Will Marissa Meyer ever write a bad book? Ever?
Her first contemporary book (well, sorta) takes place at Fortuna Beach, California, a coastal town where it’s summer all year and you can always enjoy the ocean waves, unless you have a phobia of sharks like Prudence Barnett or nearly drowned as a child like a side character. She’s a bit uptight. I think on MBTI, she’d be an ENTJ. She sees her grades as what will bring her fortune or doom her. I’d bet money she’s never deliberately skipped a class. Her several-months lab partner Quint Erickson is a different story. He’s absent so much he makes Ferris Bueller look like Cody Martin from The Suite Life, and is pretty good at disregarding Prudence’s anger as everyone, even people in her posse find him hot. For Mr. Chavez’s biology class, Prudence panics big time as Quint is late again as they are about to give their presentation, and by the end, Mr. Chavez gives Prudence a B- on her part, a B+ on Quint’s part (!) and their overall project a C.
That is probably the worst mark she’s ever gotten in her life, and it is all Quint’s fault by far, and Mr. Chavez refuses to budge on his judgment. He offers them a chance to redo the project during the summer but only if it’s a team effort, something Quint is obviously against. While trying to drown her sorrows at their favourite restaurant by the beach, Prudence finds out that more than a few times when someone is doing something wrong and she wishes they got comeuppance…it comes. Maybe it was after she sung John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” for the restaurant as they were trying out karaoke. She wants someone annoying her to go away, something annoying or painful will happen to them. She sees someone wronging someone else, they slip on a banana peel hard. She’s enthralled, but what’s on her mind mainly is upping her grade, and looking more into the life of Quint to see if they can somehow put aside their differences leads her to realize maybe there’s more to Quint than slacking and cozying up. Much more.
I’ve said this in past reviews I’ve written of her work, but every time I finish one of Marissa Meyer’s books I just remember this fact all over again; Meyer and I are completely on the same page with how to tell good stories. We both write very lengthy and maybe even slowburn-esque, but because of that we have the room to flesh out our characters and have fun with our story ideas.
And I will admit when you realize the direction plot-wise this is going, I thought, “…Okay, I can understand Prudence’s anger but this might be overdoing it and is this the best way for the book to go?” But that was mainly because when we see the book’s direction fantasy-wise, we don’t want it to end. Reading Prudence getting revenge on so many people made me grin. I imagined all the times I’ve seen something like that or I’ve been wronged. If I had those powers, I’d have gotten revenge without my enemies being able to point fingers at me. So, it’s been a while since I’ve read a book where the main focus was on improving someone’s grade. In university, I got a C in a course, and to this day I don’t know why. I never checked. But every other grade in my career was between a B+ and A+, so I let it go. In teen fiction, fighting about a C grade when you got good grades in everything else is no longer a plot that feels like a full investment is in order. Now don’t get me wrong. There have been unfair grades I’ve been upset about too. Many. And I might be angry too if I got a C on a project I spent months working on with a partner who was dragging me down. But fighting this much for the grade? And setting your whole summer around changing it? Doesn’t seem worth it, and Prudence’s friends acknowledge this. Fortunately, Marissa Meyer compensates every way she possibly can.
You see, Instant Karma is one of those rare books that really twists up what you think you understand. We begin the book thinking we already know Quint inside out and we are entirely against someone vandalizing a local restaurant. Meyer knows how to set the deets to make us believe we are informed enough to have a valid view. Then as we find out more backstory, we figure out the importance of keeping an open mind. We might still feel our assumptions have some merit and the situation’s not perfect for either side, but it’s, well, not perfect for either side. We see revenge enacted on a few people, but we realize afterward maybe the revenge is worse than the crime, and it wasn’t worth butting in on. We learn that we had expectations for why people were acting the way they were, and we were wrong.
The book takes place a lot of the time at a sea animal rescue centre, and it did a great job of making us wonder what the world around us is really up to. Meyer shared in Acknowledgments she went to a centre just like this and it opened up her eyes. That much is obvious. The explanations for how it functions, how it is able to function, and why certain procedures are done, are flawless enough for me to be transfixed even when it’s not being fully devoted to entertaining us. The hate-like relationship between Prudence and Quint is believable and brings out change in both of them. A mystery at the back of the book is fun. The financial troubles at her family’s record store and the centre were written in a way that made them seem realistic and fixable with the right kind of ideas, a story arc that’s grounded down to make us relate to it, and the book’s own setting of Fortuna Beach reminded me of what it was like to be on vacation, riding the waves, tanning and eating as many burgers and fries as you could chew. I needed that during this quarantine time where it seems it’ll be a long time before I ever have a chance to visit a beach again.
If I had more time to read, I’m sure I’d find another author or two like this, and there are other authors who’ve also written spectacular book series, but Marissa Meyer is the only author I’ve ever read where she’s tackled several different ideas and I’ve really liked or loved everything she’s put out. Whether it’s a fairytale sci-fi like The Lunar Chronicles or a superhero fantasy like Renegades or a contemporary like this, she’s just…a good storyteller.
If you like this, I’d try Everyone We’ve Been by Sarah Everett