Review: The Adults

The Adults

The Adults
By Alison Espach
(Scribner, Paperback, 9781439191866, September 2011, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

Sharp. Witty. Acerbic.

The Rest of It:

Fourteen-year-old Emily Vidal and her family host a cocktail party to celebrate her father’s 50th birthday. Everyone in the neighborhood is there despite the oppressive heat and as the guests float in and out of the house, it’s clear to Emily that being an adult is as droll as say… watching paint dry. That is, until she sees her father in a passionate embrace with their next door neighbor, Mrs. Resnick. That night, her parents tell her that they are getting a divorce. It’s said in a very straight-forward manner; a one-two punch to the gut delivered without hesitation. Emily is not surprised after what she’s seen.

Weeks later, Emily invites a group of insipid girls over for a sleepover and in the early morning hours, while getting a glass of water and gazing out her kitchen window, Emily witnesses the suicide of Mr. Resnick as he hangs himself from a tree next door. Her inability to react, to prevent what is about to happen is both alarming and expected. In shock, she drops a glass which shatters across the floor and screams for her father.

The title of this book alone is worthy of discussion. Who are the adults Espach is referring to? Is she talking about Emily’s parents? Her bitter mother, Gloria or her philandering father, Victor? Could she be referring to the Resnicks next door? Another broken family that finds its way into Emily’s immediate circle? Early in the story, I’d say yes. That as we get to know Emily and what makes her tick, we are also given unpleasant glimpses of the adults that form who she is.

With that, let’s talk about Emily. At fourteen, she is wise beyond her years but every now and then her naivety is displayed for all to see. She’s witty, smart and beautiful but at the same time childish and demanding but not in an obnoxious way. Not at all like the friends she hangs out with. They are living caricatures with big heads and a lot of unnecessary banter spewing forth from their mouths. They talk about sex and having sex with various members of the male population, including a teacher by the name of Jonathan.

Emily’s affair with Jonathan is both disturbing and logical. The fact that I just wrote that surprises me, but it’s true. Jonathan’s decision to hook-up with Emily is cringe-worthy but he’s also pretty good to her (if you can forget that he is molesting a child) and although she holds it together fairly well, she is devastated by her parent’s divorce and the distraction of a forbidden romance is what holds her together. But their time together is awkward. There is a lot of fumbling and a lot of sex and although it’s clear that Emily is young and inexperienced, Jonathan doesn’t really pick up on these clues so there are many pages of Emily questioning why he’s so hairy or why he sometimes loses his erection. Her best friend Janice claims to have also slept with Jonathan so it’s not like Emily can just go and ask her about things so she thinks out loud and figures stuff out along the way.

As Emily’s high school years come to a close, I expected the story to end but instead, Espach launches into Emily’s adult life. In college and living in Prague with her father and her half-sister Laura, Emily has once again hooked up with Jonathan and it’s weird. Very weird, because now she is of age, but Jonathan is much older and not nearly as attractive as he used to be. To me, I didn’t need to see Emily as an adult to understand her. Espach’s decision to take us into adulthood was a bold one, but it didn’t work. For one, Emily hasn’t grown all that much. She is essentially the same person and because of this, the relationship between her and Jonathan is even more awkward and forced.

The difference between me loving this one and not loving it, is that jaunt into Emily’s adulthood. I don’t know. I guess I wanted to keep her young in my mind. Isn’t that how it is with high school anyway? You want to hold on to what’s dear and even though her relationship with a teacher was scandalous and perverted, to Emily… it was dear and because of that, I was okay with it. What could have been a great book, was in the end, just good.

Cover note: Don’t let the cover fool you. This paperback cover makes you think it’s for the Young Adult crowd but I’d argue against that. It really does not fall into that category at all.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

24 thoughts on “Review: The Adults”

    1. There are moments where it’s a little depressing but because Emily is okay with it all and seems to come out fine, that somehow makes it easier to digest. I just wish the author had ended the story with high school and maybe had a small Epilogue to let us know how it all ended up.

