Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 14 to 18
- Grade: 9 to 12
“Jane Sinner snarked her way into my heart, and she’s never leaving. Prepare to fall hard for this hilarious, heartfelt gem of a book.” —Becky Albertalli, author ofSimon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
It’s Kind of a Funny StorymeetsDariain the darkly hilarious tale of a teen’s attempt to remake her public image and restore inner peace through reality TV. The only thing seventeen-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.
Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up forHouse of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basicallyBig Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school . . . What more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.
AsHouse of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.
About the author
"Dry, witty, and compulsively readable, this debut, told through Jane’s journal entries, is by turns funny and truly emotional."
— Booklist, starred review
"Resplendent with sardonic wit...this debut novel is at turns wickedly funny and thought-provoking. Character-driven, humorous and deceptively profound." — Kirkus
"[Nice Try, Jane Sinner] is witty with a fresh narrative voice. It is rare to find a YA book that discusses faith and religion, but Oelke handles Jane’s religious questioning in an authentic way...Readers will enjoy rooting for her on House of Orange and in life."
— School Library Journal
"Debut novelist Oelke has created a complex and entertaining heroine in Jane, who narrates in sharp-edged, caustically funny journal entries."—Publishers Weekly
"Get ready for the raunchiness, drama and cringe-worthy obsession that comes with reality TV in this cheeky Canadian import."—BCCB
I loathed this. You need to read it.Disclaimer: reviewing digital proof via NetGalley; final version may differ.
This is one of those hard-to-pin-down reviews. I almost put down the book in the first pages, and dragged myself through the first half, and finally adjusted by the second. The voice and format are distinctive, so if you like them in the first place, it'll help. Basically, it's one of those so-real-it-hurts contemporary fiction pieces that capture all the things about teens that makes people avoid them. Snark and superiority, carelessness and endless appetite for causing misery and pushing other people's buttons, willful destruction etc.
High school dropout Jane Sinner is depressed, bored, and checked out of life when she comes across a flyer for a student production; a reality TV roommate show at the local community college. It's a chance to move out of the family home and cut down on conflict with her parents, so she jumps at the chance. Cue snarky thoughts and meaningful silences, passive-aggressive housekeeping battles and pranks, and low-key hijinks, all chronicled in a distinctive journal-and-interior-thoughts format that often reads like a script.
It's painful - and all too familiar. Oelke captures an authentically nihilistic voice, unironic Canadian culture (note the outward politeness, while massively pranking and internally back-talking others). Bizarrely, one of the most unique elements is Jane's background as a church kid, and her experience of questioning and discarding her parent's religion once she realizes she doesn't know God or believe in any of it. Lots of Canadians, and even more Americans, have at least some exposure to North American Christian culture/religion, and yet it never makes it into books outside of the Christian Lit aisle. The way aimlessness and lack of goals/direction, dismal future outlook and relational/romantic ineptness are handled are likewise on point.
At the risk of spoilers, this isn't a heartwarming teen special about overcoming depression/finding a dream/fitting in/adjusting etc. The plot picks up as the tension rises in the reality show Jane participates in, and there are some good twists as it nears the finish line that keep tension high and provide a moderate level of catharsis. The next chapter of Jane's life struck me as unrealistic and too convenient, but maybe it fits well in the world of reality TV/pop entertainment anyways.
I wouldn't call this an enjoyable book (and definitely not a clean one - older teens and adults only for foul language, substance abuse, and some sexual situations), but it does an excellent job at capturing a certain experience of our time. It's the sort of book you may or may not want to read, but you absolutely should spend some time with.