Stephanie Danler’s debut novel Sweetbitter sits atop the summer reading lists of many. Today, I share my thoughts on one of summer 2016’s biggest reads…without any spoilers. *I promise*
After two weeks of non-stop politics with the Republican and Democratic conventions, my brain was fried and in desperate need of a little escape. Answering my call? Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, a book that has been perched upon my reading list since I first read about it in Elle a few months back. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. In fact, it took only about two paragraphs.
Oh yes, you may have seen Sweetbitter lounging on the shelves of your local bookstore and decorating Instagram profiles everywhere, taunting you with that intriguing cover. With a cryptic broken wine glass and a short bio that describes a young girl on the move to New York City – interest starts to build. After all, we share a fascination with the thriving metropolis New York City and the adventurous souls who venture there.
Summer Reading at Its Finest?
Sweetbitter might not be your typical juicy summer read – although it is certainly juicy. Where others come to New York chasing dreams of a life on Broadway, a modeling career or overtaking Wall Street – Tess arrives merely on the hunt for something. She doesn’t quite know what she is looking for, but with a ‘useless’ English degree and $130 to her name, she stumbles upon a job at a popular NYC restaurant. Young and impressionable without much ambition, Tess easily succumbs to a life outside the lines. Upon learning the ins and outs of oysters and the grapes of the French wine regions, she follows the lead of her peers down a path of late-nights, cocktails and cocaine.
Stephanie Danler writes in a manner that reads like a memoir, while taking on the restaurant industry, its underlying culture and the colorful characters that live it. It’s a story that brought me a real sense of nostalgia, having worked as a server through college — but also made me extremely glad that world is firmly placed in my rear-view mirror. While working in a restaurant does bring an element of excitement and a mix of new people, there is a darkness to the job that Sweetbitter wasn’t afraid to explore.
Just Another Coming-of-Age Tale?
The phrase ‘coming-of-age’ is tossed out so frequently in the literary world, that it’s just about lost all meaning. And yet – here we find Tess, a young girl on the path of self-discovery. Stephanie clearly draws from personal experience as she paints an honest picture of what life in a restaurant is like. Workers whose lives are hanging in the balance – getting off work at midnight, charging the night scene, waltzing home at dawn and waking up hungover at 4 pm – ready to start it all over again. It’s a gritty glimpse no doubt, but it comes off with a vulnerability that endears you to Tess’s story.
As promised, I won’t spoil you on where exactly this new life in the city takes Tess. What you can expect, though, is a young girl breaking out of small-town Ohio to find a mix of characters that will no doubt remind you of friends (or foes) of your past. You will no doubt connect with Tess and her longing for love, life and adventure – even when it steers her down a dark and bumpy road.
Is It Worth a Read (and Instagram Post)?
All-in-all, I did thoroughly enjoy Sweetbitter and am very eager to see where Stephanie Danler’s writing career goes next. While the story does touch on sensitive issues, I think it cuts through any glamour that regularly surrounds a story of young person moving to New York to make a life for him/herself. That’s a story so familiar to us, that we’ve seen romanticized time and time again. What Sweetbitter delivers is a more honest glimpse at what life is really like, when you’re young, without a lot of options – in a city that can build you up just as quickly as it can beat you down.
If you’re in the mood for a quick and gripping read, that’s raw and filled with emotion…I definitely suggest picking this up and seeing for yourself what juicy bits await inside.
As always, thank you so much for taking the time to hang out and read my thoughts. As mentioned in last week’s ‘Summer Favorites’ post (here), crossing a few more books off my ‘To Read’ list is one of my remaining goals for the summer. Now, I’m moving onto another summer smash-hit: The Girls. Here’s hoping that lives up to the hype!
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As always, stay stylish and keep chasing your dreams!