Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

May 22, 2014

Title: Life by Committee
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Publication date: May 13, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Source: Publisher (Edelweiss)
Amazon Goodreads TBD
Some secrets are too good to keep.

Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat.

Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.

Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe.

Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.

But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?
I went into Life by Committee really, really enthusiastically. I mean, c'mon, a secret society of secrets, bullying, cheating, a social pariah, and not to mention the really high ratings I kept seeing everywhere (I dont usually read reviews for a book I know I'm going to review in the interest of being 'uninfluenced'), of course I was excited about this one!
And yeah, I know you can all hear the 'but' that's about to come, but (no pun :D) before I get to the but, I just want to let you know that according to the 200+ ratings Life by Committee has got on Goodreads, it has an average rating of 3.72 (right now), so obviously A LOT of people have liked it, and I'm in the minority (from the blogs I frequent, Nick @ Nick's Book Blog is the only one who shares my opinion), and in all probability you're going to end up really liking this book if you give it a try.
But I ended up almost giving up on the book several times, and even now when I've gotten to the end, I still cant say I liked it. Yes, there were parts of it which were nice, but for the most part, I seemed to disagree a lot with the way things were going, and I had no fun whatsoever. To make up for the utterly uncensored review you're about to get, I'll link up some positive reviews at the bottom, so be sure to check them out before you decide yea or nay.

Growing up is hard in general, but it can sometimes be a real trial for girls when you throw in the sudden irreversible changes that happen to them. And like Tabitha (I do love the sound of that name), when you grow up faster than your peers, it's not always pleasant. When you get down to it, this entire thing started with just that - Tabby growing up. When her friends start noticing the difference between them and her, and see the looks she gets from boys, and her refashioned wardrobe, they get patronizing, trying to save her from herself, and when that doesn't work, they drop her. And then, through a mix of envy, resentment, unfulfilled desires, and just plain old fashioned meanness, Tabby becomes the school's Undesirable No.1. The few adults who are privy to the problem believe her friends are in the right, and it's Tabby who has to change. While home is her safe haven, it's not a traditional relationship she shares with her parents, having been born when they were little more than kids themselves. Her father is a stoner, her mother is pregnant with the baby they are determined to 'raise right', and at the end of the day, Tabby just doesn't have anyone to turn to.

Her one solace comes from the used books she gets with notes on the margins - the last reader's thoughts - which give her moments of communion with some stranger she's never met, somewhere out there in the world.
It's like having a conversation with a book.
That is how she stumbles upon Life by Committee (LBC) - through a note in a margin. LBC seems like a much needed outlet from the sadness-frustration-meanness-lust-happiness that is her life, so she grabs it with both hands and holds on tight. But sometimes, life really has a way of screwing things up royally, you know?

1. Tabitha
Yes, I did want to put my head in my hands when I saw the horrible decisions she was making, but for the most part, I really liked her, and felt sorry for her. I'm actually surprised at how likable she was despite the not-so-good decisions she repeatedly made throughout the story. At the end of the day, she's just a really sweet girl who loves used books, misses her friends and just wants to be allowed the freedom to be herself, without having to conform to anybody's idea of whats good or bad. What she does with Joe is not in the least right, and I cant condone it, but I dont blame her for it either, simply because I think at the time, she really needed a confidence booster, which she got from Joe, and though for most of the book she has no qualms about him using her, it does contribute to her personal growth and she sees the light in the end.

Tabby also has, according to her friend Elise, 'a really skewed sense of how romantic crap happens'. SO true.

2. Life by Committee:
OMG HOW COOL IS THIS, YOU GUYS?! Total anonymity, total confidentiality. A whole bunch of someones to tell your secrets to and discuss them with! What would happen if we had something like this in real life? I think it'd be pretty cool. Without the assignment part of it, though. I totally understand the appeal this would hold for the members, because it's like a perfect outlet! The internet does lend us a measure of anonymity, yes, but I dont think to this level.

I also love how Haydu has highlighted the bond that you can form with an online community. It's pretty awesome, actually, when you think about it, because you've never met these people in real life, never heard their voice, and yet, I know people who've found their best friends on the internet.

