All it took was for me to read Amazon’s comparison of Jenn Bennett’s Alex, Approximately to that magnificent piece of cinematic history, You’ve Got Mail, and I was there. (If you know what it means if I were to offer you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, you are my lifelong BFF. That’s it. That’s the only qualification.)
Alex, Approximately is a delightful and also moving concoction of a book. It’s effervescent but with substance. It’s Lana Turner pin curls and surfing wax and classic films and anonymous internet relationships but also flawed parents and people trying not to drown under other’s expectations and learning that being vulnerable is worth it. God, I’m feeling happy just thinking about it.
Mink and Alex (screen names) communicate across a classic film festival message board. (It’s so obvious that I have no clue exactly how to describe their communication technique because I’m so behind the times and have thus hodge podged something based on my own teenage internet history.) But, anyway…Alex lives in the same town as Mink’s father, who moved to California after he and Mink’s mom got a divorce. Though Alex repeatedly begs Mink to visit their town for the North by Northwest showing at the end of the summer, Mink refuses to commit. She’s worried about taking their relationship from screen to face-to-face so suddenly.
Other things you should know about her: she’s a private person by nature and has trouble sharing her opinions. She writes to Alex, “I blank out and try to read their face to see what they expect me to say, and I just say that.” She’s an “evader,” or, as she specifically calls herself, The Artful Dodger.
So when Mink, real name: Bailey, decides to move to her father’s town, she doesn’t tell Alex, and she determines that she’ll find him on her own using her handy dandy Veronica Speedwell skills (she’s my new female detective crush). Along the way, Bailey’s trying to make friends, handle her new job at a completely charming and also insane museum, and deal with her infuriating coworker, Porter, who immediately earns her ire by making fun of her mismatched shoes and putting her on the spot in front of everyone.
There was so much about this book that I loved. The chemistry between Bailey and Porter, and also Mink and Alex (real identity unknown), is sparkling, and the town they live in, Coronado Cove, feels like it’s right out of Gidget (Sandra Dee film version). Bailey’s close relationship with her dad is refreshing and heartwarming, particularly because they’re trying to navigate a post-divorce world that doesn’t include Bailey’s mom. And maybe most of all, I loved Bailey’s growth from The Artful Dodger to someone who sticks. Those evader tendencies can be particularly strong in young women—and also 33-year-old women who are trying hard but still feel like they have to include emojis to soften messages on the internet and sometimes feel uncertain when they’re asked a preference and actually volunteer an answer.
Alex, Approximately is a love story and coming of age story, and it gave me all the good feelings. I flew through the pages in a deranged fashion and savored Bennett’s skillful, loving rendering of the town and the quirky people who inhabit it.
“Read it! I know you’ll love it.” (That’s a quote from You’ve Got Mail, for the uninitiated. I know, my obsession is a bit much, but please let me have this one thing.)
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