What Has Become Of You, by Jan Elizabeth Watson

Short Take:  Should have been much better than it was.

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What Has Become Of You was not a bad book.  It wasn’t a great book.  It was an OK book, and interesting enough in its own way, but not necessarily one that I would want to re-read, or even think about much after I put it down.

Vera Lundy has accepted a temporary teaching position at an exclusive girls’ school in Maine.  It’s the perfect opportunity for her to get back to her roots, teaching Catcher In The Rye by day, and working on her true-crime novel at night.

As she gets to know her students, she becomes closest to Jensen Willard, a talented writer whose assigned journals reveal a much darker, more desperate side than what the rest of the world sees.  What starts out as simple curiosity and concern on Vera’s part becomes something more, as she sees far too much of herself in the girl.  Vera begins crossing boundaries and risking her career to get closer to Jensen.  It seems as though she might really be making a difference, until Jensen disappears, and all eyes turn to Vera.

Having been raised on both Dead Poets Society and Single White Female, I kinda-sorta expected the story to travel one of those paths, but I was happy to be wrong.   It’s clear that the author had her own vision of where it would go, and I have to say, she followed it to its logical conclusion.  There were no awkward twists, or inconsistent plotlines.

I found the names in this story interesting. The spinsterish teacher’s name is Vera Lundy, which just SOUNDS frumpy.  And the rebellious student is Jenson Willard, which sounds an awful lot like “jimson weed” to me.  As Bell Biv Devoe helpfully pointed out, that girl is poison.  And the title itself is full of meaning.  It’s a question – what has become of you? – that could apply to several aspects of the book.

Vera used to be an artsy outsider type of girl, always looking at the inner circle of high school popularity, but never a part of it.  She used to nurture that part of herself with prolific journaling and a standoffish attitude.  But now, she’s 40, single, working on a book that will never be finished, clinging to the hope that the popular girls in school will accept her, miles and light years from who she thought she’d be.  It’s a question a lot of us ask ourselves, when we look at what our dreams used to be – what has become of you?

It’s also a question that can be asked in the most literal sense when Jensen disappears.

I think that my biggest complaint is that the book just isn’t that exciting.   I realize that it doesn’t necessarily take guts, gore, and car chases to make a good story (in fact, I’ve reviewed books where the opposite happened), but a story that has multiple murders, a disappearance, and a frankly uncomfortable teacher-student relationship should not be dull or tedious but somehow, it was.

I’ve tried to put my finger on what I didn’t like, why it didn’t work for me, and I’ve been coming up blank.  Maybe it’s that everything was filtered through the perceptions of Vera, and she was just a boring, unlikeable person.  Not interesting enough to be an anti-hero, too unimaginative to be an unreliable narrator.  We didn’t get to see much of her interactions with anyone other than her students, which as I’ve already pointed out, are self-centered and inappropriate.  Maybe if Vera had more of a life, this book would have as well.  But maybe if she had more of a social circle, she wouldn’t be as drawn to her students, and there wouldn’t be any story at all.

Maybe it’s that the author didn’t go far enough.  Vera’s “crimes” really aren’t that major.  The truth about Jensen isn’t that shocking (I figured out one of the major revelations about halfway through).  It could just be that I’ve read so many “thrillers” that I’ve become jaded.  In any case, it just wasn’t there for me.

The Nerd’s Rating:  THREE HAPPY NEURONS

threehappyneurons

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