Life by Committee
I chose this book for review because I was really interested in the premise. I have to say, I was a little disappointed that (after searching) there was no Life By Committee website - holy missed marketing opportunity Batman!
Tabitha was a really difficult character to relate to. I could understand her being swept up in the forbidden romance of her flirtations with Joe. Chatting well into the night, trading secrets has a secret allure that makes it exciting. However, it was her actions with regard to her family and her friend Elise that made her rather unlikeable. It is understandable that she be shell shocked, having been abruptly ditched by the people she thought where her friends but, throughout the novel, she comes across as whiny and self centered. She doesn't seem to understand her role in her situation and makes decisions that negatively impact her family and friends.
I found the other characters and, in particular, Tabitha's school, interesting. As a teacher, I always find it rather difficult to believe that crunchy granola, feeling circle, kind of schools actually exist. I was slightly annoyed with the actions of the guidance counselor, and the things that she was saying made me question the honesty of Tabitha as a narrator and kept me questioning every twist - for exampel, even in a very progressive, new agey school, I am not sure that Sasha could have gotten away with some of the stuff she pulled.
As the plot goes on, the things that the LBC group are asked to do get more and more outlandish. Zed starts to come across as more and more pretentious and questioning his motives added to the plot.
ZED: it's a moral obligation to have us ALL live our best lives. There's doing the right thing and there's doing the best thing. They're not always the same thing. The best thing is a challenge, the right thing is often a submission.
I felt like he was some creep pulling the strings of all these gullible young people, laughing as they took on his outlandish dares and never took any risks himself. At one point, when one of the other members is revealed, it takes on the feel of a cult mentality - the character is unable to decide on any actions on her own and must check with Zed first. I do wish the ending were a little more believable and didn't feel like the big reveal provided the shock value that I think it intended.
Overall, an interesting premise that leads to examinations of the characters motives as well as their willingness to put someone else in charge of their every decision.
Two things I think can be counted on when embarking on a Haydu book: 1) the main character probably won’t always be the most sympathetic character in the world and 2) the things the main character is dealing with are going to be big and painful. On the surface, I think it would be easy to dismiss Life by Committee as a novel of teenage infidelity. Certainly, that’s the issue that presents itself right away, and the one from the cover. Tabitha is engaging in a flirtation with Joe, a hockey player, who claims to be equally smitten, despite the girlfriend. They have epic late night chats and talk about everything. She thinks she’s in love and that he’ll dump his girlfriend Sasha for her any day now.
"I am a new shape. They hate that shape."
It is obvious, to the reader, that this is not a good situation. Sure, it’s not Tabby’s job to worry about the health of Joe’s relationship; the cheating is his fault and his alone. However, Tabby’s not aiming just for kisses; she wants love. Tabby actually even knows that she’s probably making mistakes, but she’s too into Joe and too desperate for someone to love her that she can’t think rationally about it.
Tabby only has one friend now, Elise. They’re not as close as Tabby was with Jemma, her former best friend. The loss of a best friend can be as painful as any break up and Tabby’s suffering. Jemma dumped her for not staying the same, for becoming pretty, for dressing differently, for wanting to do things with boys. Tabby grew some large breasts and suddenly she has a reputation to go with them and even her best friend won’t stand by her side. While she changed physically, Tabby doesn’t feel different on the inside and, in fact, tries very hard to remain true to the core of herself, if only to prove how shallow Jemma’s being. Unfortunately, it’s not really working for Tabby, because no one is paying attention to who she is rather than what she looks like except for Joe. Elise might, but Jemma’s too afraid of losing her only friend to risk that with honesty about the Joe situation.
Further destabilizing Tabby is the baby on the way. Tabby’s parents, Cate and Paul, raised Tabby sort of as an equal. Think of the as cool parents, who had her when they were teens themselves. Now, though, with the new kid on the way, there are changes happening. Cate wants Paul to smoke less pot, for one, which is resulting in a lot of fights in what has previously been a low key family. Also, Tabby feels like she’s being replaced. She was the test run, but they’re going to do things right with this baby. She feels like she’s lost everyone except for Joe. She thinks he sees her. It’s a heady, powerful thing.
"It’s short and I feel good in it, which I’ve decided must be wrong."
How much does this quote make you ache? This. THIS is Tabby. Everything she is seems to be wrong. All of Tabitha is disappointing and upsetting to friends and family. When Joe doesn’t fulfill her dreams, she feels entirely rootless. In this desperate condition, Tabby finds a copy of The Secret Garden with notes in the margins by someone else (finding such used books is a favorite hobby of Tabby and Paul). The notes speak to her and include a link to a strange website. In a fit of sadness after something doesn’t go as desired with Joe, Tabby joins the site.
Here is where the title comes in. The site is called Life by Committee. To be a member, you must share at least one secret every week. The small community offers feedback and support until the moderator, Zed, gives you an assignment. The assignment must be completed within 24 hours, no matter what it is. Life by Committee is intended to help them out of their rut and make them dare everything. They’ll live better. That’s the promise.
As you might expect, Tabby becomes obsessed with Life by Committee. While I have some minor suspension of disbelief issues with the website itself, I one hundred percent get Tabby’s obsession with such a thing. A girl who thinks everything she does is wrong would crave this sort of assistance. She doesn’t feel like she can trust herself and these people will tell her the magical secret way to happiness. Obviously, most people are going to immediately look askance at all of this, but for people like Tabby it appears a safe haven. Within LBC, she finds acceptance and motivation.
'“The way you’re dressing, Tabitha,” Mrs. Drake says, uncrossing her legs and leaning in closer to me. “The way you’re carrying yourself. Now, we’re not stodgy old fuddy-duddies here. We’re not conservatives, of course. And you have the freedom to dress how you want.”
“But?” I say.
“But I’m concerned about your relationships with other girls and maybe that you are being …naive.”
“Naive,” I say. No question mark. No need for her to answer. My legs itch all of a sudden, and I try to scratch with just one finger, but it’s not enough. I start scratching my thigh kinda voraciously.
“Do you feel comfortable with the way you’ve been dressing?” Mrs. Drake says. Her eyes go to my thighs. It doesn’t seem to matter that they are covered in tights.'
This was a conversation between Tabby and her school guidance counselor, who called Tabby into her office. She’s being slut-shamed even by the administration of the school. Haydu’s dealing heavily with slut-shaming and gossip in Life by Committee. They wear Tabby down and bring everything to Tabby breaking down. You can see the slut-shaming from others and the way that it affects Tabby’s own opinion of herself.
The resolution for Tabby is a beautiful thing. Though I wasn’t really emotionally tied into Tabby, I teared up during the big scene in the auditorium. I have trouble imagining something like that happening outside of fiction, but it carries a powerful message nonetheless: often, the secrets we keep end up being a bigger burden than honesty.
What Left Me Wanting More:
On the other hand, I really don’t like the lack of resolution with the LBC site. The book sort of ends without anything coming of that.
The Final Verdict:
Haydu’s Life by Committee is the perfect read for readers who enjoy novels that get at the painful truths of high school. If you’re into Courtney Summers’ stuff, you’ll probably enjoy Life by Committee.