Never Enough and a Few Comments about the Breaking Bad Rewatch

This week I read a galley for a book that was a bit of a departure for me; a contemporary YA about a family in crisis. (No supernatural creatures, no spaceships, no androids, no horses – hard to believe I even picked it up!) Written by Denise Jaden, Never Enough is told from the perspective of Loann, a junior in high school who feels that she is in the shadow of her beautiful, perfect sister Claire.

Claire is dating Josh, the boy Loann has had a crush on for a million years, and is the center of a circle of friends who worship her. Loann on the other hand has two friends, is much shorter than her sister, has frizzy hair, and doesn't have Claire's slender frame. All of these elements combine to help make her feel inferior.

At the beginning of the book her friends dump her, leaving her feeling even more alienated and insecure. But at the same time Josh and Claire give her a camera, an older model that uses film, which gives her a whole new perspective on her life. She also makes friends with the boy who has a locker next to hers, called Marcus, and the two work together on the set for the drama department play. So even though she's on the outs with her old friends, she has her new friend to keep her thoughts occupied.

Loann starts to feel a little more relaxed but there is a lot going on around her that is worrying. Her perfect sister is not looking quite so perfect and seems to be hiding something. Mom and Dad are fighting and Dad doesn't spend much time at home. Mom is fixated on pushing all the family members to succeed while also bringing home more and more plants. Meanwhile Marcus is a bit of an enigma, refusing to talk about his home life, and sometimes not talking at all. Everyone seems to have a secret and some of them are very dangerous.

Never Enough deals with two very serious issues, both of which have been written about extensively before. (I've personally been reading about them since I was a teen, which was quite a while ago.) But Ms. Jaden's novel is not dull or preachy, even if you've read similar books in the past. Loann is an endearing character that many of us will be able to identify with. Her anxiety and tension reminds us of our anxiety and tension as we negotiated similar treacherous waters when our own friends or family were in trouble. We can identify with her uncertainty as she tries to decide if what, if anything, she should do. Her fear of making things worse, through either action or inaction, is our fear. She's a thoroughly believable, and likeable, character, albeit confused and making some less that stellar choices, and I rooted for her one hundred percent. Angst in YA can be tricky as one reader's just right dose is another reader's far too much. Female protagonists usually get less tolerance than male; an unfortunate byproduct of living in a patriarchy. Ms. Jaden hits the sweet spot with me in her portrayal of Loann, who has an awful lot going on. It would be peculiar if she weren't constantly stressed out. The other characters are also well rounded, although I never quite figured out Mom and Dad's motivation for much of their behavior in the first half of the book.

You can hear the author read the first page here:

In other news AMC is doing a rerun of the entire series of Breaking Bad, which I am watching. They're doing a few episodes a day so the character development is possibly more easily observable than usual. (If you haven't seen any episodes read no further, or skip to the bonus treat, as first and second season spoilers abound.)

My first go round I sympathized with Walter. I paid medical claims for seven years for a fringe benefits firm and then worked in a doctor and physical therapy office doing the billing for another five years, so I know how expensive medical care can be. Cancer treatment is particularly outrageous and can max out even the best insurance. Walter of course has some crummy insurance, which covers none of the treatment the better oncologist offers. Furthermore his desire to provide for his family is understandable. With a baby on the way and a son with cerebral palsy, the urge to leave behind a substantial sum of money is not surprising.

But then we see that Walter is offered help, which he always categorically rejects. He doesn't want a job with excellent health benefits. He doesn't want flat out cash to pay for his treatments, although he's willing to pretend he's taken the money. We're left to assume he's too proud to take “charity” - his word – but at what price? How many people were killed and how many lives have been damaged at the expense of Walter's pride? More than a hundred and less than a thousand? It's hard to say. At least a plane full of people, right?

Meanwhile I get the impression that Jesse could be a valuable employee, with the right training and motivation. It's heartbreaking to see him get dolled up in his suit and fight for a job that turns out to be not at all the job he thought he was. And then to see how dedicated he has suddenly become to making a clean and pure product, to the point of throwing out three batches of meth, after being extremely casual about the quality of his product. If he had a decent role model, which I think he hungers for, and a job that let him stretch and grow, I think he could be a fantastic employee. I'm not even sure I have the heart to finish the rewatch. I guess we'll have to see.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a cooking comic from Lisa Hanawalt, whose work is always fun, interesting or unusual. She has a recipe for Hearty Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup that is all of the above. After looking at the image of her brain composition and the things she thinks about, and in what percentages, I have to wonder if we are twins separated at birth.