You Asked for Perfect
- Author: Laura Silverman
- Genre: YA Romance
- Publication Date: March 5, 2019
- Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Senior Ariel Stone has spent his life cultivating the perfect college résumé: first chair violinist, dedicated volunteer, active synagogue congregant, and expected valedictorian. He barely has time to think about a social life, let alone a relationship…until a failed calculus quiz puts his future on the line, forcing Ariel to enlist his classmate, Amir, as a tutor.
As the two spend more time together, Ariel discovers he may not like calculus, but he does like Amir. When he’s with Amir, the crushing academic pressure fades away, and a fuller and brighter world comes into focus. But college deadlines are still looming. And adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push Ariel past his limit.
Full of empathy, honesty, and heart, You Asked for Perfect is a story for anyone who has ever questioned the price of perfection.
Wow, this book was a quick but incredibly powerful read. It was a fast-paced story with a beautiful romance and a GREAT message, even if it caused me to experience a bit of stress, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
Meet Ariel. He’s on track to graduate as valedictorian of a high school that steadily puts out overachieving students, and his grand plan in life is … to get into Harvard. So far, everything is going well, but things start to fall apart for him in fall of senior year, when he fails a calculus quiz, throwing off his class grade, and thus, his entire life plan. But as we get a closer look at his life, I start to question the people who led him towards this path. Because looking at this from an adult perspective, it isn’t sustainable and it certainly isn’t healthy. As we get a front row seat to his breakdown, I have to wonder about the ethics of his guidance counselor for giving him this advice:
“She advised me how to audit courses like orchestra so they don’t bring down my GPA, how to skip lunch, and sign up for zero period classes and take PE online so I could squeeze in extra weighted credits like AP Latin and AP European History.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against teenagers working hard to do their best. But in Ariel’s case, I could actively see him missing out on his teen years. He was constantly focused on what he had to do next, juggling assignments and responsibilities, leaving him overworked, sleep deprived, and he was honestly missing out on one of the best aspects of high school — the relationships you form with your friends. Being a kid for the last time in your life. And as he starts to have a harder time saying no and juggling these responsibilities, he is forced to reevaluate what is truly important.
“When I signed up for classes freshman year, no one told me that straight As, volunteer hours, and time in the arts aren’t enough. No one told me that I’d have to know every answer to every test and also be a “unique individual” following my life’s calling at seventeen.”
Obviously, the quest to be perfect is admirable, but ultimately unattainable. The teen years are a time to be idealistic, but they’re also a time when you start to realize that you’re human and have limits. And when Ariel realizes this, it hits him hard, because he’s put everything into this one single goal and hasn’t devoted any of his energy into anything else:
“‘I’ve spent years working toward this one goal. It’s all I am. I’m not Ariel, the one with the band, or Ariel, the one with the camera. I’m Ariel, the one with the highest GPA. That’s it.’ My voice cracks with the next words. ‘If I don’t have perfect grades, then who am I?’”
But as the romance develops with Amir, which I LOVED seeing by the way, it creates an additional conflict on Ariel’s already overflowing plate. The connection was there, since their families are close, but it developed slowly and beautifully, and it was done absolutely perfectly. It was like Amir was the perfect foil to Ariel’s uptight, type A personality, and helped him learn how to relax and learn how to enjoy being a teenager for the first time:
“I wonder if this is what college is like, going with the flow, always saying yes because who really cares about that waiting pile of homework. It’s remarkable, the possibility in even one free Friday.”
While Amir is gay, Ariel is bisexual, and I think that the discussion around Ariel’s sexual identity was done beautifully. It talks about the feeling about not fitting neatly into a predetermined box, and the importance of developing an acceptance of that, especially for someone who is so focused on checking off boxes, like Ariel has a tendency to do. His entire life is compartmentalized, so this shakes things up a bit for him. There’s also beautiful Jewish representation, since his family is a little more on the religious side. Ariel’s family is stricter about celebrating holidays, attending synagogue, and having Shabbat dinner without phones at the table, although they don’t follow everything to the letter. It reflects the wide diversity within the religion and how it’s practiced, but also honors the beauty in the Jewish community:
“Voices boom around me, the entire congregation joining together in something more powerful than song. It’s always comforting, being surrounded by so many people reciting the same prayers as the generations before us.”
It’s a powerful story, and definitely one that will stick with me for a long time. It’s about pressure and how we respond to it, the pressure from both outside sources and the pressure we put on ourselves, and learning how to adapt and forgive. But most importantly, it’s about finding the joy in being who we are and living our lives.
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