Can a childhood crush survive a 13-year separation? The answer’s a long time coming in this unfocused first novel from the author of American Nerd (2008).
Josh and Khadijah, 15-year-old classmates in central Massachusetts in 1994, spy on his dad and her mom smooching in the candy aisle of the supermarket. Their furtive observation draws them together, and narrator Josh, whose story this is, happily goes along with Khadijah’s suggestion that they sign a solemn vow they will never cheat in their future relationships. Khadijah (a white American girl, despite her exotic name) follows up by throwing a rock at a bank window; this act of rebellion triggers a family crisis, and soon enough, two happy homes have broken up, Khadijah has been whisked away to Cambridge, and Josh has lost his potential high school sweetheart. The story lurches forward. A year later, the two adulterous parents, Linus and Nancy, have broken up themselves, and flaky Linus already has a new girlfriend with a superrich daddy. That’s just as well, for Linus has quit his teaching job and has no visible means of support. Another lurch forward, and it’s 2006. Josh, an NYU dropout who has spent six years playing bass with a recently defunct Los Angeles rock band, meets Julie, well-paid host of an animal show on cable. She’s an Armenian/Persian mix; Josh is “Judeo-Hibernian.” He becomes a freeloader like his dad, but at least he’s kept his “no cheating” vow. Then Khadijah appears out of the blue, the fiancee of a music journalist. The climax is no more believable than its antecedents.
A novel that badly wants to be cool but is rarely more than sophomoric.