How to Be a Grown-Up is a short book about, well, adulthood, and how it doesn’t always match up with our expectations. Given its title, I was expecting a much younger protagonist and a much easier set of problems, but Rory is 40, turning 41, and still struggling with all of the questions we begin asking ourselves at 18 and sometimes never manage to answer satisfactorily. She’s well painted, though, and believable; she tends to make good decisions and try her best in a way protagonists, particularly in a romance-ish novel, often fail to. A supporting cast of characters is also well rounded and interesting, besides the husband and mother-in-law characters, anyway, and Rory’s friends feel like a lifeline for her in very important ways. Her relationships in general are robust, and I appreciated many of her interactions with others – particularly her much younger bosses, where there was a sense of exasperation but not one of anger or resentment towards the 22 and 23 year olds in charge of the business.
Spoilers begin here!
All that being said, there were many things that frustrated me a lot about this book:
- Her husband, whom she divorces over the course of the book, is unequivocally terrible, and while there are one or two moments that humanize him, 95% of his behaviour, towards both Rory and their children, is abominable. Towards the end of the book, there’s a tiny hint that maybe they’ll reconcile, which I understand would be something Rory might want, but all I could think was that she deserved much, much better. I think if there had been a few more hints of the good relationship they had in the beginning, it would have been easier to invest in Rory’s feelings regarding her divorce, but as it was, I was practically cheering when she got the locks on her apartment changed.
- The first two hundred pages are well paced and feel reasonable, but the resolution in the last thirty happens very quickly. There’s a time skip of several months, and Rory goes from “freshly-divorced woman scrambling to keep her job” to “happily separated founder of a successful business” in the course of a few pages. I get why that line isn’t so drawn out – it probably won’t make a very interesting story – but it made the ending of the book feel rushed.
- No surprise, there’s a romantic resolution on the last few pages, with a character that was teasingly included in all of the major plot points previously. I actually liked their friendship, and I felt it was fairly believable, but there wasn’t much time devoted to his relationships or divorce, giving me the faint feeling that he left his wife and kids because he was thinking about kissing Rory a little too much. I’m not sure if that could be resolved without a much longer book and a more traditional, drawn-out romance plot, but it didn’t quite sit right with me.
I picked up HtBaGU because I’d enjoyed the Nanny Diaries once upon a million years ago, and I did actually enjoy this book a fair bit. I suspect it had more to do with my mood – and my excitement to read something short, fluffy and fun – than with the book itself. If you’ve enjoyed their previous books, or are looking for a quick reminder that no-one knows what they’re doing 99% of the time, give it a go.