3. Food for Thought:
In this aspect, Life by Committee reminded me a lot of Dear Killer. While, I was reading both of them, I was irritated a lot, but there were these little lines, or pictures with words or observations that just threw me with the amount of philosophical meaning they held.

I also love how Haydu has woven bullying, cheating, drug usage and other human failings in the story, making it a melting pot of human behavior spanning the whole spectrum.

1. Joe
He is a freaking *insert very bad word* and I honestly don't understand how Tabby couldn't see through him. The guy's practically a walking talking model of every lying, cheating boyfriend cliche out there. All the signs are there: he inveigles her into cheating with him by flattering her with the usual lines - 'I'm falling for you.' 'I want you.' 'You're hot.', he dodges her every single time she tries to talk about his girlfriend, and if she does manage to wrangle an answer of of him, it's something along the lines of  'It's complicated' or 'You know I love her too' or 'She's so fragile. She needs me', he ignores her in public while having his hands all over the girlfriend he's cheating on, and he uses her brutally (if you know what I mean) and only for her body. There's even this scene in which he brags proudly to his friends of how much he scores with his girlfriend. He's one of the most despicable characters I've ever read of.

2. Zed
Zed is the guy who runs LBC, and the one calling the shots. He hands out assignments, dogs people while they're trying to complete them, and is a general despot of his minuscule cyber kingdom. Oh, but he does grant the members one power of him - they get to pick his assignments. But does he ever report on whether or not he's completed them? Nope. Zed has a very messed up idea of things and imposes them on the lost people who find their way to LBC. Get a load of this:
AGNES: Sometime it's unclear why we do something until much, much later.
BITTY: I feel worse than I did yesterday. And being high so far is mostly annoying.
ZED: Feel the way you are losing fear? The way you are gaining control?
ASSIGNMENT: Weed. Your dad's weed. Tell that counselor at your school. Show the evidence.
@asshole: Dude
BRENDA: I don't feel like that will necessarily work.
ZED: We can't control the outcome. We can only control the journey.
AGNES: There is no right.
ZED: There is no right. There's only best. There's only going far and reaching forward. Together. We'll be right there with you.
First of all, Huh? Second, does he have any idea how much of trouble she could get into for something like this? Third, sorry to burst your bubble of omnipresence, kid, but NO, you're not going to be 'right there' with Tabby. Just saying a bunch of motivational crap before you slip in outrageous ideas does not make them okay. Fourth... oh forget it! I cant even. Argh.

3. Life by Committee:
While I like the general idea of it, there are still so many holes in it. Take this, for instance:
RULES THREE: An active membership is the only way to protect your secrets.
How does that work? If I dont do the assignment, I can get kicked out, okay, but how will you be able to expose my secrets? It's not like the group's got a way to track IP addresses or something.

Also, some of the assignments handed out were not exactly nice things, some were even stuff that could get you into real trouble. So how come no one takes into account the moral implications of these assignments? Even dares can only be taken upto a limit, after all.

4. Unreliable Narration
I've read a lot about the unreliable narrations that first person narrators can lead to, but I've never given it much thought, because I've always felt I've gotten enough information about the scenario to draw my own conclusions even given the handicap. But this is the first time ever I feel this might actually be a liability.

Okay, so Tabitha's become beautiful. She dresses differently from how she used to (in her words, she's started wearing V-necks and eyeliner). But why does that make her the victim of such a harsh school-wide ostracization? I dont know, that just seems too over the top for something so small. I feel like there must've been some more that led to so much hatred, though not necessarily her fault.

BOTTOMLINE: All said and done, I still think you should give this one a try, simply because I'm one of the very few who didn't like it.

Hello, Chelly: There was something so likable and relatable about Tab in spite of the many questionable choices she makes.

Rather Be Reading: I love that she created something so separate from her first book because the plotting and the characters are just as memorable but for different reasons. One thing she does continue to celebrate: the shades of gray that makes us human.

Gypsy Reviews:  I always say I don’t encourage drug use and would never advocate it but hats off to Haydu for showing the effects of them and the turmoil it has on a family and a couple’s relationship.

Sometimes it just takes one tiny thing, to make the world feel right again.

'What if change were the greatest comfort?' the Red Pen Note Writer writes in the margin, and my shoulders jump from the creepy relevance. This is why I love books. They so often address exactly what I'm going through at that precise moment.