In fall 2019, I read and loved Abbi Waxman‘s novel, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. It was a fun read that highlighted a character I identified with in many ways. When I learned that it would have a sequel – Adult Assembly Required – I was thrilled. I was lucky to get an advanced copy of it from NetGalley.
Special thanks to the publicists at Penguin Random House and to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Laura has just moved to Los Angeles from her home in New York City, leaving behind a family of academics, an ex-fiancé, and some recent traumas. Well, those traumas may have actually come along for the ride, but Laura is determined to overcome them. She’s about to start grad school, and after her apartment burns down, she ends up in a boarding house thanks to an overly friendly girl from a book store. Over the month preceding the beginning of her classes, Laura develops new friendships, flirts with a possible romance, and works to come to terms with her mental health struggles. Her new friends’ lives are as messy as hers, though, and they can all help each other out on this bumpy road into adulthood.
Adult Assembly Required is a sort of sequel to The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Both are set in the same world, and some of the previous novel’s main characters (such as Nina and Polly) play big roles here. At the same time, we also get to meet all-new characters: Laura, Bob, Maggie, and all the other housemates living in Laura’s new home. After adoring Nina Hill, I expected this would be right up my alley, too. Unfortunately, I admit that I struggled with this a bit more. It has its merits, of course, but there were also some elements that didn’t work for me.
To start, the first few chapters of Adult Assembly Required were awkward. The humor was on in full force, and it went beyond that brand of British humor that I sometimes find off-putting. It felt a little too quirky and like it was trying too hard. Maybe I was just in a bad mood, but I found the style of humor to be cringey. The way Laura was introduced was also clunky and vaguely confusing. In all honesty, I nearly gave up on the book right there.
However, I persisted, and from the third or fourth chapter onwards, the book got much better. The humor was generally more toned down from there, so for me it was more tolerable and perhaps more like it had been in The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Still a bit much at times, but mostly okay.
What I liked most about Adult Assembly Required was the focus on mental health. Laura was in a car accident prior to the events of this novel, and she’s working through PTSD, a fear of driving, and her family’s stigma against therapy. These are sensitive issues, and they’re treated with care here. Charlie and Maggie, in particular, are helpful in Laura’s progress forward. They teach her that it’s okay for her to react or feel as she does; she can process things at her own pace and isn’t weak for it. (Side note: In contrast to her nice new friends, I hated how dismissive Laura’s family is about mental health. Ick.) I love seeing discussions around mental health, and it was a highlight here.
I also enjoyed seeing Laura develop tentative friendships, namely with Charlie, Polly, and Nina. Each of her new friends is very different, but they are all welcoming and kind to her. Each helps Laura grow in some way, yet they also accept her for who she is, too.
Laura’s potential romance with Charlie is cute… but also a bit simple. Both have obvious interest in each other, and all their friends and housemates say so (constantly), and yet somehow neither of them is able to see it or admit to it. It’s a bit frustrating, and it leads to some big gestures that come too late to feel completely impactful. Laura and Charlie make a solid couple, but they could use more sparks.
Another aspect that I both liked and disliked about Adult Assembly Required is the number of side characters and how rich their respective lives are. Perhaps going into this novel thinking Laura is the Main Character is the problem; she’s one of the main characters, but stories revolving around Maggie, Polly, and Asher frequently take up more page time than I had anticipated. I enjoyed their side stories… but also felt that they were a distraction from Laura’s arc. This may be a matter of taste, but for me, I wished the side stories had slightly less attention.
As with The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Adult Assembly Required features an omnipotent narrator with a strong voice (providing that quirky humor). The narrator randomly flits into different characters’ minds briefly, offering up their thoughts and feelings. This can be fun, but at times it paints these characters as rather simplistic or even childish in some ways. Although this is a novel for adults, the characterization and writing somehow feels like it’s written for children. This may work for you, but I didn’t always love it.
Overall, Adult Assembly Required is good in many respects, though it didn’t connect with me in some ways. It is a lot like The Bookish Life of Nina Hill in terms of style, but perhaps a bit quirkier and looser. For whatever reason, it wasn’t quite what I expected, but was still a pleasant read.
There is some foreshadowing of a possible romance between two characters near the end of this book, and a particular aspect of one of the characters intrigues me. If there is a third book in this series, I may give it a go, even with my markedly different ratings between the first two installments.
Get the Book
You can buy Adult Assembly Required here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
Please note that the above link is an Amazon affiliate link and I may earn a commission on any purchases you make.
|Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman|
|Genre||Romance; Women’s Fiction; Contemporary Fiction|
|Number of Pages||400|
|Format I Read||eBook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||May 17, 2022|
A young woman arrives in Los Angeles determined to start over, and discovers she doesn’t need to leave everything behind after all, from Abbi Waxman, USA Today bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
When Laura Costello moves to Los Angeles, trying to escape an overprotective family and the haunting memories of a terrible accident, she doesn’t expect to be homeless after a week. (She’s pretty sure she didn’t start that fire — right?) She also doesn’t expect to find herself adopted by a rogue bookseller, installed in a lovely but completely illegal boardinghouse, or challenged to save a losing trivia team from ignominy…but that’s what happens. Add a regretful landlady, a gorgeous housemate, and an ex-boyfriend determined to put himself back in the running and you’ll see why Laura isn’t really sure she’s cut out for this adulting thing. Luckily for her, her new friends Nina, Polly, and Impossibly Handsome Bob aren’t sure either, but maybe if they put their heads (and hearts) together they’ll be able to make it work for them.
About the Author
Abbi Waxman was born in England in 1970, the oldest child of two copywriters who never should have been together in the first place. Once her father ran off to buy cigarettes and never came back, her mother began a highly successful career writing crime fiction. She encouraged Abbi and her sister Emily to read anything and everything they could pull down from the shelves, and they did. Naturally lazy and disinclined to dress up, Abbi went into advertising, working as a copywriter and then a creative director at various advertising agencies in London and New York. Clients ranged from big and traditional, (AT&T, Chase Manhattan Bank, IBM, American Express, Unilever, Mercedes-Benz) to big and morally corrupt (R. J. Reynolds) to big and larcenous (Enron). Eventually she quit advertising, had three kids and started writing books, TV shows and screenplays, largely in order to get a moment’s peace.
Abbi lives in Los Angeles with her husband, three kids, three dogs, three cats, a gecko, two mice and six chickens. Every one of these additions made sense at the time, it’s only in retrospect that it seems foolhardy.