About a month ago, I was getting a haircut and my stylist, knowing I have a book blog and work in a library, told me about a book she liked: The Party, about a sweet sixteen party that went terribly wrong. Curious, I went home and downloaded it from the library. Plots like this are hard to resist because we’re reading them and thinking, “Oh, I’m so glad this isn’t happening to me!”
The Party, set in a posh neighborhood in San Francisco, is all about bad decisions, bad relationships and cyberbullying. And it’s not just the kids who make the bad decisions. The adults are just as bad! There’s more at work here too. Themes of friendship and what’s right work themselves into the reader’s experience. So what sounds like sort of a voyeuristic look at a messed-up group of people points to what’s really important in life, even if the characters don’t get it. And believe me, they don’t!
The story begins as Hannah approaches her sixteenth birthday. She’s been a good girl her whole life, directed by her mom, Kim, who is intent on keeping her daughter on the straight and narrow. Her father, Jeff, is a workaholic and a work-out fiend and he’s in the dog house because of some event that comes out later. Hannah’s an A-student, an athlete and plays piano, but lately she’s been dissatisfied with her high school social life. That changes when she gets a cool boyfriend and Lauren, the most popular girl in school, brings her into the cool crowd. Hannah’s old friends, Marta and Caitlin seem so boring to her now!
Turning sixteen is a big deal and her parents allow a small sleepover, to include Lauren and Ronni, a girl Hannah knew when they were kids, but part of the fast crew now. The girls solemnly agree to Kim’s rules: no alcohol, no drugs and no boys. What Kim doesn’t know is that Jeff, in an impulsive mood and wanting to be the cool dad, sneaks the girls a bottle of pink champagne. That might not be enough to cause too much trouble, except that the girls have brought in a variety of drugs and alcohol. More secret plans ahead, too.
Something bad happens during the night, resulting in a police investigation and a lawsuit. Lauren becomes the ultimate “mean girl” as she and her friends work to destroy their classmate. Other friendships also break and Kim and Jeff’s marriage, due to major indiscretions by both, may not survive.
Harding writes the story from her main characters’ points of view, giving readers a good look into their selfish and shallow thoughts. Hannah exhibits a few redeeming qualities, teetering on the “what’s right” side and readers will wonder where she’ll land.
I enjoyed this read. Harding includes details about the privileged and upscale life, poking fun at the value her characters place on nice things and experiences. I’m looking forward to my next hair appointment so I can tell my stylist that I read the book she recommended!
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