A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Teen Lit


I recently finished reading The Catastrophic History of You and Me, by Jess Rothenberg. I don’t typically read teen lit (some of my friends may disagree, since, full disclosure, I have read Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight), but I had particular reasons for reading this one.

I have never met Jess, but I’ve been friends with one of her exes for several years, since they were together. They started dating at college and lived in Brooklyn for a few years. In my understanding, Jess wanted to get hitched, but my buddy, being the most noncommittal and indecisive guy I know, ultimately ended things. She was heartbroken, and he took to online dating. Then, one poker night maybe a year or so after their breakup (where my friend wasn’t present), the following conversation ensued:

“Hey, did you hear about Jess?”

“Jess?”

“Yeah, Jess, ****’s ex.”

“No, what about her?”

“So, you know how she was working as an editor for like young adult fiction?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, she just sold her first book.”

“So?”

“For like a million bucks.”

“Are you serious? Ha! That’s hilarious! Does **** know?”

Now Jess is apparently marrying her literary agent and popping champagne like she won a championship game. Meanwhile, my buddy lives in Baltimore and is distinctly not a millionaire.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me was written in the aftermath of the breakup, in what I surmise to be an act of catharsis, and it’s about a girl who, like, literally dies of heartbreak (see book trailer above). I read it, curious whether (or how) my friend would be portrayed (or disguised) in a teen lit novel. My initial intentions were to write a “book review,” but having finished it, I don’t know whether that would be appropriate, since I really have no point of context for doing so. In any event, I’ll share some brief thoughts. It’s a decent read if you’re a fan of pop cultural references from the 80s and 90s and if you want to read something written in presumably the LiveJournal voice of Shoshanna from HBO’s Girls. (That’s not a criticism by the way. Shoshanna is awesome.) Personally, I found the book to be a little cheesy (point of fact, the protagonist goes by Brie), its mythology of life after death kinda hokey and random, and its portrayal of love somewhat juvenile and idealistic. It also ends a little too tidily for my taste. But hey, I’m a dude in my late 20s, hardly Jess’s target audience. It’s a teen lit book, and I’m sure the Beliebers and Directioners of the world would dig it.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me has some charm and a sense of humor, but the line I found most hilarious is actually the last line of the acknowledgements, at the end of the book: “Revenge may be sweet, but book deals are definitely sweeter.” If anything, there are two lessons to be learned from all of this: First, as Jess points out on her website, “sometimes a broken heart is the best thing that can ever happen to you.” Second, if you want to write and make bank, teen lit’s the way to go. Kudos, Jess.

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