Joe Schreiber. Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. 190 pgs.
I still get those moments of geeky delightedness any time I see Lithuania mentioned in mainstream media. Like when Stephen Colbert did this bit. You know you’ve made it to the big time when Colbert or Stewart are making fun of you (srsly, it’s an awesome bit and you have this Lithuanian’s permission to laugh until your sides hurt) 🙂
So when I read the Goodreads description of Au Revoir and my eyes stumbled on “Lithuanian exchange student,” I was like those little girls in Tangled when they’re enlisted to braid Rapunzel’s hair.
There’s this high-school guy named Perry, whose parents decide during his senior year to host a European exchange student. Like many of his high-school-guy friends, Perry imagines “some chic Mediterranean lioness with half-lidded eyes, fully upholstered lips, curves like a European sports car, and legs of a swimsuit model who would tutor [them] with her feminine wiles” (pg 5).
Gobija is a short, awkward Lithuanian girl with giant horn-rimmed glasses, who dresses for prom (to which Perry’s parents insist he take her) in stereotypical Old World style — complete with a kerchief tied under her chin. At this point I raise an eyebrow, thinking, Is he (Schreiber) serious? Because I’m pretty sure teenage girls in Lithuania in 2011 wouldn’t actually dress like that for prom. In fact, I’m positive.
But then Schreiber twists Perry’s and my first impressions like an Indy car screeching a 180-turn, and suddenly we’re careening through Manhattan after a crazy “Lithuanian ninja” assassin on a revenge mission.
. . . . .
So. My overall impression of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick is … it’s ok. It’s a quick read, definitely more plot- than character-driven. It’s like watching an action/intrigue movie, like Salt or From Paris with Love. It’s like riding a “runaway train,” as the L.A. Times‘ Susan Carpenter puts it.
For me, though, the one-crazy-scene-after-another momentum got a bit old after the first third of the book. I kept going mostly out of stubbornness; I did kind of want to know how it would all end.
Main things I did like:
- The chapter titles worded like college application essay questions. That was clever, and really fit the theme of learning to break convention (i.e. unexpected answers to standard application questions) and realizing/asserting one’s own adult-life goals.
- The final scene — no spoilers, I promise — felt like something straight out of a movie. It’s a little cliché, but intriguing enough that I might read the sequel (Perry’s Killer Playlist comes out on Tuesday).
Things I didn’t:
- The constant jabs at Perry for being a virgin. I’m getting an odd sense of déjà-Hocus Pocus.
- Some things that happen near the end (again, no spoilers) are not explained clearly enough. Like, why are the [nouns] parked outside [place] before [shocking event] has even happened?
- This is going to sound nitpicky, but if you’re going to include words or phrases from another language, you might as well go all the way and use the actual characters. Like, if an “s” or “z” is supposed to have that little “v” thingy over it, go ahead and put the little “v” thingy over it (i.e. the word for “of a rooster” is gaidžio, not gaidzio).
- Edit: Oh, and factual errors, yo! — like the time it would actually take to get from Connecticut to New York City, as this Goodreads reviewer points out. Or actual college admissions timelines, as another Goodreader notes. On the subject of Lithuanian last names, though, it’s actually not uncommon for a woman (including myself) to shorten her last name to the masculine form for day-to-day American use, or on official documents. It’s less confusing than explaining the different conjugations of an unmarried woman’s last name vs. a married woman’s vs. a man’s.
- The Lithuanian elements didn’t feel as compelling as I’d hoped, or even that essential. As the book’s title shows, it wouldn’t really matter where, specifically, Gobija was from. Her actions, motives, and backstory would have been the same. Which, on the other hand, is a sign of good human characterization, in that Schreiber doesn’t pigeonhole Gobija according to her nationality; any of us could relate to her reasons for doing what she’s doing.
- I now know some new Lithuanian curses. Like Gaidžio pautai.
So, to recap:
Fast-paced plot, somewhat-cliché characterization (especially the school bullies), some artistic license with facts, and a satisfying-enough conclusion that makes me sort of interested in the sequel.
Oh, and if anyone’s interested in basketball history — Olympic basketball history in particular — and The Grateful Dead — and you happen to be in Asheville, Austin, Portland, or Raleigh around Nov. 9th — go see The Other Dream Team.