Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell
Vassar Spore is every Tiger Mother’s dream come true. At 16, she’s got her entire overachieving life perfectly planned out with the unwavering support of two control-driven-but-nurturing parents. The three seamlessly work together toward Vassar’s goals: a 5.3 GPA – the new 4.0; a degree with honors from Vassar – really, where else? – followed by an Ivy PhD; a “definitive book on (TBD)” by age 37; and a Pulitzer, no duh.
And then the unexpected call comes: Grandma Gerd, through some mysterious means not unlike emotional blackmail, convinces Vassar’s parents to send their precious only child to Southeast Asia for the summer. Free-spirited artist Grandma Gerd is working on a major commission in Malaysia and needs Vassar’s help collecting “found art.” Off Vassar must go … if nothing else to find out the big secret her parents refuse to tell her …
When she arrives at the Singapore airport with her lists, her guidebooks, her laptop (to write the great American teen novel, starring Sarah Lawrence, hahaha!), and 10 monogrammed black suitcases filled with provisions for every possible emergency, Grandma Gerd is nowhere in sight. And thus Vassar’s transforming adventure begins: from stolen ancient treasures, counterfeit anti-bacterial spray, 1940s Godings as ransom, to a not-even-a-beaten-path jungle adventure, Grandma Gerd is determined she’ll teach Vassar to LIM … Live in the Moment!
Can she or can’t she? How’s this: “In all my fantasies, I’d never foreseen the possibility of my first kiss taking place with a chop-wearing Chinese Malay cowboy named Hanks in a bamboo hut in a hill tribe in Communist Laos – all the while clutching a bottle of my own freshly brewed urine!” How can you not utterly appreciate such unexpected moments?!
One plot-directed raised eyebrow: Vassar Spore would mop up any Wheel of Fortune game, so that she takes so long to solve Grandma Gerd’s letter-by-letter secret seems incongruous to her smarts. One double-raised mother’s unibrow: What’s with the cover??!! WHO decided that a seemingly naked, nubile silhouette was appropriate for a kids’ book??!!
But you just need to open the book. Autumn Cornwell’s debut novel (it’s been four years, so hopefully she has another coming soon!) is rollicking fun from the get-go. Going, going, gone … into a wild, blue, way-out yonder giddy ride!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult