Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things
by Julie Buxbaum

Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Publication date:  April 5th 2016
Source/Format: ARC won from Faye of The Social Potato
Purchase links: Amazon | Book Depository 
My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts:
This is my second time reading “Tell Me Three Things”. I was not able to post a review the first time (too bothered to stop and take notes because this thing is so engaging) so I read it again. No regrets.

This book is a perfectly devised scheme to bring down the defense walls of a guarded heart. And by a guarded heart, I mean my heart. Before I fully begin my review, let me tell you a little something about myself first. I do have a lot of experience in relationships online/onscreen—three in fact—and all have failed in the end. The first guy worked overseas, there was the difficulty of us living in different timezones, but we managed to chat everyday online. When he went home here in our country for vacation, we decided to meet but I decided that I was not physically attracted to him. The second guy, I saw briefly in person from a church activity and I was attracted to him. I got a bit brazen this time and I was the one who asked for his number from a common friend and initiated the texting. We texted each other mundane stuff everyday and eventually he said he liked me and so I asked him if maybe we could meet for a real date. He did not directly said no but everytime I come up with a way for us to meet, he would say that something came up and that there’s still next time. I got the cue that he really did not want to translate what we have into a real relationship so I stopped texting. The third guy was another one from church. Again, we became “textmates” and I thought we were a hit. And it really felt nice having someone greet me “good morning /night” and being asked caring things like “have you eaten yet?” everyday. We went out once but I felt a disconnect between who he was behind the phone and who he was in person. Our communication went cold and the next time I’ve heard of him, he was getting married. Long story short, from my personal experiences, virtual relationships do not work. So imagine me being smug and mighty when I saw the blurb of “Tell Me Three Things”. It’s about a transferee student who started a virtual relationship with Somebody/Nobody (SN) and I highly doubted myself being able to feel anything about it. I was dead wrong. The book worked its charms and made me feel a lot of things!

It all began with an email from SN offering guidance to our heroine Jessie Holmes in navigating the jungle that is Wood Valley High School. SN claims that for Jessie this place and these people are all new, but since he has spent all his life there, he is an expert. Jessie is the new kid in town who brought with her some baggage. Her baggage is that she lost her mother to cancer and her father remarried and moved them to a strange new place without even consulting her feelings about it. So Jessie is grief-stricken, angry, lost and alone all at the same time. She is an easy target but the girl is also sensible. At first, Jessie brushed off SN’s offer because she is aware that SN might be someone who is not what he is telling himself to be. What if SN is a mean girl playing a practical joke on her? Or an old pervy man pretending to be a teenage boy? But life in WVHS is proving to be a real challenge and exchanging funny witty emails with a stranger is a good distraction, so Jessie reluctantly accepted SN’s help.

Jessie’s loneliness on losing her mom is palpable in her thoughts. She counts the days it has been since her mother passed. She sees something and that something will always find a way to remind Jessie of her dead mom. The book is generous in dishing out Jessie’s grief and pain but she is not altogether a bleak character. People around Jessie sees her as someone strong because of the way she carries herself but the truth is (we know this because we are the privileged readers) she just tries so hard not to show any signs of giving up. She said it herself: she refuses to be “the sad girl”. I think a lot of readers will love Jessie’s character. I know I love her. She also loves books. She is a feminist. She is nice and fiercely loyal to people she cares about: her mom and her friends.

At the heart of the book is the connection formed between Jessie and SN. Soon Jessie and SN switched to IM-ing and started this tell-me-three-things game where they tell each other three things about themselves daily. Jessie starts to fall for SN and wants to see him in person but SN thinks it’s not a good idea. One of the book’s main storyline is Jessie deducing who SN is, a la Sherlock. I love the fun and fluff style element of mystery here. Jessie is a smart girl so it has been a wild ride following her around in her quest for SN’s identity. She suspects everybody, even her slightly evil stepbrother Theo or her new Wood Valley friend, Adrianna. Eventually there were three gorgeous boys left in the suspects’ line up and you guys--THE CHASE, THE ROMANCE--I JUST CAN’T WITH SWOON. I deliberately threw away all my bad personal experiences with virtual relationships and got carried away with the feels this book gives. Aaah, I cannot contain myself! I want to spill everything I know about SN! My feet is doing these little kicks in the air right now!

And it’s so,so much more than just swoon and romance. Because I can relate on this too well, I like how the book explores a lot on the absurdity of virtual relationships: how your personality on screen is the filtered and edited version of yourself in person, how it’s sometimes easier to type and say things behind the screen, how sometimes you continue texting with a distant friend without knowing that your relationship is starting to fall apart. It also touched on our human need to be actually seen, especially teenagers. It’s great that not only did the book made Jessie acknowledge that she wants and deserves attention from her peers or from her dad, the other characters are also shown in this light, too: Theo, Adrianna, her bestfriend in Chicago Scarlett, even SN.

Going in, I know that this is a good book because Faye of The Social Potato gave it a five star rating but I did not think that I would come to love this book so much. Pursuing a virtual relationship does not clearly work for me but this book does. Such sweet escape.

Diversity Watch:
As promised from my previous discussion post, I will list down the characters and provide their race and gender in text to get a general look of how diverse the book is.
  • Jessie Holmes – describes herself as ordinary looking, racially indeterminate character.
  • Scarlett Schwartz – Jessie’s bestfriend in Chicago, half-Jewish, half Korean.
  • Adam Kravitz – Jessie’s neighbor and 1st kiss in Chicago, racially indeterminate.
  • Theo Scott – Jessie’s stepbrother, racially indeterminate, openly gay.
  • Ashby – Theo’s bestfriend, racially indeterminate.
  • Caleb – SN Suspect #1, Jessie described him as a “Ken doll”
  • Liam – SN Suspect #2, long dirty blond hair, dark brown eyes
  • Ethan – SN Suspect #3, blue eyes, dark haired
  • Crystal and Gem – the resident mean girls of Wood Valley High, both blue-eyed and blond.
  • Ken Abernathy – one of Jessie’s new classmate in WVHS, racially indeterminate.
  • Mrs. Pollack – Jessie’s English teacher in WVHS, racially indeterminate.
  • Mr. Shackleman – Jessie’s gym teacher in WVHS, racially indeterminate.
  • Deena and her older brother Joe – people back in Chicago, both racially indeterminate
  • Adrianna Sanchez – Jessie’s classmate and new friend in WVHS, brown hair, brown eyes.
  • Agnes – Adrianna’s bestfriend, tiny girl with dyed red bob, large forehead and a nose that looks like someone pinched it hard and it stuck.
  • Heather – a student in WVHS who threw a party Jessie attended in, racially indeterminate.
  • Jessie’s general observation of everyone in WVHS is “so California blond”
  • In one of his emails, SN described WVHS as a “wasteland of mostly blond, vacant-eyed Barbies and Kens”
  • Jessie’s stepmother employs “house manager”, Gloria. There are also other Latino people in the house hired as cleaning crew, gardener, etc.
  • Jessie’s old home in Chicago was mentioned to be bought by the Patels (a common surname of people of Indian descent?)
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