"There's no great dividing line between being a kid and an adult. We're not all Catapillar's turning into butterflies. You are what you are. When you grow up, you may be more careful than when you were a kid. You don't say what you think as much as you once did. You learn to play nice. But you're still the same person who did good things or rotten things when you were young. Whether you feel good about them or bad...whether you regret them. Well, that's a different thing. But it's not like they disappear forever."
I ended up with Matthew Dicks' The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs, which I devoured in one day over Thanksgiving Break. The titular character, Caroline, has lived her 40(ish) years so far as a total pushover. She has her thoughts and opinions, like anyone else, but they are rarely voiced as she prefers the background to the foreground and avoids any form of confrontation.
So when during a PTO meeting, Caroline angrily hurls the four-letter word at the PTO President, it is very out of character. This one rash outburst ignites a flame of introspection that leads Caroline back to her own high school days and one particularly lasting incident. Inspired by her own outspokenness, Caroline decides to head back home, daughter in tow, with a plan to confront her former best friend, the one who ruined her life 25 years earlier.
This is one of those books that has fairly heavy issues masked behind a lighter, enjoyable story. There are familiar themes of friendship, bullying, guilt, and making peace with the past—concepts that have the potential to bring negative memories and recollections to light for many adults. Caroline is like many who find ourselves hung up on particular encounters or experiences that were instrumental in defining who we are. And like many, she looks back on her own monumental experience with regret at her own response (or lack thereof) and a big lingering question as to whether things could've ended up differently. Caroline's story is told with humor and hope for eventual redemption, even if things don't go according to plan.
I feel like this story will resonate with many adults—at least ones the ones like me who maintain a pretty deep connection with personal history! Through Caroline's story, the author addresses these essential questions that have no easy answer: Can (or should) we be blamed for the mistakes of our youth? Are we the same person now as we were then? It's likely that everyone will have a different response to these questions, but Dicks succeeds with this novel in entertaining us with one perspective and getting us thinking about our own answers.