Although I’m not one for much chick lit (I get my fill of the fluff pretty quickly), I have always had an affinity for Jennifer Weiner, particularly in regards to her character Cannie Shapiro, introduced in Weiner's 2001 Good in Bed as a funny, smart and real woman who struggled with real issues (weight, self-esteem, career aspirations) I could totally relate to.
That’s why I thought I would like Weiner’s sequel to Good In Bed, this time with the title Certain Girls, which fast-forwards to Shapiro as a married 42-year-old mother playing chauffer for her daughter's carpool and writing science-fiction novels, this in contrast to her twenty-something Good In Bed era as an insecure Jewish journalist with a roving boyfriend, Bruce (who got her pregnant, left her, and then penned a humiliating magazine article about their relationship titled ''Loving a Larger Woman”).
While Good In Bed leaves off with Shapiro’s birth of her daughter, Joy, who came prematurely and as a result suffered hearing problems, Certain Girls picks up with Joy as a 13-year-old who has to deal with the fact that her mother had a steamy past that all the world can read about (Shapiro wrote a salacious, bestselling semi-autobiographical novel titled Big Girls Don't Cry).
When Joy reads said novel, her world starts to unravel and she starts to question both the truth and her family ties. In the midst of all this, Shapiro’s husband, Peter, wants to find a surrogate so they can have their own baby together (he is not Joy’s biological father, and Shapiro is no longer capable of giving birth). As far as surrogates go, the best possibility is Shapiro’s sister, Elle, a woman whom Joy worships but is actually transparent enough for Shapiro to see through as only siblings can (think a weakly drawn younger sister a la In Her Shoes).
Add to the melodrama the fact that Shapiro is also planning her daughter’s bat mitzvah, and the stage is set for laughter, tears, marital issues and teen angst.
Although Weiner attempts to capture the essence of both Shapiro and Joy by having each character alternate narrating a chapter of Certain Girls, the attempt falls short in regards to Joy’s world, where the characters are bland (for example, the mean girl in Joy’s school isn’t really all that mean – maybe Weiner was afraid of stepping on Tina Fey’s Mean Girl toes?).
Weiner set the bar high with Good In Bed (and In Her Shoes), and while Certain Girls doesn’t quite measure up, it has all of Weiner's trademark humor and drama to make it good enough that readers won’t regret it the morning after.