Plan­ning Perfect

  • Review
By – March 14, 2023

For Felic­i­ty Beck­er, a bright high school stu­dent nav­i­gat­ing the chal­lenges of ado­les­cence, liv­ing with a lov­ing yet uncon­ven­tion­al sin­gle par­ent is not always easy. But when a wed­ding enters the pic­ture, Felic­i­ty — ever the per­fec­tion­ist — jumps at the chance to orga­nize a per­fect event for her moth­er, Han­nah, and her new step­fa­ther. At the same time, Felicity’s roman­tic attrac­tion to her friend, Nan­cy, threat­ens to desta­bi­lize her frag­ile sense of self.

The fact that Felicity’s peers accept her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on the asex­u­al spec­trum does not rid her of inter­nal con­flicts. What’s more, her mother’s non­judg­men­tal atti­tude about per­son­al choic­es still leaves areas of mis­un­der­stand­ing between them. When Felic­i­ty asserts that her focus on work is a pos­i­tive qual­i­ty, her moth­er wise­ly coun­ters, You have enough good traits … Live a lit­tle; take on some bad ones.” By aban­don­ing gen­er­a­tional stereo­types, Neil gives her char­ac­ters, like Bubbe, greater depth.

Jew­ish grand­moth­ers play an impor­tant role in con­tem­po­rary fic­tion. Often, they rep­re­sent a con­nec­tion between the past and future. Some­times they pro­vide a per­spec­tive, and a cer­tain dis­tance, that a child’s par­ents lack. Felicity’s Bubbe defies all such cat­e­go­riza­tion. She is cer­tain­ly will­ing to priv­i­lege Felicity’s point of view over Hannah’s, but that ten­den­cy is more prob­lem­at­ic than it might seem. Per­haps because of her own dis­ap­point­ment with Hannah’s career and par­ent­ing choic­es, Bubbe approves of the very qual­i­ties that leave her grand­daugh­ter most vul­ner­a­ble. Neil makes it clear that Felicity’s men­tal health chal­lenges are seri­ous, tak­ing both a phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al toll, but Bubbe empha­sizes achieve­ment over psy­cho­log­i­cal whole­ness. The full Jew­ish guilt trip” that she impos­es on Han­nah also shows up in her inter­ac­tions with Felic­i­ty — although it comes in the form of praise. And Bubbe’s insis­tence on main­tain­ing tra­di­tions, such as Shab­bat din­ner, is per­plex­ing, giv­en that she is large­ly non-prac­tic­ing. This leads the read­er to infer that her behav­iors may be evi­dence of a dis­pute with Han­nah more than affir­ma­tions of fam­i­ly and religion.

Love does not con­quer all in Plan­ning Per­fect, but Felicity’s process of com­ing to terms with Nancy’s feel­ings for her, and her own response to them, does offer hope. In this sen­si­tive explo­ration of ado­les­cence, Neil sug­gests that learn­ing to be hon­est with one­self is a cru­cial step towards adult­hood. She paints a con­vinc­ing por­trait of one young woman’s path towards ful­fill­ment as she strug­gles to be true to her­self and those who care about her.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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