Jessie Elliot’s debut novel, Girls Dinner Club, promises a lot — laughter, heartbreak, and dessert — but fails to live up to its full potential. Girls Dinner Club has a lot going for it: three very different girls from three very different schools living three very different lives. The development of a weekly dinner get-together where the girls learn to cook while sharing their life events seems like a great idea ripe with potential. A more mature writer might have mined the story for all its worth but as a debut novel it left me wanting.
We all know teenage girls are consumed with boys and in today’s world that includes sex. While the book does go into some of the other aspects of teen life, it’s pretty clear that for the girls of the Friday night dinner get-together, the promise, fulfillment, and aftermath of sex is the main course. The unplanned ramifications of having sex before you’re emotionally ready are immediately confronted by the end of chapter two when Julie Wong-Goldstein succumbs to her boyfriend’s urgings for sex. Meanwhile, Danielle is confronting her attitudes and feelings about sex and for a boyfriend who can’t resist cheating on her, while Cecelia is still to have her first love-of-her life.
I’ve been trying to figure out why the book left me wanting. Elliot is a good writer, but the story lacked a certain emotional intensity. Perhaps it’s because the author tried too hard. The three girls, three different ethnicities, three different lifestyles, three different schools concept left me with the feeling of seeing too much of the author’s hand at work. It felt too contrived. I also didn’t think the dinner club concept was mined enough. It, too, came off more as a plot contrivance to make the novel idea work. In the end I wanted to know more.
Girls Dinner Club is clearly for the older teen (grades 10 and up) and not for those who are still young emotionally as well as physically. I do think the author’s handling of Julie’s reaction to having sex is provocative. Her sudden need to distance herself from her boyfriend is something many girls may be surprised to learn happens. While I do have problems with the scope of this novel, I would still be interested in reading any future books by the author