One of the things I love about reading YA novels is that they’re typically about a person on the cusp of something greater. When you’re 18, you are choosing one of the major paths of your life and there’s no way that that’s not huge. In the right hands, those stories resonate. Jennifer E. Smith has taken all of the years of writing YA and given us the story of a 30-something indie musician who is achieving semi-greatness in her career but suffers a tragedy and is forced to analyze her life and choices in The Unsinkable Great James.
Jennifer E. Smith
March 1, 2022
Blurb: Right after the sudden death of her mother—her first and most devoted fan—and just before the launch of her high-stakes sophomore album, Greta James falls apart on stage. The footage quickly goes viral and she stops playing, her career suddenly in jeopardy—the kind of jeopardy her father, Conrad, has always predicted; the kind he warned her about when he urged her to make more practical choices with her life.
Months later, Greta—still heartbroken and very much adrift—reluctantly agrees to accompany Conrad on the Alaskan cruise her parents had booked to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. It could be their last chance to heal old wounds in the wake of shared loss. But the trip will also prove to be a voyage of discovery for them both, and for Ben Wilder, a charming historian, onboard to lecture about The Call of the Wild, who is struggling with a major upheaval in his own life. As Greta works to build back her confidence and Ben confronts an uncertain future, they find themselves drawn to and relying on each other.
It’s here in this unlikeliest of places—at sea, far from the packed city venues where she usually plays and surrounded by the stunning scenery of Alaska—Greta will finally confront the choices she’s made, the heartbreak she’s suffered, and the family hurts that run deep. In the end, she’ll have to decide what her path forward might look like—and how to find her voice again.
Greta James is riding high as an indie singer-songwriter. Just as she’s about to release what may be an astounding Sophomore album, Greta’s biggest fan and supporter, her mother, dies suddenly. Immediately afterward, at a charity concert, Greta breaks down onstage and the video goes viral, and now the career she’s worked so hard for may be just an afterthought. As she takes time off, Greta’s brother, Asher, persuades her to go on the vacation trip, an Alaskan cruise, with her father, Conrad, that her mother had planned and looked forward to. But Conrad is far from Greta’s biggest supporter and they haven’t gotten along in quite a while. This trip could make or break them. And so begins The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith.
Just to prove, once again, that I am a book blogger with her head in the sand, I had no idea that this was one of the most anticipated books of 2022 and, frankly, I’m glad I didn’t know because I went into this read with few expectations. And then I was blown away.
The relationship between Greta and Conrad is so real. They came from a place of closeness—he bought her her first guitar—and then found an unnavigable sea between them because he wanted her to have stability and she wanted to do what she loves: play guitar. The thing that brings them together is their shared love for the woman they both mourn.
On this Alaskan cruise, Greta befriends a ten-year old wanna be rock star; has a shipboard romance with a professor who seems to be obsessed with Jack London; and discovers a lot of truths about herself and her relationships with others. Simply, this is a relationship novel that resoundingly loves all kinds of relationships, familial, romantic, platonic.
Greta is one of my favorite characters from the past few years and not just because she’s a rock star. She’s also a woman who doesn’t need to have marriage and/or children to feel or be fulfilled, and it’s great to have that acknowledged in a book when the opposite is so pervasive. She’s a character who feels deeply, questions herself, has depth, a sense-of-humor, is self-deprecating, and is complicated.
Smith’s writing is funny and compassionate and frequently poetic and she has an eye for meaningful detail and a great sense of how people tick. She surprised me twice at the end of The Unsinkable Greta James, which I didn’t think was possible; one surprise ended with tears of happiness and the other with hope. This book made me feel so much and that, to me, is the blueprint of a successful novel.
If it were possible, I’d like to read this again for the first time.
The Unsinkable Greta James is one of my top reads of the year.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
5 out of 5 butterflies