Review: The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

Title: The Next Best Thing

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Genre/Pages: Fiction; 400

Publisher: Atria Books

Publish Date:  July 3, 2012

Rating: 2 bookmarks (borrow it)

Source: courtesy of Engelman & Co.

Natalie’s 1-Sentence Synopsis: Drawing on her experiences as a co-creator and executive producer of ABC Family’s State of Georgia, Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel is set in Los Angeles and tells the story of would-be screenwriter Ruthy Saunders’s big dreams and the obstacles she must overcome to achieve them.

After a car accident leaves 3-year-old Ruthie Saunders orphaned and disfigured, her grandmother steps in to raise her.  20 years later, Ruthie packs her bags and heads for California–with Grandma bringing up the rear–to try her hand at screenwriting.

While Ruthie’s grandmother seems to adjust seamlessly–finding television acting gigs as an extra and making friends–things are more difficult for Ruthie.  She’s very self-conscious about her disfigured face and won’t go out without makeup and a hat but eventually lands a job as an assistant to Big Dave and Little Dave, television guys.

Three years later, Ruthie’s labor of love, The Next Best Thing, has been given the green light for production.  With the celebrations barely over, Ruthie realizes that the executives are manning the reigns and that creative control is essentially out of her hands.  On top of that, her boyfriend breaks up with her, leaving Ruthie to pine for the man of her dreams and former boss, Little Dave.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, many of the plot events of The Next Best Thing were drawn from Weiner’s experiences in sitcom land.  I’d read Weiner’s tweets about The State of Georgia, a short-lived ABC Family show she worked on, but had never seen an episode.

After a bit of research, I learned that the showed starred Raven Simone as a plus-sized girl trying to make it big on Broadway except by the time filming rolled around, Simone was no longer plus-sized due to a dramatic weight loss.  Simone said she had to wear padding for the filming–and that is exactly what happened in Ruthie Saunders’s fictional television show!  A plus-sized girl was cast in the starring role and later showed up for filming as thin as a wraith.

I think this novel was a vehicle to tell Weiner’s side of the story on the cancellation of The State of Georgia--ie. the difficulties of working in Hollywood–instead of a story about someone trying to overcome obstacles.  In Hollywood, story lines and plots are changed.  Characters aren’t cast the way the author envisioned.  Executives wield the power and if a show fails, it’s largely because it wasn’t produced like the screenwriter intended.

Author Jennifer Weiner in Hollywood mapping an episode of The State of Georgia. (photo: Chris Pizzello, 2011)

Weiner tosses in a motley crew of supporting characters–some of whom had potential–but fell flat.  I was frustrated with Ruthie’s meekness and willingness to accept poor treatment from men, actors, and executives.  The whole Hollywood scene was also tough to stomach, and I wanted Ruthie to either stand up for herself or pack it in and find a job in another industry.  While it was interesting to get a peek into the world of Hollywood, ultimately The Next Best Thing didn’t quite live up to its name for me.

11 Comments

  • At 2012.07.22 08:27, bermudaonion(Kathy) said:

    Weiner is a favorite of a friend of mine. I read one of her books years ago at my friend’s urging and I wasn’t crazy about it, so I haven’t read any more. I probably won’t pick this one up either. Sorry you didn’t love it.
    bermudaonion(Kathy)´s last blog post ..Weekend Cooking: The Cookie Dough Lover’s Cookbook

    • At 2012.07.22 08:31, Sandy said:

      I do appreciate the honesty. I have found that Weiner’s books are hit or miss with me.
      Sandy´s last blog post ..Sunday Salon: Princess Training

      • At 2012.07.22 09:38, Heather said:

        I do plan to read this one, but I didn’t know about the State of Georgia thing! Now it makes perfect sense why Weiner chose to tell this particular story through her novel. I tend to enjoy her books so I’m hoping I’ll still like this one. I agree with Sandy – your honesty is much appreciated!
        Heather´s last blog post ..Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

        • At 2012.07.22 12:20, Colleen said:

          Thanks for the honest review! I just received this book. I have read many of Weiner’s books and enjoyed them – wonder what I will think of this one. It is interesting how closely the plot parallels the author’s own experience with her show. Not sure if that is a good idea – if she is trying hard to make a point, it can ruin the story.
          Colleen´s last blog post ..Weekend Cooking: Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty

          • At 2012.07.23 16:14, Jenners said:

            I too would want a no holds barred glimpse into Hollywood but I guess she can’t do that without burning bridges. I haven’t read one of her books in a long time.
            Jenners´s last blog post ..So, It Looks Like I’m Selling Out … And Other News

            • At 2012.07.23 16:51, Meg said:

              Sorry to hear this wasn’t a smash hit! I’m a big fan of Weiner’s work and watched “State of Georgia,” which was cute and kooky. I’m still going to give this one a chance, though it sounds like I’ll have to temper my expectations.
              Meg´s last blog post ..Book review: ‘Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend’ by Matthew Dicks

              • At 2012.07.23 16:59, toothybooks said:

                aww. I’m definitely disappointed to hear that this didn’t live up to expectations. Honestly I haven’t read a Weiner’s book yet, but I’ve heard so many great things about her work that I always wanted to give her a try. I guess I’ll start with one of her other books rather than this one.

                • At 2012.07.23 20:02, kay @ Infiniteshelf said:

                  Aww, sorry you didn’t enjoy this one much! I read the novella that takes place before this story and enjoyed it. I’ll definitely read this one but I’ll probably wait for the paperback (I still have a few of her more recent novels to catch on with!) This makes me want to watch State of Georgia though!
                  kay @ Infiniteshelf´s last blog post ..Review : Tokyo Heist

                  • At 2012.07.24 12:17, Hopp206 said:

                    The plot is so similar to another book that I read that I keep going back to find the print date wondering if I already read this one. I’ve really enjoyed her other books, but feel this is so so.

                    • At 2012.07.26 13:20, Jac @ For Love and Books said:

                      I’ve somehow never read a Jennifer Weiner book. This sounds like a great place to start though 🙂

                      -Jac @ For Love and Books
                      Jac @ For Love and Books´s last blog post ..Book Review: The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead

                      • At 2012.08.05 07:20, Beth F said:

                        I know some people have trouble with Weiner’s books, sorry this wasn’t a hit for you.
                        Beth F´s last blog post ..Weekend Cooking: Review: The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila

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