Review: 29 by Adena Halpern

Title: 29
Author: Adena Halpern
Pages: 269
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: June 15, 2010
Publisher: Touchstone
Source: Personal Copy

When it comes to the genre I shall refer to as "chick lit," I view it as I do desserts. One every now and then is great, but too much of the overly-sweet decadence leaves me feeling awful. This is not a judgement on the genre at all, just a statement of my preferences. Finding a really well written and fun book in this category leaves me with feelings of happiness and contentment. So, when I do indulge and the story is underdeveloped and a little offensive to me as a woman, I can't help but feel like I wasted my precious reading time. This is how I feel about the novel 29.

What starts out as an interesting idea, quickly devolves into a day long attempt to check off a very superficial bucket list. Ellie Jerome is a 75 year-old woman who, at her birthday party, makes a wish to be 29 again for one day as she blows out the candles on her cake. When she wakes up the next morning, she has miraculously regained her youth and good looks (a fact that is constantly referred to throughout the rest of the novel). As she realizes her wish has come true, Ellie and her granddaughter Lucy jaunt around Philadelphia accomplishing everything she'd been wanting to do if she were young again. With the inclusion of a couple of one-dimensional secondary characters, best friend Frida and her daughter Barbara, running around town in search of Ellie (who they believe is missing), the basic idea of the novel is set.

Now, I don't know about most people, but when I'm 75 years-old and thinking about the things I should have done during my life, I'd like to think they will be a little deeper than not tanning and exercising more. That's not to say I want to have huge life-changing regrets, but I hope my goals in life are more meaningful than that. Halpern's writing style seemed too focused on being "hip" and very conversational. One line that particularly stuck out to me:
 In those few hours, though, all those gushy things you hear, stuff like how your bodies become one and how you can feel each other's thoughts, I felt all of them. 
Talk about telling instead of showing. I think if the story had been a little more thought-provoking and perceptive it would have resonated better with me. Instead, I found myself rolling my eyes at Ellie's bucket list. During her one day of being 29 again, Ellie gets her hair cut, buys underwear and dresses, goes to a bar with her granddaughter, stuffs her face with all sorts of food, and has a one night stand with a young stranger. Really? That is what you decide to do with your magical gift of time-travel? This shallow characterization of young women began to feel insulting.

By the time I finished the book, the constant reminders that younger Ellie has an amazing body became so tiring, especially when you add daughter Barbara, who was only a mean miserable woman because she is fat. I know the lesson that this book tried to convey was to accept who you are, flaws and all, but the extreme focus on looks completely negated that message. 29 had such potential to create an insightful look at youth through the eyes of wisdom, but doesn't delve deep enough into the characters to succeed.


  1. Too bad because it sounds like this book had a lot of potential. I don't like it when all the characters are gorgeous and have terrific bodies. It's just not realistic.

  2. Sorry to hear this one was a let-down -- I have a copy in my bookcase and, like you, thought the premise was promising! Superficial novels like this are especially frustrating because it helps perpetuate the stereotype that chick lit is filled with shallow characters and one-dimensional plots. Eek!

  3. I agree with your note about viewing chick lit as dessert. I fully agree. I really enjoy it sometimes but I can't have too much of it!

  4. Ooh I think this can be an easy pitfall of this genre, which I've been meaning to write a post about, but I'm still gathering my thoughts in my head. I'm sorry your dessert was heavy on the bitter and light on the sweet.

  5. bermudaonion - Exactly! Part of what I like about the genre is the feeling of placing myself in the character's shoes. Definitely didn't go over well in this one.

    Meg - Yeah, I was really hoping this one would buck the trend. There are so many great chick lit books out there, and I think this one helps give the genre a bad name. I just finished Garden Spells and was so wowed by the characters and the story, making this one all the more disappointing.

    Meg - I think if I read to many from the genre it would diminish the effect that a good one can have.

    zeteticat - Oh, I'd love to read your thoughts on the genre! It's like with anything, there are some really good one and some really bad ones. I guess I just want to know how, after so many other books have been published in the genre, certain stereotypes can still be perpetuated.


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