As I write this review, I’ve got a soundtrack of ’80s music playing softly in the background; at the moment, it’s “Live to Tell” by Madonna. I normally require near-quiet to write, but I’m hoping the music will offer some inspiration as I think back to my experience reading Someday Jennifer by Risto Pakarinen. I’ve spoken about this perk before; sometimes book publicists will include a little gift or item to help market their book, and this time I received a curated collection of music that corresponds with the chapter names in the book, all on a USB key housed in a vintage cassette tape holder. How could I refuse this blast from the past?
Nostalgia is the main theme of this book, and for those who lived through the ’80s (and remember it) this story will certainly bring back memories. Not just the chapter titles, but the references to movies, fashion, and technology all serve to transport the reader and the protagonist Peter. He’s in his 40’s with a failing career and no romantic partners on the horizon, but jolted out of this stagnant loop when he realizes how much happier he was in the ’80s when he was a teenager. In an effort to find his way back to that beloved time in his life he moves back home, ditches his modern technology, and embarks on a journey to find Jennifer; the ‘girl that got away’ . Through some convoluted reasoning, he also decides to rescue his small-town movie theater from demolition, fixing it up for a grand opening and showing of his favourite movie Back to the Future.
Not surprisingly, there is some serious suspension of disbelief required to enjoy this story; don’t dig too far into Peter’s motivations, circumstances or assumptions, because there isn’t much justification for any of them. However, as a simple ‘feel good’ read, this book does the trick. There is a love story woven throughout, and even though Peter’s actions are supposedly motivated by reconnecting with Jennifer, it quickly becomes clear that this book is more a coming-of-age story for late bloomers. The romance that eventually appears is more of an after thought and a fairly obvious plot twist.
My best part of this book was Peter’s voice; told in a first-person perspective, we’re treated to a few flashbacks which served as consistent sources of laugh-out-loud humour. One of my favourite lines describes a party held in a classroom after hours, condoned by parents as a reward for student efforts:
“The student council had arranged for us to have the second-floor physics classroom to ourselves…lots of chips, soda and popcorn. Someone’s mom had insisted on being sensible, and a lone salad sat at the edge, unloved” (p. 61 of ARC).
Even though this quote doesn’t involve any kind of cultural touchstones, it was phrases like this that truly brought my back to my childhood, which this book succeeded at. Even if you weren’t alive in the ’80s, reading this story will remind you of the rose-coloured glasses most of us recall our younger years through, which, considering our present-day circumstances (hello day 40+ of quarantine!), is a welcome respite and fantasy. I didn’t find this read particularly memorable or impressive, but I did enjoy it, and was thoroughly entertained by Peter’s time travels, which for many, is as good a reason as any to pick up a particular book.