Jenny Fran Davis’ coming-of-age debut is an offbeat and amusingly tragic story of a vintage fashion-obsessed, Manhattenite teenager who decides to finish out her high school studies at an ‘alternative’ education establishment in the pursuit of love.
Flora Goldwasser has only ever known her perfect, privileged, private school life. Then one day she meets Elijah Huck, the hipster guest tutor at her school, and she’s instantly infatuated. In a bid to impress the first man who’s ever made her feel special and become the kind of person he might love, Flora transfers to Quare Academy, a place of ‘unwashed hippies’ and free spirits which focuses on environmentalism, peace studies, social justice and natural living.
To a girl who loves designer clothes, Jackie O sunglasses, old Hollywood movies and Maison Kayser macaroons, Quare is like another world. For the first time in her life, Flora is an outsider. Yet as she begins to fully integrate herself into Quare life, she lets her guard down and experiences romance, heartbreak, friendship and a creative freedom she never would have achieved if she hadn’t made such a bold decision (even if that decision was made to impress a man).
This epistolary tale reads like the younger years of Girls’ Hannah Horvath as it follows Flora’s journey from naïve, love-struck teenager to someone with a firmer grasp of who they are and what they want in life. Told through letters, emails, clippings and diary entries, this is a thoughtful, funny and awkward tale of growing up and growing out of the things or people who pin us to one particular identity.
Flora is a brilliant character to follow; she’s all for progressive, feminist and artistic thinking but she’s also incredibly judgemental of the new people she encounters. She might assure her family and friends that she wants to be at Quare to expand her horizons but it’s obvious that she uprooted her life to win the affections of a man, and a selfish, self-centred one at that. And that’s what lends the tale such an air of teenage tragedy – her infatuation never feels reciprocated and yet everything Flora does, she does for Elijah. It perfectly captures that girlish feeling of falling in love for the first time and trying to change yourself to fit another person’s ideal.
Davis has created a charismatic cast of oddball, alternative characters and a setting that’s strangely charming in its eccentricities. Adding in Flora’s difficult dynamic with her parents and her supportive yet honest sister, Lael, helps to explore why Flora seeks Elijah’s admiration and also why she absolutely doesn’t need it.
Due to the nature of the book’s format, Everything Must Go does take a while to get going and it’s only mid-way through the book that the story really starts to come together and find its heart. But Flora is a character that’s worth sticking with for her silliness, her humour and her willingness to put it all out there. If this is the kind of book Jenny Fran Davis wrote at twenty-years-old, I’m excited to see what she comes up with next.
Everything Must Go was published by Corsair on 5 October 2017