Book Review : Kind of a Big Deal

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : Kind of a Big DealKind of a Big Deal by Shannon Hale
Published by Roaring Brook Press on August 25th 2020
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 400
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Source: NetGalley

From bestselling author Shannon Hale comes Kind of a Big Deal: a hilarious, deliciously readable YA novel that will suck you in—literally.
There's nothing worse than peaking in high school. Nobody knows that better than Josie Pie.
She was kind of a big deal—she dropped out of high school to be a star! But the bigger you are, the harder you fall. And Josie fell. Hard. Ouch. Broadway dream: dead.
Meanwhile, her life keeps imploding. Best friend: distant. Boyfriend: busy. Mom: not playing with a full deck? Desperate to escape, Josie gets into reading.
Literally. She reads a book and suddenly she's inside it. And with each book, she’s a different character: a post-apocalyptic heroine, the lead in a YA rom-com, a 17th century wench in a corset.
It’s alarming. But also . . . kind of amazing?
It’s the perfect way to live out her fantasies. Book after book, Josie the failed star finds a new way to shine. But the longer she stays in a story, the harder it becomes to escape.
Will Josie find a story so good that she just stays forever?

Ever start a book and know it just isn’t for you? That was Kind of a Big Deal for me. I was drawn to the book due to the concept of the main character, 17 year-old Josie “Pie” Sergakis jumping into actual books and becoming part of the story. Who hasn’t wanted to do that? I certainly loved it in Austenland. But unfortunately, no matter what role in any story Josie is playing, she’s still completely and utterly unlikable–and no more so than in the reality of her own, convoluted story with a depressing message.


Sometimes younger students stopped Josie in the halls to ask for her autograph. ‘In a few years, this signature is going to be worth a lot of money,’ said a freshman girl with a sincere smile. Josie laughed the laugh of a confident upperclassman and thought, Yeah, it probably will be.”


Josie, as she repeatedly tells herself and literally anyone who will listen, was “kind of a big deal” in high school. There, she was the popular star of all the musical productions, beloved by all. Because apparently in some universes, theater kids are popular and get stopped for autographs. They also get encouraged to dropout of high school by their teachers in order to audition for Broadway, which you know, isn’t competitive or anything.


A surge of anger tingled in her toes and rushed up through her middle, into her face bringing both a hot flush to her cheeks and a feeling that, if she were a cartoon, her eyes would be blazing red. Don’t they know who I am? Came the sincere but also instantly ridiculous thought. No, Josie Pie, they don’t know who you are, because you aren’t Millennial High School’s precious rising star Josie Sergakis here. Or anywhere, anymore.”


That is what exactly happens to Josie. She finds herself with no job–let alone a starring role on Broadway, ample credit card debt, and no return in New York City, at age 17, nonetheless. Somehow, with no experience, she’s hired as a nanny to a five-year-old girl and moves to Missoula, Montana to work there in the hopes of paying off her debts. There, she’s miserable, as no one but her knows what a star she was in high school, and her best friend and her boyfriend have seemingly moved on with their lives that are actually going somewhere reasonable, like college.


“There is nothing worse than peaking in high school. And no one knew that better than Josie Pie. Eighteen years old and already a flop.”


Books soon become Josie’s only method to escape, as she can’t even get a role in community theater. After a visit to the local bookstore, she finds herself living out a romance novel. But what I hated the most was that every time she jumps into a book, be it romance, dystopian, or historical fiction–she always ends up singing the Spice Girls to exit? I’m sure it had something to do with female empowerment, but it was just baffling, random, and irritating. 


As was the fact that her best friend, a freshman in college, manages to buy a plane ticket out to see her for one night, just to leave. How do these kids have all this expendable income and freedom to do whatever they want without anyone to whom to answer? But it takes the entirety of the book for Josie to realize not only is she a crappy friend, who has no idea what’s going on in her friend’s life, but also that there’s more to life than her and her freaking high school experience. Frankly, if she loved school so much, the place she willingly left to follow her dreams and spends 99% of the book longing for, why not just go back? Because she couldn’t stand her classmates and other hometown people knowing that she didn’t make it on Broadway. I’d say that surely a young woman with such determination has more than just her musical aspirations going for her? But Josie really doesn’t. Literally all there is to Josie is high school and singing. 



