Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann HayduLife by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu
Published by Katherine Tegen on May 13, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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three-half-stars

Some secrets are too good to keep.

Tabitha might be the only girl in the history of the world who actually gets less popular when she gets hot. But her so-called friends say she’s changed, and they’ve dropped her flat.

Now Tab has no one to tell about the best and worst thing that has ever happened to her: Joe, who spills his most intimate secrets to her in their nightly online chats. Joe, whose touch is so electric, it makes Tab wonder if she could survive an actual kiss. Joe, who has Tabitha brimming with the restless energy of falling in love. Joe, who is someone else’s boyfriend.

Just when Tab is afraid she’ll burst from keeping the secret of Joe inside, she finds Life by Committee. The rules of LBC are simple: tell a secret, receive an assignment. Complete the assignment to keep your secret safe.

Tab likes it that the assignments push her to her limits, empowering her to live boldly and go further than she’d ever go on her own.

But in the name of truth and bravery, how far is too far to go?

Back in May, I started Life by Committee and quickly set it aside. It’s not a reflection on Haydu’s sophomore novel or on any of the others I picked up and abandoned while in New York City for BEA. I just wasn’t in the mood for anything then. Haydu’s was, perhaps, especially hard to take. I was afraid that I wouldn’t enjoy Life by Committee, which I’d so much been looking forwards to after Haydu’s hard-hitting and painful debut novel, OCD Love Story. Coming back to it a few months later, I was in the right head space to appreciate Haydu’s unflinching look at the painful parts of teenage life.

As she doesn’t look like trouble, she can have all the sex she wants and still have friends.

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. On the other hand, I really don’t like the lack of resolution with the LBC site. View Spoiler »

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.

Favorite Quote:

“Not every decision can be bigger than the one before. And not every decision is better because a dozen people are telling you what to do.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif mean girls slut

2 responses to “Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu”

  1. Meg says:

    I’m glad you liked this one. Looking back, I think I would’ve been a lot more into the story without the LBC stuff. In theory it sounds cool but in practice it bothered me. I’m not sure exactly why. Definitely the lack of resolution. Also, I felt kind of like a lot of the stuff with it didn’t make sense? Idk.

    ANYHOO. Glad you liked it.

    • Christina Franke says:

      Yeah, I thought her personal ARC was really good and believable and the feels at the one scene where people are unrealistically truthful. BUT yeah. The LBC is one of those awesome hooks, but not so much the awesome in practice things. Like, I get why some teens might like that, but I do not understand how Zed got his first member. The site sounded horribly coded. Without any origin stories or resolution, it’s hard to find the actual LBC all that believable. Is Zed really a teen? Is it a conspiracy? WHAT IS GOING ON?

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