I received this book for free from the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-04-30
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Women's Lit
Source: the Publisher via NetGalley
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Blockbuster #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Weiner returns with an irresistible story about a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood…
At twenty-three, Ruth Saunders headed west with her seventy-year-old grandma in tow, hoping to be hired as a television writer. Four years later, she’s hit the jackpot when she gets The Call: the sitcom she wrote, The Next Best Thing, has gotten the green light, and Ruthie’s going to be the show-runner. But her dreams of Hollywood happiness are threatened by demanding actors, number-crunching executives, an unrequited crush on a boss, and her grandmother’s impending nuptials.
Set against the fascinating backdrop of Los Angeles show business culture, with an insider’s ear and eye for writer’s rooms, bad behavior backstage and set politics, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel is a rollicking ride on the Hollywood rollercoaster and a heartfelt story about what it’s like for a young woman to love, and lose, in the land where dreams come true.
The Next Best Thing is ultimately the story of a young woman trying to live her dreams, dealing with a reality that is different than her expectations, and growing into the woman that she is meant to be.
Is there anyone who writes women heroines as well as Jennifer Weiner? I’m not so sure. The women that she writes are flawed and vulnerable, but also strong and inspiring. Ruth Saunders is no different. As a child, she survived a car crash that killed both of her parents and disfigured the right side of her body. After countless surgeries to correct her injuries and the resulting hospital stays, she learned the true impact that television can have on its viewers. She grows attached to characters from shows like The Golden Girls while watching alongside her grandma. When she gets old enough, and with her grandma by her side, she decides to move to LA in hopes of landing a job as a television writer. Her dream is to inspire the lives of young women and girls like herself, who may not be the best or prettiest, but can still do great things. When she gets a job and then her own show is green-lit, she finds the reality of life in LA might not live up to her dreams.
I know people can often be quick to write-off chick-lit as fluffy and completely worthless. But I’m here to tell them that that assumption is ridiculous. Jennifer Weiner’s writing is wonderful, descriptive, and emotional. Her characters have true depth, honest emotions, and real dialogue. The Next Best Thing’s main character, Ruth, goes on a journey of growth throughout the book and comes out a better person in the end. It’s characters like her that inspire us to do the right thing, to be honest with ourselves, and not underestimate the things we can do and the respect we deserve. We aren’t all beautiful, perfect, and skinny, but we all have something to offer and people who love us.
Ruth, as a main character, was pretty close to perfect. She was completely relatable. The backstory provided by Weiner in the first part of the book lets us understand where Ruth came from, why she wants to write for television, and how her physical scars brought about her emotional scars. She makes mistakes, many in the second part of the book, but learns from them and moves on. A few of the supporting characters almost stole the show. My favorites, of course, were Ruth’s Grandma and the Daves. Ruth’s Grandma raised her after her parents were killed in the accident. She was comforting, loving, and encouraged Ruth to follow her dreams, but also tough and demands that Ruth not give up or settle for anything less than the best. She is the kind of Grandma that everyone wants in their life and showed us that while Ruth may not have been given the best start in life, she was certainly still lucky in some parts. The Daves ran a production company and hire Ruth as their assistant. They are funny and honest and offer a nice break from the rest of the Hollywood crowd. They offer to help Ruth with her writing and her show in any way they can and continue to support her even after her show has been picked up and she no longer works for them. They are a reminder that we all need friends, no matter what business we might be in or how good we might be, we all need help and support along the way. Oh, and one of the Daves becomes Ruth’s crush. So there’s also that.
There are some other standout characters along the way, like Grandma’s boyfriend Maurice, but most are snobby Hollywood types that we all hope are exaggerations of the truth but know they aren’t. The insiders look at the Hollywood life and a behind-the-scenes peek of the making of a television show was fascinating. We’ve all seen shows come and go, but I’ve never stopped to think of all the work (or money) that went into a show that lasted only three episodes. I’ve never stopped to think of the person listed in the credits as the show creator and wondered how much of what I was seeing lined up with the vision they had dreamed up. I’ve never doubted that Hollywood is all about the money and not about the heart of what it puts out or those they trample on their way, but that didn’t make reading about it any easier.
If there’s one thing you should know about Jennifer Weiner, it’s that she’s honest, funny, and creates incredible heroines. The Next Best Thing is a great read for any woman who has lacked confidence, felt she didn’t deserve something, didn’t feel beautiful, or didn’t fit in. Ruth was all of these. She struggled, she got her heart broken, she questioned herself. But in the end she becomes the woman she was meant to be, did things the way she wanted them done, and triumphed. I gave The Next Best Thing 4 stars and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Jennifer Weiner, loves books that are honest, funny, and fast reads, or wants a book with a happy ending. I don’t want to give too much away, but Ruth definitely ends up okay in the end. And that made me happy.