"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 of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
It’s Kind of a Funny Story meets Daria in the darkly hilarious tale of a teen’s attempt to remake her public image and restore inner peace through reality TV. The only thing 17-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 for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big 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.
As House 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.
Review: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke
Nice Try, Jane Sinner is probably one of the most unique, sarcastic, and philosophical YA books I’ve read. It follows the titular character as she drops out of high school, enrolls at goofy Elbow River Community College, and ends up on House of Orange, a Big Brother-style reality webseries where the contestants (all Elbow River students) must compete for scholarship money and a car.
That synopsis alone might make the book seem fun and light, but author Lianne Oelke has a lot more to say than just the fluffy. Told entirely through Jane’s journal, Nice Try, Jane Sinner discusses the nature of being watched, mental health, falling out of faith, and the morality and ethics of competition.
I’m not gonna lie, this book – and Jane, are sometimes abrasive and unlikeable, but always wickedly funny. The characters, from House of Orange mastermind Alexander Park to Jane’s housemates are completely memorable and fully realized. From ditzy Chaunt’Elle, clean freak Robbie, mature student Marc, sweetheart Holly, and egomaniac Raj, we get a lot of laughs, but also a lot more than these one-word descriptors would suggest.
For instance, early on in the novel, people are stealing food from Jane’s fridge. Instead of posting the usual “stop stealing” note, she uses classical conditioning – aka Pavlovian dog techniques – to make them stop. The results differ with each of the characters, but they made me cackle with glee. You can’t underestimate any of the characters as people or competitors.
There’s so much going on in this book. Whether Jane is navigating school and her new vice-dean, Mr Dubs (as he calls himself), her new friendships and adversaries in the show, her old high school friends or her very Christian family. she’s questioning everything. Oelke does not hold back in creating a tough character and a journey that feels true to my own falling-out-of-faith and first living situation on my own.
There were moments in the middle that dragged a bit (getting to the halfway point was a big step for me), but I always felt compelled to keep reading because Jane’s voice was so real. I laughed and snorted with Jane, enjoyed her shenanigans and those in the show, and went along with Jane’s ups and downs willingly.
And lest you think it’s all about the funny and philosophical, there is some romance here, too. But like everything else, the romance is coloured by Jane’s issues and the competition. I don’t want to say more than that because it’s so subtly and smartly done that I was surprised throughout the entire book by the swoons.
The Final Word:
At 417 pages, Nice Try, Jane Sinner isn’t a short YA read, nor is it an easy one. Jane’s mental health issues that hit a little too close to home for me. But the book is so authentic and fresh that I can’t help but recommend it. You’ll both love and hate Jane Sinner through her journey – but you won’t regret ever going on it with her.
NICE TRY, JANE SINNER is out now in bookstores. Will you be reading it? Are you into very sarcastic narrators? How about reality TV? What other books have you read or do you recommend that are little known but really unique reads? Hit the comments with your recs!