Screw being likeable: All Grown Up

Last week, I promised that when I got home from the lake, I would actually come to this space and blog about some of the books that I read.

Finally, here I am. Better late than never. Although I think the absence probably tormented me more than it did you.

At the last minute, I decided to tuck Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up into my bag. It ended up being a glorious addition – I even got to enjoy it in the sunshine for about an hour!


Andrea, our heroine, has left her art grad program and moved back to New York City to start a corporate job and live on her own for the first time in her life. And while the lives of her friends, colleagues, mother and brother all move forward, she’s stuck in this cycle of lovers, work projects and gentrification in the neighbourhood she’s calling home. Each chapter tackles an event or person in her life and together, they put the pieces of her life together for the reader.

Before I read this book, I kept hearing about people not enjoying it or not finishing it because they didn’t find the heroine “likeable.” This is something we all need to stop doing eh? Heroines don’t need to be likeable. Is Holden Caulfield likeable? What about Gatsby? Heathcliffe and Mr Rochester kind of suck. But they don’t have to be likeable because they are male. We need to extend the same courtesy to heroines. Women have layers – let us showcase them in all their unlikeable glory.

Maybe you realize now that I am not one of the people that felt this way. I love how contrary and messy and sharp Andrea is. I love that she avoids her family, is very clear eyed about how her relationships with women change once they get married and have babies, and how she kind-of-but-not-really laments that she took a corporate world job instead of slaving away as a starving artist.

All Grown Up leaves breadcrumbs of a life in each chapter – something casually mentioned in one chapter becomes the focus in another so that in the end, you get the whole picture. It was unexpected in a myriad of ways – I didn’t expect to be as affected by it as I was. It was both funnier and more serious than I thought it would be.

Oh yes, Attenberg has gifted us with a brilliant, incisive, hilarious, wonderful book about a woman living her own life and giving no f*cks, except when she does. I loved it.

14 thoughts on “Screw being likeable: All Grown Up

  1. Cheers to this! I loved this too and knew as I was reading that lots of people wouldn’t like it b/c she’s dislikable. But reading about only likable people is BORING!

  2. I loved All Grown Up, too. I listened to the audio version and the narrator was fantastic. It was like Andrea was telling me about her life and I liked her despite her many flaws.

  3. I agree with you – likeability can be boring! One of the things I liked best about Mitzi Bytes was that I found myself questioning how much I liked the main character – at first I assumed I was supposed to like her, but then realized that the author didn’t want it to be that easy.

    • That’s so much more interesting! You’re actually a) thinking about it and b) reacting to a character instead of just going along with it. I really like that authors are experimenting with this more, especially where female characters are concerned.

  4. UGH. I’m not a slave to likable. I adore unlikable characters. Hell, I AM an unlikable character! I just found her to be uninteresting and whiny. I made it to less than 50% and quit, but you and Sarah are messing with me to go back to this book because I trust you both!

  5. I read so many book reviews with the reader stating they hated the main character because she was unlikable. People love Humbert Humbert, and he enters into a whole scheme to sexually molest a teenage girl–and gets away with it. We call that “great literature.” But a woman doesn’t really like her children and whooowee! She’s “unlikable!” Ugh.

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