June 29, 2013

Review: Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess

Brooklyn Girls by Gemma Burgess
Published: July 2, 2013, St. Martin's Press
Genre: Adult Contemporary
Source: eARC from publisher via Netgalley

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Maybe we just have to figure out what we want our lives to be, and how we're going to do it. And we need to help one another. We're all in this together—this house, this period of life, this strange predicament of being adult and not knowing what the hell that means.

I picked up Brooklyn Girls on a whim. I saw it mentioned in a few peoples' Waiting on Wednesdays one week, noticed that it was available through Netgalley, and just decided to request a copy. As much as I adore reading YA books, sometimes it's nice to read about characters slightly older than teens, characters that I can actually relate to in my life right now. I knew Brooklyn Girls was about a group of recent college grads living in Brooklyn and trying to figure out what they want from their lives. And hey I can totally relate to the scary revelation that adulthood isn't quite like the idealized version promoted in college. Even after attending school for most of your life, it can be hard to decide, "okay, now this is what I want to do until I retire." While I generally prefer to read books that offer more escapism than this, I can't deny I was attracted to the idea of reading about characters who are going through similar situations to me right now.

Pia has recently graduated from Brown University with a Bachelor's degree in Art History and absolutely no real work experience. Through her parents' connections she's able to snag a job at a PR firm in New York City, and she rents an apartment in Brooklyn with four other girls. Angie is Pia's best friend pre-college, Julia and Madeleine attended college with Pia, and Coco is Julia's younger sister. With the exception of Coco, all of the girls are embarking on their first "real world" jobs with varying degrees of success.

After partying a little too hard at their housewarming party, Pia finds herself fired from her job. After one week. Her bad behavior in the past has caused her to get kicked out of two boarding schools, among other things, and Pia's parents have very little faith in their daughter's ability to live as an adult, so they offer her an ultimatum: if she's not gainfully employed within the next two months, then her parents will take her back to Zurich with them and find a job for her there. Pia doesn't want to leave her friends (not to mention live with her parents, with whom she doesn't get along well), and she eventually comes to the decision to start her own company: a food truck that serves low-fat, high-protein meals. As she and her friends come to realize through work, friendships, and relationships, however, nothing in the adult world is simple and everything comes with a cost.

Before I begin discussing the book itself, I need to mention the cover here. Cute and girly, right? There's a definite audience that the book is trying to target. But after reading the book I honestly have no idea who those cover models are supposed to be. The protagonist of Brooklyn Girls, Pia, is half-Swiss and half-Indian. She describes herself as having dark skin and green eyes, and is subjected to racist names like "Bollywood" and remarks on how people constantly ask her "where she's from." So clearly Pia our protagonist is not featured on the cover. Am I to think that those two girls are two of Pia's friends and roommates? Perhaps, but that doesn't make sense given that this is firmly Pia's story. Whitewashing a cover is not okay. I think the target audience could have been reached even by using a person of color for one of the cover models.

Where Brooklyn Girls really excels is in its depiction of the fear and uncertainty that accompany post-graduate life. None of the girls has any idea what she wants to do, not truly. Even Julia, who has worked so hard to get in the banking industry, is starting to realize that she really doesn't know whether she wants to spend the rest of her life working long hours with little reward. Post-graduation is a tricky time, and the girls are struggling to strike a balance among friendships, relationships, work, and hobbies. It's definitely a struggle that I can relate to, which I appreciated.

Another wonderful aspect of this novel was how much the focus is on female friendships. Sure, the girls go out in the attempt of finding a guy, sleep around, and discuss romance, but at the end of the day Pia, Julia, Coco, Madeleine, and Angie all return home to their apartment to be with each other. As Pia thinks at one point, they've become like a family. Misunderstanding and prejudices aside, it's clear they really do care for another, and it's a refreshing message to read.

I found it much easier to relate to Julia and Madeleine, the overachievers and driven girls of the group, so it was an interesting experience to read a story told from Pia's perspective. Pia, the party girl who is confident in all things interpersonal but is a mess internally. Years of parental indifference/disappointment, as well as a particularly painful breakup, have contributed to Pia's vices and constant belittling of herself. On one hand, it is hard not to feel a sense of sympathy for Pia. The pretty, rich girl isn't nearly as composed as she likes to appear. On the other hand, it was incredibly stressful being inside of Pia's head. Pia has no work ethics and her impulsive nature causes her to get in trouble again and again. 

