Monday, November 6, 2023

Book Review: The Good Part

By Jami Denison

Fall is the witching season, so it’s appropriate that this fall we’ve seen several books published that explore the theme of “be careful what you wish for… you might get it!” Both Amy Lea’s Woke Up Like This (published October 1; reviewed here) and Sophie Cousen’s The Good Part deal with young women who wake up suddenly years in the future, one after making a wish. Both books unabashedly borrow from movies with the same plot, such as 13 Going on 30, The Family Man, and Click, the Adam Sandler film. And both of them try to make the case that it’s better to go back to a messy present than remain in a more perfect future.

Lucy Young is a London Gen Zer, living in a flat with her best friend and two slobs, being underpaid and ignored at her entry-level TV staff job. Her day starts with water dripping on her face from her upstairs neighbor’s bath, then gets worse. Her roommate’s girlfriend is bleaching bones in the bathtub. Her other roommate has eaten all her food. Her best friend says she’s moving out. At work, they still treat her like an errand girl even though she’s been promoted. She’s out of money, pursued by a pervert, then stranded in the rain as her shoes melt. Is it any wonder, when she stumbles across a wishing machine, that she wishes to skip over the hard parts of her life and get to the good part?

When Lucy wakes up the next morning, she’s next to a strange man, and his baby is crying and calling her “mama.” Even worse, when she looks in the mirror, she’s old! A glance at the newspaper reveals that Lucy has wished away 16 years of her life. But now she has the life she’s always dreamed of: A beautiful home, a wonderful husband, two children, and a high-powered job in TV. Too bad she doesn’t know who anyone in this new life is…. Or how to do her job.

The first few chapters of The Good Part are so well-written, I almost threw my book at the wall in frustration over Lucy’s problems. Lucy is a bit of a pushover who doesn’t stand up for herself, but she’s extremely likeable and relatable, and Cousen’s first-person prose lets the reader experience these setbacks along with Lucy. Later in the book, when she’s overwhelmed with her new life and takes to bed for days, Cousen winks at the reader, with Lucy acknowledging that if this were a movie, people wouldn’t like her very much right now. 

Cousen hits all the tropes of this plot—the all-knowing child, the embarrassment from not knowing something important, fumbling with new technology and routines, learning of losses, falling in love with the current life, learning the lesson the universe wants them to learn. And while Cousen hits them well, putting her own spin on each trope, I wanted to see something different, especially at the end. 

Creators who play with this plot have to convince their readers or viewing audience that it’s better for the protagonist to return to their present than to remain in the future they cheated to achieve. 13 Going on 30 does this masterfully. The movie was also wise in placing the present in the 1980s and letting today’s present be the character’s future. If Cousen had done the same, she wouldn’t have needed to create a 2040 world, pulling readers out of the narrative and making them wonder about the future of the planet. Then again, Lucy’s traumas seem specific to Gen Z, and putting her struggles in the early 2000s might not resonate the same way. 

With Lucy’s present being so miserable and her future so wonderful, is it worth giving up 16 years to remain there? I might say yes. Lucy might not agree with me. More broadly, 16 years can pass in the blink of an eye, whether you lived each of the 93,440 days or whether you leaped over them. And when you take away the fantasy element, this story can be a warning not to wish away those days—even the hard ones—or fast-forward them away like Adam Sandler. They might not always contain lessons to be learned, but they will contain moments you wish you could relive. And the message the book conveyed is hopeful—the lean days will pay off; the promotion and the family are coming. For Gen Z’s sake, I hope Cousens is right.   

Thanks to Putnam for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Sophie Cousens:

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