I really wish I had liked this one more. Too bad that it was just full of cliches and one main character (Noah) I disliked from beginning to end. I thought Abbi was fine, but she honestly needed a life since she seemed wholly dependent on her ex-best friend Cat to give her a social life. And I also kind of hated that Abbi was fine with forgiving Noah and his whole blackmail thing, but didn’t want to try to make up with Cat. I don’t know, I think Buxbaum just dropped that whole thing and it didn’t make sense in context of what the book was supposed to be about, that your life can change in a moment, so love, forgive, etc. and just be in the moment.
“Hope and Other Punchlines” follows 17 year old Abbi and Noah. Abbi we find out is pretty famous due to her picture being taken when she was 1 and a woman carrying her out of one of the towers that fell on 9/11. Abbi hates being known as “Baby Hope” and has to deal with total strangers running up to her, hugging her, and crying all over her. She is working at a camp for the summer to try to come to terms with the end of her long-term friendship with her best friend Cat and the fact that she is scared she may have caught something from 9/11 and that a lot of people who were near Ground Zero that day developed cancer. So that seems like a lot right? Well Buxbaum then introduces Noah. Noah is focused on finding the men and women in the photo of “Baby Hope.” When he realizes that Abbi is also working at the same summer camp he is, he tries to talk her into helping him out with tracking people down. When she refuses, he blackmails her to helping him or he will let everyone know who she is. Yeah, he’s not a charmer. That first exposure to Noah colored the whole book. I just didn’t like him.
So first off, Abbi’s family is a bit messy (not in a bad way). Her parents divorced when she was younger, but still live 2 houses down from each other. They are constantly in and out of each other’s homes. It makes zero sense why they are not together and I started to think of GOOP and conscious uncoupling and shuddered. We get to hear via Abbi’s POV her thoughts on 9/11, how it makes her feel to be one of the few who survived that day, and how lonely she is now that she and Cat are no longer friends. Why she doesn’t tell her parents she thinks she is ill is some teenager logic which I didn’t even mind. When we’re young and even when we’re older we think we can just ignore something and it somehow isn’t real.
Noah bugged me a lot. I didn’t like him even when we find out what he is supposedly trying to do via Abbi meeting with other survivors. I thought the whole thing made zero sense and should have been resolved with actually speaking to his mother. He was an ass towards his stepfather and just acted entitled the whole book. His ongoing mess of trying to find a funny 9/11 joke made me cringe inside.
The secondary characters don’t feel very developed. I felt sorry for Cat especially when you hear about her backstory. I really think it would have been smarter for Buxbaum to maybe have dual POVs with Abbi and Cat instead. I think having it focused on Noah added nothing. And I pretty much hated that Abbi and Cat never had the conversation that I think they should have. Just trying to do a big well friends grow apart thing didn’t work especially when we hear about how close these two were and perhaps Cat just had lingering issues about the whole Baby Hope thing.
The writing was fine, the chapters were short though. Sometimes the chapters were only a page. Buxbaum starts on Abbi’s POV and then goes back and forth to her and Noah.
The setting of the book primarily takes place in New Jersey, but with references to New York City and the anniversary of 9/11. I thought the whole book was slightly depressing. I was 21 on 9/11 and was about to head to school in Pittsburgh when we heard about the planes and towers. My mom made me drive back to my hometown and we were all scared. I had friends who were in the National Guard who were scared because our first thought was war when we heard the planes were brought down intentionally. I just remember it feeling surreal. That I was in some weird dream and I would wake up soon.
The ending is supposed to be uplifting I think, and I did think it was great of Buxbaum to highlight all of the diseases that people at Ground Zero were being diagnosed with post 9/11. I think I disagree with her though that 9/11 isn’t in people’s minds. I mean that’s why the U.S. went to war (again) in Iraq. It’s brought up about every other week when the media is discussing Saudi Arabia. Maybe it’s uppermost in my mind since I started off in government in 2013 and 9/11 was mentioned on a daily basis in our reports. We used that as a reference point for the longest time in any report discussing Iraq and Afghanistan. Anyway, I ultimately thought this was an okay read, just not in love with it.