The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
Often dubbed the queen of contemporary, Morgan Matson is nothing short of a legend in the genre. She’s written books about cutesy road-trips, books about friendships and bucket lists, about summer flings and finding first love- all of which have been massive hits. Most people will say that Matson can do no wrong in the contemporary genre. With the Unexpected Everything, Matson comes to us with a little bit of everything that have made her past books so successful. Andie had her entire summer planned out; she was going to get away from her career-focused father, drive to Maryland so she could spend her summer in a pre-med program at Johns Hopkins. But when one of her references falls through, Andie gets kicked out of the program; her father takes a break from his political career when a scandal puts him in an uncomfortable position, and now Andie’s stuck at home with a parent who has been absent in her life since her mother died five years ago. To keep busy, Andie gets a job as a dog-walker- it’s no substitute for Johns Hopkins of course, but it’s the only thing she can find so last minute. Then, Andie meets Clark- and what was going to be a tormenting, uncomfortable summer turns into something unexpected.
This book is quite literally the unexpected everything. It has all the ingredients that makes a contemporary pop. A short road-trip? Check. Strong friendships, drama, scavenger hunts? Yep. Summer flings, first love, self-doubt and broken hearts? You bet. I’ve always insisted that contemporaries that focus on just romance, or just drama often miss the mark when they’re trying to be “realistic.” Let’s face it – realistically, your life is never completely about one thing or another. You’re having love problems, but you’re juggling other stuff too- whether that’s family, friendship, work, school, whatever. Matson’s strongest feat is how wholesome her contemporaries are, because even though emphasis is placed on one thing or another, the surrounding hubbub is never ignored or forgotten. Arguably, my favorite parts of the novel were those that involved Andie’s father. Matson does such a brilliant job of portraying the father and daughter’s fractured, complicated relationship and its revival. Pair that with strong bonds of friendship and a blossoming first-love, this novel is as cohesive as it gets.
Having said that (and this is entirely personal preference), I felt that I was so invested in Andie’s father-daughter relationship that it completely overshadowed the other less complex ones in the novel. I enjoyed how Matson utilized the group dynamics in a friendship consisting of more than two people, but it also had its pitfalls: despite knowing what Andie’s friends’ interests were, the characters were forgettable and didn’t feel fleshed out. Sabrina – the only character of color in the entire book – was used as a plot device than anything else, and I really would have liked to see more of her, especially since I can’t say with certainty who she was as a person. Matson likes to play around with details in her characterization, and while that’s endearing, I think it’s also important to make your characters people rather than just quirks.
I sometimes felt that Andie’s character was inconsistent throughout the novel. I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, but her resistance to commitment would kick in at random, and then leave out of nowhere on the next page. This commitment-phobia is a fascinating element to any character, but I feel that authors should make it harder for them to overcome it, rather than just utilizing it as another character quirk. The ending, too, was so clichéd that it had me rolling my eyes and skimming pages. Matson also didn’t wrap up all the storylines she opened up in the novel- for example, Andie went on a hunt for the person who pulled his reference to Johns Hopkins, and that was how she met Clarke and that’s what started the summer off in the first place- but it’s never brought up again. I understand that this is a big book to begin with, and adding all the tiny things would have made it massive- but without them, the book lacked authenticity.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel more than I have enjoyed any of Matson’s other works. It was a wildly entertaining, cohesive, well-written contemporary but it wasn’t groundbreaking in any way, and it’s not something I’ll keep thinking about after a few days.