REVIEW: Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea
I pivoted in my Amazon First Reads recently and eschewed a thriller in favor of a genre I have rarely read – Young Adult. I have long been into New Adult novels, but they have a very different vibe to me – the difference is a few years for the characters but the situations usually feel vastly different to me.
I was intrigued by the blurb to Woke Up Like This:
For two high school seniors, it’s seventeen going on thirty—overnight—in a magical romantic comedy about growing up too fast and living in the moment.
Planning the perfect prom is one last “to do” on ultra-organized Charlotte Wu’s high school bucket list. So far, so good, if not for a decorating accident that sends Charlotte crash-landing off a ladder, face-first into her obnoxiously ripped archnemesis J. T. Renner. Worse? When Charlotte wakes up, she finds herself in an unfamiliar bed at thirty years old, with her bearded fiancé, Renner, by her side.
Either they’ve lost their minds or they’ve been drop-kicked into adulthood, forever trapped in the thirty-year-old bodies of their future selves. With each other as their only constant, Charlotte and Renner discover all that’s changed in the time they’ve missed. Charlotte also learns there’s more to Renner than irritating-jock charm, and that reaching the next milestone isn’t as important as what happens in between.
Navigating a series of adventures and a confounding new normal, Charlotte and Renner will do whatever it takes to find a way back to seventeen. But when—and if—they do, what then?
There’s an obvious plot connection to the Jennifer Garner film 13 Going on 30, which I saw back in the day (when I used to actually go to the movie theater – I can’t believe the movie is almost 20 years old!). I remember enjoying the movie enough that I was interested to see how a similar concept would play out in a book.
Charlotte is our first-person narrator, and she’s a definite type; think Tracy Flick from Election, dialed down several notches. She’s uptight and intense, but still manages to be a sympathetic heroine.
In Charlotte’s 17-year-old life, she’s trying to finish out the school year strong with a successful prom. Charlotte, as a member of the student council, is heavy into the planning. Charlotte is not student council president, a fact that absolutely sticks in her craw. Charlotte worked hard all four years of high school towards her goals, and student council president was one of those goals. J.T. Renner entered the race at the last minute (again, shades of Election!) and easily won, because everyone loves J.T. (except Charlotte, that is).
Charlotte has other stressors that are making her last weeks of school challenging. She’s going for a scholarship that she needs to finance college; her parents are divorced and her mother is not wealthy. Her father’s contributions are unclear (which in retrospect may be a bit of a plot hole, or perhaps I missed an explanation).
About Charlotte’s father: since the divorce he’s not been a great dad; he’s a workaholic who hasn’t been there for his daughter. His absence from important milestones in her life, like her middle-school graduation, has been a source of pain for her. She’s surprised to hear from him early on in the book and find out that not only does he have a serious girlfriend, but the girlfriend is pregnant. Charlotte isn’t sure how to feel about these developments.
Charlotte has two best friends – cool, edgy Nori and cheerleader Kassie. Kassie has long been Charlotte’s “best friend”, but she’s not actually that great a friend, and lately that fact – along with their impending separation for college – is weighing on Charlotte. Kassie is self-absorbed and frequently ditches Charlotte for her longtime boyfriend, Ollie.
Finally, Charlotte is worried about going to the prom solo – she says she doesn’t care, but she kind of does. She has had a longtime crush on Clay Diaz, and has almost worked up the nerve to ask him to prom, when she’s derailed by an embarrassing faux pas involving tampons in the school hallway. She blames this on Renner, further increasing her enmity (which could hardly be greater, honestly).
The book takes a while to get to the flash forward, but I didn’t mind; it helped establish the characters and their relationships. It’s a quarter of the way into the story when Charlotte and Renner find themselves flung into the future. They react with the incredulity you’d expect, but slowly acclimate to their reality, if not to their impending wedding. From there Charlotte learns some Important Lessons about life and relationships, and realizes that Renner has some hidden depths (I hope I’m not spoiling anything with that extremely predictable plot point).
I enjoyed Woke Up Like This quite a bit – the writing was strong and the characters likable. It’s an easy-breezy read; nothing earth-shaking, but not all books (especially not all YA books, I think) need to have big, heavy, dark themes.
That said, the plot sometimes sacrifices realism for machinations in ways that I found irritating. The biggest issue I had was after future Charlotte and Renner confide in Nori about their time travel dilemma, and she believes them (which, oddly, felt realistic to the character). What totally doesn’t make sense is that they don’t get more information from Nori or show that much curiosity about the events of the past 13 years. They get some basics about their relationship, but there are so many other things I would ask in that position. In fact, were it me I would have kept Nori glued to my side and downloaded every bit of knowledge I could. Charlotte’s failure to do so made no sense to me (especially given her Type A personality). It does set up a “shock” for her that was telegraphed heavily enough to be not surprising at all.
There’s also a couple of things near the end that are probably spoilery:
I did like Woke Up Like This well enough to give it a B+ and to seek out other books from this author.