Since no employers or employment agencies are willing to give Pia a chance, she does take initiative and purchase a food truck, and noting the lack of healthy to-go lunch options for New Yorkers, creates the company SkinnyWheels. I think that Burgess wants her readers to be on board with Pia's decision, but most of the time I just found myself wincing. She's just so naive and it was painful to read about many of the blunders she makes as she tries to start her own business; funny, but painful. Think of Becky Bloomwood's impulsive nature from the Shopaholic series and multiply it by ten and you can understand what I mean. For every step forward, Pia takes three backwards. She finds herself bound in an agreement with a loan shark. She earns a good profit one week and then blows it all on gifts and alcohol. I get that this story is about her personal growth (which does gradually occur), but Pia is just so unlike me in every way imaginable that I couldn't help judging many of her (poor) decisions.

What I expected from this novel was a combination between a work of chick lit and a deeper contemporary work. While the novel definitely does deliver those aspects, I still finished the book feeling not quite satisfied. I think a large part of my dissatisfaction stems from the fact that not only did I have difficulties relating to Pia, but many of her decisions made me downright uncomfortable. Still, there are plenty of light and fluffy aspects to balance out the story. I loved Pia's determination and drive when it came to SkinnyWheels, and found it to be a quick read. My understanding is that this will be part of a series, with each installment focusing on another roommate. I'm somewhat intrigued but will wait to learn more about the next book before deciding whether to continue with this story.

Rating: 2 stars

Disclaimers: I received this review copy from the publisher, but that in no way affected my opinion. The quote is from an advanced copy of the novel and is subject to change in the finished copy. 
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I don't think this particular book is for me, though I'm glad I actually know what it's about now (I've only ever seen the cover floating around). It's a shame that you couldn't totally relate to Pia and that the book fell flat for you overall. If you choose to read the next one, I hope it works better for you. I do agree though -- it is nice to sometimes step out of YA for a little while. :)

    1. I hate those books where you see people acquiring them but don't know anything about them! Glad I could help you out there. :) And yes. I just need to find some more reliable adult fiction, I think.

  2. Gosh, Pia sounds like I'd want to punch her in the face! I loved Becky Bloomwood, but I can't imagine someone 10x as neurotic. I've been debating reading this book, my main objection is that the description describes the girls as living in "Downtown Brooklyn" and, having lived in Brooklyn for 6 years, I can say that pretty much no one lives in Downtown Brooklyn and especially not in a town house. Great review!

    1. haha well, I can't say I had any violent thoughts when thinking about her...more like disgust/distaste lol. And I did see a reviewer question the authenticity of the location being described. That didn't bother me personally, but it may have if I was actually familiar with the area. I think that seeing what other reviewers mention should help you better decide whether to read this or not (I've seen far more positive reviews overall). Thanks, Maggie!

  3. I'm so upset this one didn't work out! I really thought this might be the New Adult book I was vying for, but I guess not. *sigh* I'm glad I had you to read this before I did, Amanda, and I hope your next read it much better. Thanks for such a helpful review, though! :)

    1. Me too, Keertana, me too. But I may be the black sheep with this, so definitely check out some other reviewers to see their thoughts. And of course. :) I've been reading the Dairy Queen series recently and it's light years better, so that's been nice.

  4. Blah, what a let-down for you, Amanda! This one sounds so GOOD, to, sort of like how I've been imagining "New Adult" would be. I did like some of the Shopaholic books but after awhile Becky majorly wore on me, so I'm wondering if Pia might do the same. The story sounds like it has some cute and hopefully redeeming moments though! I'm still going to read it at some point - I hope you've read something since this one that you liked more.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

    1. I still love the Shopaholic books. I might be a book or two behind though. I devour Kinsella's books, but though this had similarities, it wore me the wrong way. And I do hope you read it, Molli! I'd be interested in comparing thoughts (and I'm hoping it works out much better for you)!

  5. I'm sorry that this book didn't work out for you Amanda, Becky does really get annoying at times as the Shopaholic progresses, so I can understand some of the frustrations that you had with Pia's character and decisions that she made. I was really excited about this book, I think I will still end up reading it, but my expectations will be much lowered than before. Thanks for the honest review Amanda! :)

    1. I think going in with not super-high expectations is definitely a good thing - preferable at least to really expecting something great. Less room for disappointment. Although I hope you're able to enjoy it, Jasprit! And thank you!


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