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When seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the Become a Jetsetter contest, she dreams of reuniting her estranged children: Lee, an almost-famous actress; Cord, a handsome Manhattan venture capitalist who can't seem to find a partner; and Regan - a harried mother who took it all wrong when Charlotte bought her a Weight Watchers gift certificate for her birthday. Charlotte yearns for the years when her children were young, when she was a single mother who meant everything to them.
When she wins the contest, the family packs their baggage - both literal and figurative - and spends ten days travelling from sun-drenched Athens through glorious Rome to tapas-laden Barcelona on an over-the-top cruise ship, the Splendid Marveloso. As lover new and old join the adventure, long-buried secrets are revealed and old wounds are reopened, forcing the Perkins family to confront the reasons that drove them apart and the defining choices of their lives.
Here’s the thing about Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club: I either love the books, or I hate them. There is no in-between. Unfortunately, The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward falls into the latter category.
I am not accustomed to writing negative reviews on this blog (it makes me feel so guilty), but since this book is getting so much hype and has been chosen as Hello Sunshine’s book of the month, I feel like I can’t hold back. The Jetsetters is probably the most problematic book that I have read this year. Fat shaming? Check. Homophobia? Check. A total lack of diversity? Check. Problematic portrayal of mental illness and addiction? Check, check, check. Let me break it down.
The Jetsetters centres around four main characters – a mother and her three children – as they take a cruise around Europe. I’ll start with the mother, Charlotte, because boy is she a doozy. Charlotte is perhaps the most self-centred character that I have ever read about. She is in her late seventies. Her husband Winston died decades ago, when her children were still living in school. Her husband was a troubled man – an alcoholic, verbally abusive, and struggled with depression. His death was a severely traumatic experience for her children, but has dear old Charlotte ever spoken to them about their father and what happened? No, of course not. In fact, she has been lying to two of her children for decades about the cause of father’s death. She prefers to pretend that everything is fine and dandy, and ignore the lasting impact of childhood trauma on the lives of her now adult children.
Charlotte’s oldest daughter Lee is a struggling actress. She is lying to her family about her career, trying to convince them that she is successful when in fact she hasn’t had a role in a long time. She is also pretending that she is still in a long-term relationship, instead of telling the truth: she is broke, unemployed, single, and living in a motel. She moves back home to her mother, who somehow does not realise that her daughter is chronically depressed and suicidal. I wanted to reach out and hug Lee; she deserved a much better mother than Charlotte.
Cord, Charlotte’s son, was the only character in this book that I actually liked. Cord is a troubled man – he is depressed, an alcoholic, and hiding the fact that he is gay from his family. He is recently engaged, but no one in his family knows who he really is. Everyone suspects, but it is not a conversation that he feels he can comfortably have with his mother – a devout Catholic. I kid you not, when Charlotte starts to acknowledge the idea that her son is gay her first thought is that the priest at her church will not talk to her anymore. Her priest and her struggling son are of equal importance to her… because she fancies the priest. It is so messed up. It would be one thing if the author confronted this idea, but she does not. This is presented as a perfectly reason excuse for Charlotte continued refusal to acknowledge the truth about who her son is.
Regan, Charlotte’s youngest daughter, is in an unhappy marriage with a man named Matt. Her siblings have picked up on this and try to be there for her, but Regan doesn’t want help. She is stubborn, insisting that everything is fine. Even her sister Lee, who she has not spoken to in years because of Matt, picks up on what is going on. Does Charlotte pick up on this? Of course not. When Lee and Cord try to talk to Charlotte about it, the world’s greatest mother avoids the conversation by repeatedly declaring “I love waffles!” She handles all serious situations as though she is seven years old, instead of being in her seventies. My god. The way in which Charlotte and Lee fat-shame Regan made me incredibly angry as well. The mention of Regan’s weight added nothing to the narrative; the fact that she was carrying a few extra pounds did not need to be repeatedly mentioned.
Despite the fact that Charlotte does not seem to care about any of her children, they are all under the impression that they need to protect their mother from any pain. Charlotte seems to think that she is a wonderful, devoting mother at times, when that really couldn’t be further from the truth.
The thing about this book that irritates me the most is that it could have been good, maybe even great, if the tone matched the content. The Jetsetters deals with some seriously heavy issues – mental illness, depression, suicide, addiction, childhood trauma – and yet it is packaged as a light-hearted summery beach read. It is a heavy book, and yet the author uses a light-hearted voice. At times I felt as though I was reading a teenager’s journal. If you are going to write a book that covers such serious issues as this one, you have to do some research. You should not write about them in a knowledge and accurate way. The author does not do these issues the justice that they deserve. It is incredibly problematic.
I am honestly baffled by the fact that this book is receiving the hype that it is. There are much better character-driven books about dysfunctional families out there. To name a few: The Nest by Cynthia DAprix, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Some of these books were actually also recommended by Hello Sunshine, funnily enough. If you are looking for a family drama, read one of these books instead. The Jetsetters is not worth the hype.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review. If you could now take the time to go and sign this petition I would greatly appreciate it. This petition demands justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26-yearold woman who was killed in her home in March.
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.