“If she stayed far away, perhaps Justin wouldn’t notice what she really was. Perhaps he’d still see her the way he had that night after the school talent show. As a star.”



Even her boyfriend is more of a groupie than a support system. For most of Kind of a Big Deal we are treated to flashbacks of how much he supposedly used to care for Josie, but really just focused on how he looked at her like she was a star and how because of him, she felt like one. We are told how they were the king and queen of high school. He’s noticeably absent from the entire novel, except for in Josie’s book-hopping fantasies where he’s more fictional character than her actual boyfriend, and it’s hinted that he’s cheating on her. But lo and behold, he shows up at the very last minute of Kind of a Big Deal and the two laugh about her failed career and everything’s just hunky dory!


After reading Kind of a Big Deal I can honestly say that I think the biggest deal of the novel was not Josie or her failed Broadway career, but the profound lack of parenting. Why did Josie’s mother let her be influenced by a drama teacher to the point that she let her daughter dropout of school to move to the city to predictably have her dreams crushed? It’s a miracle that the worst thing that happened to Josie was that she ended up with credit card debt. Just wanting her male drama teacher, who believed in her only to ditch her just like her actual father, to be her real father screamed, young, impressionable and dangerous to me. It is beyond me that no one preyed upon her, a girl from a small town in New York City who was desperate enough to yell, “I can do anything!” at several auditions. 


Josie had absolutely no good judgement whatsoever, which she demonstrates by her complete lack of care for anyone but herself, and the kid for whom she nannies, Mia. Plus, I think she really only cared for Mia, because she saw the kid as herself as a young girl–no parents who cared, an absentee father, etc.  It would have been so easy for someone to take advantage of Josie. I was also horrified that at the end of the novel, her mother told her not to come home, but to pay off her debt, give up on her Broadway dream, and to become like, a “hairdresser” or something.  Um, what? No “finish your high school education?!” No, “if musicals and drama means so much to you pursue a higher education after high school that might better equip you for that?”


Even worse than peaking in high school was to never peak at all. To treat life like a big waiting room, idly reading whatever magazines were available playing a game on your phone, killing time till your name was finally called. It wasn’t in Josie Pie’s nature to wait. Broadway was never going to call her name. Community theater was barely even bothering. Time she got out there herself and started re-peaking. And she couldn’t do that until she let it go.”


For the life of me, I have no idea what the moral of this story was–give up your dreams? Settle for a mediocre existence? Don’t go back to high school? All I know after making it through this novel, was that Josie was most definitely Not. A. Big. Deal. And apparently, neither were her dreams, since she had no problem giving them up when she wasn’t some teenage prodigy. I feel that it would have made more sense if Josie discovered a love of writing musicals or screenplays through all the reading/novel-hopping she did in this story, or some other career that was musical-adjacent that she could hope to accomplish, but instead, she just completely gives up and the novel leaves her future up in the air, stating maybe she’ll continue being a nanny or get her GED. Regardless, it seems clear that Josie will be taking the easy route of quitting her dreams and staying with her high school boyfriend, even though Kind of a Big Deal tells readers multiple times that high school sweethearts never last. 


Besides having no idea what the purpose of this novel was,  I am not really sure who the intended audience for Kind of a Big Deal was. As someone who experienced high school for herself, I found Josie’s experience there completely unbelievable–as was her experience in every single novel she jumped into, her dating life, her friendships, and literally every other facet of her existence. The author seems horribly out of touch. I cringed at the things Josie said and did in her real life–even though I think they’re supposed to be funny or relatable–or the things she fantasized about in her novel hopping.


I would say this novel is more for middle graders who haven’t yet experienced high school and maybe enjoy musicals, but I would hesitate to recommend this to any young reader due to its lack of any kind of a good message. Furthermore, Kind of a Big Deal is written so simplistically that I feel it would actually be better suited for a kid in elementary school, but again the message of giving up your dreams makes that an iffy recommendation to make. Ultimately, if you have a young reader who is really into musicals and singing, they may absolutely love this novel. But get ready to have Kind of a Big discussion about dreams and realistic expectations afterwards.

Book Review : Kind of a Big Deal

Posted July 6, 2020 in Book Reviews, Young Adult

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