Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky
The premise of I’m Fine and Neither Are You seems more like a romantic comedy than a serious take on modern day issues, but it’s really anything but. When I started it, I expected to settle down to enjoy an easy, “chick-lit” type of story. However, I was unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised.
The book starts out with Penny, an overtired, overworked stressed out mom of two, who has a stay-at-home husband, Sanjay, who doesn’t quite live up to his expected responsibilities, finding ways to push off parenting and household duties onto his already overtaxed wife, and only earning a minimal amount of money working as a freelance writer.
Penny is in a job that demands lots of focus and hours, but very little enjoyment for her, and she finds herself wishing her life were more like that of her best friend Jenny, who seems to have the perfect life: handsome, successful, doting husband; a dream home where things are never out of order; a ridiculously well-behaved child; and a blog she started as a hobby that ended up becoming not just popular, but lucrative as well.
Penny’s life is not at all what she had envisioned–she is imperfect, her house is chaotic and loud; Sanjay, in the beginning, is painted as a bit of a loser, but I also had sympathy for him as well, as his life isn’t exactly what he had envisioned; and their kids are typical kids–making messes, fighting, crying, being unpredictable, and needing more attention from both parents.
In fact, as an outsider reading about these people, you know immediately that Jenny’s life cannot be as perfect as it appears from the outside, even though Penny seems to really believe that. It really is true that things are not always as they seem, and one evening, tragedy strikes with Jenny, and it has a life-changing effect on Penny.
Penny responds by taking stock of her life and decides if she truly wants to change her own life, she must start doing things differently. She realizes that just like Jenny, she had also been guilty of trying to assure people that things were fine, minimizing her disappointments to herself, her family, and anyone who knew her, albeit not to the degree Jenny had been.
So, she and Sanjay embark on an experiment, each making a list of changes that they want the other to make. At the onset, it sounds like a good plan–after all, the truth is supposed to set you free, right? But things start to spiral out of control, revealing to both Penny and Sanjay that sometimes being totally, completely, and brutally honest about those we love, to those we love, is not always the best way of dealing with the issues that happen in the course of a relationship and marriage.
I’m Fine and Neither Are You is a smartly written book with flawed characters that make you want to keep reading because you truly want to see them make it–because they are just like all of us. In its telling of their journey, from meeting them to watching their lives unfold and then unravel, the author deals with marriage, child rearing, infidelity, opioid abuse, disappointment, grief, and loss. And just like them, the reader wants to see them get more, have more, and be able to be happy with what they do have so they don’t have to keep denying or pretending that they are “fine.”