- Genre: YA contemporary
- Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
- Publication date: March 3, 2019
Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.
Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.
Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.
Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Netgalley.
You Asked for Perfect was an anticipated book from me when I first heard about it, as I definitely struggled with perfectionism, anxiety (both school-related and not), and placing high expectations on myself at a competitive high school, even if I didn’t want to go the traditional get-into-an-Ivy-league route. Plus, the main character is bisexual! Like, this book was made for me, and it mostly lived up to those expectations.
As others have noted, the emotions and worries highlighted with Ariel are SO ACCURATE that it’s rather stressful to read, especially if you too were under a lot of academic in high school. I particularly enjoyed that the novel explored how this pressure is being applied at younger and younger grades, and how it can lead to psychosomatic symptoms (that happened to me!). And yay for positive, loving sibling relationships! I also loved the acknowledgement/realization that the whole college process involves a lot of gaming the system. Ultimately, the strength of the book lies here; the writing is clean but nothing spectacular. Not that it has to be flowery, but it’s very obvious–a lot of telling and simple sentence structure.
There were a couple of believably issues I had with this book, though, that kept me from being fully emerged in Ariel’s academic world. The major ones concern major time-skips…there is a part where Ariel gets a dangerously low amount of sleep while reading a book for an extra credit assignment, but then it completely skips over the 20-page paper he has to write for it…which seems like it would be MORE stressful and cause him to spiral further? And why is his Harvard interview before he’s even written is essay for the application? I’m pretty sure the interview happens after you actually apply. And what does he even want to study? Also, this well-funded suburban school with all these AP classes has overhead projectors, not document cameras? (This is minor, but as someone who was in high school fairly recently and spends a lot of time at one still, this threw me out of the story.)
While I love the inclusion of a bi male main character, his sexuality is described pretty simply in terms of liking “girls and boys,” which is rather binary and just a definition I’m kind of tired of seeing in YA when the knowledge of non-binary people and gender fluidity (some of whom identify as bisexual!) should be pretty common to a teen in the LGBTQ community today. The romance with Amir is cute but takes a back seat, so I wouldn’t go in expecting that to be a major element. [Also, when DOES this take place? I love that Rosa’s coming out episode of Brooklyn 99 was mentioned, but that episode aired in 2017 and it says he watched it in eighth grade? Which would mean it is set a couple of years in the future? This isn’t really a problem I suppose, but it is strange.]
On the other hand, the (ownvoices) Jewish representation was great, although I’m not Jewish so I can’t properly evaluate it. Still, the way synagogue, Sabbath, and other hallmarks of Jewish culture are present throughout Ariel’s life are lovely and this is definitely a great “window” for non-Jewish teens or a “mirror” for Jewish teens. I particularly like how his rabbi reached out to help–for some, religious communities can be a huge resource with these mental health difficulties. That said, there was unfortunately very little exploration into Amir’s Muslim identity…
I know this review might come off as a little negative because I had so many little details I noticed and critiques, but overall, I did enjoy it–and I didn’t even mention the delightful inclusion of music (Ariel’s music tastes aren’t that different than mine…our parents must have been into the same stuff). I breezed through it and it’s got a lot of important things to say. I just wished it were a little more fleshed out so the world itself would match the emotional content.