17 year old Jane Sinner should be enjoying her senior year of high school, but a traumatic incident has her constantly looking over her shoulder and second guessing the furtive glances of her classmates making it impossible for her to emotionally face their suppositions. Thus begins Nice Try, Jane Sinner where the author, Leanne Oelke, provides an interesting option for a main character suffering with depression and other mental health issues. Constantly skipping school, however, is not one of the acceptable choices, so by mutual agreement an alternative is suggested – a special program at the local community college where she can finish up high school and even take some college classes. Jane’s parents are so desperate to restore some normalcy to their daughter’s life that they agree to her demands of moving out and rooming with a friend near the campus. Little do they know that the place Jane chooses to live (sans said friend) is The House of Orange which is a Big Brother style set up filmed for the Internet with a used car as a prize for the last man standing.
Jane doesn’t have to worry about her past while attending class at Elbow River Community College, so she can relax and focus on her goal of “winning” the prize. For someone who shrinks from attention, she surprisingly doesn’t mind (too much) the invasive cameras which indiscriminately film her actions. She even forms an alliance and develops a friendship of sorts with her fellow contestants. A self-proclaimed psychology major, Jane sets out to administer a negative stimulus whenever one of her obnoxious housemates raids her personal dorm-style fridge – a nightly occurrence. Her aggressive, competitive style along with her sarcastic sense of humor and sardonic wit make her popular with an audience whose growing viewership leads to a spot for the reality show on a local tv channel along with a corporate sponsorship, complete with a scholarship and a cash award.
Complications include the fact that Jane cannot legally consume alcohol (at least not on tape) since the drinking age in the province of Alberta in Canada is eighteen. Even though she partakes the forbidden beverage off camera, the after effects of her imbibing is evident in the footage. This could lead to problems for everyone involved especially since the producer, a fellow student, assumes she is of legal age (probably because she lied on the application). It also becomes harder for Jane to keep the truth hidden from her parents as more and more viewers tune in to watch and she finally has to come clean with her younger sister who is pissed that Jane doesn’t visit home more often.
Oelke has the main character tell her story uses a journaling style with a conversational dialogue imitating lines of a screenplay, including a bit of imaginary dialogue and a few inner psychotherapy sessions where Jane unsuccessfully attempts to psychoanalyze her own uncooperative self. The addition of some explanatory narrative nicely rounds out the plot making this book a fast paced, entertaining read despite the 400+ page length.
The cast of characters from her “new” life (along with her diverse fan base) plus those high school friends she occasionally sees, as well as her family and the members of the youth group she’s promised to attend each week, provides an extensive list of names to keep track of that’s just long enough for an annotated list of “cast members” to be helpful.
My major complaints were the melodramatic and over the top conclusion to the competition and the way Jane’s little sister is portrayed – more like a whinny twelve year old instead of her slightly more mature age of fifteen. Kudos, however, for dealing with the topical issue of teen depression, along with the adolescent angst of discovering ones own identity (separate from that of their parents) which includes questioning ones faith in God and searching for the answer to the age old query “what do I do next?” Oelke provides a possible answer in an ending which promises a positive future for someone that needs a happily ever after.
Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.