share a very intimate moment, she’s very upset and leaves. For some unknown reason her dad is suddenly in a hospital waiting for an unspecified surgery, but he is also communicating with Michael and refusing to pay him any money because the spying was done badly. Erica briefly talks to her dad before taking off and checking herself into rehab.
Ted pursues her into New York City – where I personally thought their college was located but apparently it wasn’t – and ends up being threatened by Michael. The mysterious Michael goes from originally being a vaguely pedophilic creep to a full on Disney villain when he suddenly pulls out a gun and asks Ted to steal something from Charles. To avoid having to do this, Ted purposefully crashes the car they’re in, which should have taken some sort of emotional toll on him since he had drunkenly driven into a tree and messed up his knee just a few months previously, but apparently there was no issue with reliving this tragedy.
Other than the plot, there were additional concerns with the quality of the book. The characters were given terrible treatment. With the focus constantly shifting between Erica and Ted, not enough time was given to either character. Erica’s best friend Lauren was mentioned many times, but she was given minimal screen time and seemed like a throwaway afterthought written in to serve no actual purpose.
Additionally, the relationships between Erica and Ted and their respective roommates constantly changed from being fairly good friends to practically hating their guts. Ted’s neighbor Debbie was originally mentioned as a name on a door and then doesn’t appear until far later when she called Ted “her friend” and lent him her car, no strings attached (which he wrecked, by the way).
The characters kept getting randomly out-of-character. All of a sudden everyone was dropping unnecessary and uncalled for f-bombs and typing in unexplained caps-lock. I was thrown off guard by James, Ted’s roommate, going from cursing Ted out to laughing and saying, “I’m a friendly guy,” in the span of one page.
Coburn seemed to take Composition for College’s advice about specificity to heart because often something would be mentioned by brand name or slang and I would have absolutely no idea what was happening. Sometimes this would be remedied a paragraph or two later by contextual clues or actually writing the real name, but other times I would be left wondering what the character was holding, ordering or talking about.
Overall, it was not a good date and I won’t be reading Coburn’s award-winning novel Prep. I wasted too many hours reading LoveSick, and now have to live with the embarrassing fact that it’s the only non-school-related book I’ve finished in the last few months. I had better get back to reading good fiction.