  1. This one is definitely not for me. Sounds a bit lolita-ish. Even with good writing, I am not interested.

    1. It is a bit Lolita-like but he isn’t as openly manipulative as Humbert was. At least, the author didn’t focus on it. She actually almost made molesting a child seem okay, which is so horrible to admit.

  2. I wonder what I would feel about this one, especially knowing that that Emily as a fourteen year old has an affair with her teacher. It sounds like Emily is forced into an adult world after the shocking things that she sees and hears from the adults around her, and that she is not really aware of herself or of what’s appropriate. I would be interested in taking a look at this one, because while it does sound scandalous, it also sounds like it would be very interesting in a strange way.

    1. Emily is a bit different than the 14 year olds I know! She is a bit more sophisticated and seems to understand relationships better than most adults. There were times where I forgot she was 14 but then she’d question something they were doing and then I’d remember her age. I did feel as if her teacher cared about her if that makes any sense.

  3. Cripes! This sounds so fascinating! I’m not sure I like the bit about her having an affair with her teacher (Lolita, anyone?) or that they have a relationship again when she is an adult – but to think she viewed it as a relationship and got something from it whilst a teenager (well, that just breaks my heart!). I will definitely be kindling it – great review, Ti!

    1. It’s a little heartbreaking to think that this guy is the measure of all men in her life butit was just so fascinating to read about.

    1. I do think it’s worth a read. Maybe if the transition between child and adult was more blended… it would have worked better. It was if a switch had been flipped. Pow! She’s an adult now.

  4. Wow, the half of this book about 14-year old Emily is like that one-two punch to the gut three times over to the reader! In some ways it’s remarkable Emily makes it past 14 as a functional person after what she experiences. But she sounds like a remarkable character, a child and an adult mixed into one. I didn’t expect your comment about her affair with Jonathan and I’m intrigued! But it makes sense since Emily needs someone to focus on her and care about her.
    It sounds like Espach is observant and a good writer but I wonder why she felt the need to go into Emily’s life when she’s older. I wonder if it would have been better to explore that in a second book.

    Great review, Ti, you got my attention.

    1. My guess, is that the author worried about Emily being “damaged” by everything that happened to her and that she grew attached to her and wanted to be sure she was okay so she took her into adulthood. But that is when “I” felt sad about her situation. Here is years, years later and this guy is still in her life??

  5. This sounds…odd. I guess I don’t get where it’s going. If there’s a point to showing her as an adult, that’s one thing. But if it’s just extraneous, then why? I mean, obviously I haven’t read it, but I can tell from your review that you, too, were questioning the addition.

    Hmm. I’m still curious, though. What a horrific opening.

    1. It just seemed so tacked on. It seems to be the complaint of almost everyone on Goodreads who has read it. When she jumped ahead I was like, wait a second, and then I was okay but then when that teacher showed up again I was like, WTF is going on here?? She wrapped it up okay but it still felt tacked on.

  6. This one sounds pretty powerful. I’m not sure I really got the essence of what this book is trying to convey but your review was thoughtful enough that I need to check this out.

  7. Depressing definitely, but probably pretty realistic. I mean, I had a relationship with someone in high school (not a teacher!), then years later hooked back up and it IS awkward and weird. People look different, and it becomes not so fairy tale. Interesting book (and a great review).

  8. Who are the adults indeed? Just reading your review, my heart ached for Emily. I don’t think I could so easily accept the relationship between her and her teacher (not that you approve), and that would probably be a real issue for me if I read this book.

    The ending reminded me of another book I read where the author did something similar–I loved the book, but the shift into adulthood was a bit jarring. Like you with this book, I wasn’t ready to have the main character be an adult yet.

  9. Having just heard a harrowing story from a friend about abuse, I’d say “adults” is a clever title. Who are the adults in relationships? Do you need to earn that title? And I think you’re right, it doesn’t sound like a YA book at all

  10. I came across this a few months ago and added it to my wish list, but I haven’t seen many blogger reviews of it. Thanks for this–I’m definitely still interested in reading it!

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