I’ve never read Sophie Kinsella before. I did see that one movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic a few years ago, but mostly she and I have been two ships passing in the night. Then I got an ARC of her new teen novel at BEA and thought, why the hell not?
Finding Audrey focuses on an sadly underused topic: mental health issues. Audrey went through a traumatic event at school which forced her to drop out and she hasn’t been able to go back. She wears dark glasses all the time because she cannot bear to look people in the eye. She rarely leaves the house. She doesn’t ever talk to people outside of her family. In short, she has extreme social anxiety.
She wasn’t always like this. At one time she had a few close friends and while she wasn’t a social butterfly, meeting new people didn’t send her screaming for the hills. But then The Awful Thing happened, leaving Audrey so traumatized that she can’t function anymore. It’s put her life on hold and disrupted her family’s lives as they try to take care of her.
If you’re like me, when you hear ‘The Awful Thing’ your drama-fangs come out (yeesss, tell me morree) but a hugely disappointing moment comes when you realise that Kinsella chose not to tell us what actually happened during The Awful Thing. You can put it together – a vague picture of extreme bullying by your classic mean girl clique – but when you look at how much this event effects Audrey’s psyche it’s a pretty big thing to not get details on. While I appreciate that this story doesn’t read like an essay on the evils of bullying (Kinsella has thankfully assumed that we can figure that out for ourselves), Kinsella leaves a lot out about what actually happened to Audrey which would have given more depth to the damage she is trying to overcome.
As for Audrey’s recovery, it goes exactly how you think it would. Audrey’s transformation starts with a boy – Linus. He’s interested in her and she wants to be the person he sees in her and blah, blah, blah. Their romance is about as original as 50 Shades. Linus doesn’t fix Audrey, thank God, because let’s be real, if boyfriends were the cure for mental illness the world would have a lot less problems. He does inspire her to get out of her comfort zone and he supports her in most things. But if you actually look at how their relationships forms this is where the characters start to get a little thin. He sees her, this startled wounded bird, spends five minutes with her and then all of sudden they’re in a relationship. The part where they get to know each other was skipped over so that we could get to the rest of the book.
The other fleshed out character is Audrey’s brother Frank who has a whole subplot about wanting to play in a video game tournament in Toronto. Their mother on the other hand is batshit insane and believes everything she reads in magazines. She finds this one article that says that video games are rotting kids brains and go mental, to the point where she throws Frank’s computer out the window. Audrey was a fine main character, but incidentally I felt more for Frank than I did for Audrey. Seriously, their mom was a giant Smother when it came to Frank and I was grinding my teeth just listening to her.
As a romance novel this book is pretty blah; as a book about mental health Finding Audrey is not bad at all. The characters and the writing are not going to win any awards. but all things considered it’s a decent read.