Review: The State We’re In by Adele Parks

This is the first Adele Parks book that I have read; her work has always seemed a bit too ‘chick lit’ for me and I was never attracted. Headline very kindly sent me a review copy of The State We’re In, and there’s a lot of buzz around it, so I thought it was worth a go.

2013 paperback cover. Image: headline.co.uk
2013 paperback cover. Image: headline.co.uk

I can confirm that, yes, it is ‘chick lit’ – i.e. romantic, emotional, slightly cheesy, and with a cliche or two throughout. I have read that Parks wanted to use chick lit cliches in a new way and make them not-cliches, and I admire her efforts. I’ve read plenty of chick lit to know what I think of it, and this book is not like all the rest. While there were moments when I went, oh come on, there were also moments when I was impressed by the depth of feeling and the emotional insight. Parks has succeeded in making her characters seem real and believable, despite her female lead being obsessed with marriage and her male lead being ‘tall, dark, and handsome’. They still feel fully formed.

Now let’s address the cheesiness. Maybe it’s just me. I’m not a chick lit reader. I like romantic movies (to a degree) but when it comes to books, seeing the words in print, I react differently. Some context here will help: Jo and Dean meet on a plane from London to Chicago. Dean is returning home after a meeting with his estranged, dying father, and Jo is on her way to sabotage her ex’s wedding. Their flight forms a frame for some of the story, as we learn more about Dean’s visit with his father and Jo’s history with her ex, Martin. On the plane they learn about each other’s personalities and lives. It gets a bit cheesy when, for example, Jo asks Dean what his five favourite books are; he tells her, and then says that he doesn’t want to know what hers are, but does want to know what the five greatest moments of her life have been. I mean… really? Who asks that? To be fair this sets them on to a conversational track that gets Dean to say he has no happy memories from his childhood (revealing more about him), so perhaps he wanted to hear if Jo has had a good life. Still, I think the device could have been more subtle. It’s like going up to someone in a bar and saying ‘What are you doing for the rest of you life?’

Parks is a very good writer – don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think her style is entirely suited to me. It’s all a bit rom-com-y. As I said a lot of the time it could do with being a bit more subtle, a bit more pared down. I like when authors say a lot with a little, and Parks doesn’t really do that. Having said that there are moments when she does, and the beauty of the story and her characters, as well as her writing skill, really shines through.

Adele Parks. Image: adeleparks.com
Adele Parks. Image: adeleparks.com

Alongside the story of Jo and Dean runs the story of their parents – her mother, Clara, and his father, Eddie. Their stories create backdrop for those of their children and they soon all intertwine – though I can’t say how. Headline are being extremely vigilant about no one giving away what happens. There’s even a hashtag – #keepthesecret. So I will. Suffice to say Clara and Eddie are just as fascinating and entertaining as Jo and Dean.

I expect The State We’re In will be just as if not more successful that Parks’ previous novels – it as all the romance and drama, but this one feels like modern chick lit, a bit more intelligent and with more depth. Brava.

*

Published by Headline on 4th July 2013. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review. See Adele Parks discussing her work here, at the first Glamour magazine book club.

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