It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for good YA fiction. And Tell Me Three Things is good YA fiction. Actually, let me clarify that statement. Tell Me Three Things is good YA fiction if you’re the target demographic. If, like me, you’re slightly older than the target demographic and have celebrated many anniversaries of your twenty-ninth birthday, you may not feel the same, but my inner fifteen year old loved it.
It’s the beginning of Jessie’s junior year of high school. Her mother died two years ago and her father eloped with a woman on a business trip, which is how she wound up moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and is now attending a small prep school with her stepbrother, who, instead of being a built-in friend, appears to want nothing to do with her. Everything about Jessie is wrong in her eyes, from how she dresses to how she spent her summer, and she’s drifting in the terrifying sea of high school when she receives an anonymous email with a few pieces of advice about her new school. Even as she recognizes how weird the whole thing is, she grasps the lifeline, and spends the next few months trying to figure out who her mystery guardian angel is.
In the meantime, Jessie slowly starts to make friends while remaining close with her best friend back home, tries to navigate her new family and even finds a job and develops a crush on a boy, but she still comes back to her anonymous email friend. She has her theories about the identity, but is never quite able to bring herself to ask. And although I figured it out pretty early on, I still held my breath wondering if Jessie was going to eventually make the same connection. And, too, I wondered briefly if I was terribly, horribly wrong and her new friends were going to be revealed as the ultimate Mean Girls and behind the whole thing, leaving Jessie humiliated. But I wasn’t wrong, and Buxbaum managed to somehow avoid making the whole thing twee.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a teenager, and I know that things are different now, but I think that the feelings of being a teenager haven’t changed. At that age, you are utterly lost. You don’t know where you fit in, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, you certainly have no control over your own life, you feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever felt the way you do, and you desperately want to feel accepted and loved and that people are okay with who you are. You want to feel that you are okay with who you are. Tell Me Three Things is about those feelings. It’s not about Jessie making friends in her new school or adjusting to her mom’s death. It’s not about the identity of her anonymous email friend or even about her relationship with her new family. It’s about Jessie discovering who Jessie is and making peace with that. And it doesn’t hurt that there’s a sweet little romance thrown in.
Buxbaum perfectly nails what it’s like to be on the precipice of adulthood, simultaneously exhilarated by the possibilities and scared out of your mind at what lies ahead. This is definitely one of the better YA novels out there.
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