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Title: Life by Committee
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Pub. Date: May 13, 2014
Rec. Age Level: 14+
A lot has changed for Tabitha in the last few months. Suddenly, guys have started to notice her… and she can’t say she doesn’t like the attention. Her friends, on the other hand, are less than thrilled. Tabitha insists she’s still the same person, just, ya know, better looking and with a sense of style, but her friends are convinced she’s traveling down a dark and dangerous path. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if maybe there is something wrong with you when you’re constantly being judged and critiqued by your former best friend. Plus, Tab does have a secret that might damn her if others new about it… She’s falling for a boy. A boy that has a girlfriend. And he might be falling for her too. To distract herself from her all too complicated life, Tab loses – and finds – herself in the annotations of used classics. When her father brings her home a copy of The Secret Garden, Tab finds the previous owner is a kindred spirit with secrets of her own. Within the pages of the book, Tab finds an online community that will change how she lives her life – for better or worse.
One of the reasons I adored Life by Committee so much was because of the strength of the main character, Tabitha. Not only is she ridiculously bookish, which I’m sure many readers will relate to, she’s also very honest and strives to stay to herself. Even when Tabitha’s ex-friends have disowned her and are constantly attacking her choices (how she dresses, who she is friends with, who she is), she never apologizes being herself – flaws and all! This book perfectly illustrates the oft used phrase friends and parents use any time situations like this arise: “Don’t worry, they’re just jealous.” Tab’s ex-friends make a valiant attempt at slut shaming her and, while it’s obvious that Tab is hurt by it, she never lets them win.
I especially loved that one of the reasons Tabitha was so comfortable with being herself was because of her parents. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book in which the main character’s parents were like Tabitha’s… They were teen parents and, though they definitely made (and make) some mistakes throughout the novel, you can tell that they really try to understand and support her.
Tabitha definitely has a flaw or two as well. Namely her relationship with a very taken guy. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to really judge her. To me, he was the one who was being sleazy and playing on her feelings. What she did wasn’t right, but Tabitha’s situation showcases how difficult it can be to make smart choices when your emotions take over and you feel like you’re in love for the first time. And, I think Tab provides a perfect example of why slut shaming is not okay. She didn’t set out to hurt anyone, nor did she like being with someone in a relationship. Not once is the boy, who is also participating in the affair, called a slut or shamed at all for his actions. I think it’s incredibly important that teens (and adults!) realize that there is always more to a situation. And even if a girl does set out to ruin a relationship or have an affair, there are always two participants. And slut shaming will never undo the damage or help in any way.
Life by Committee has a Post Secret vibe happening that I adored. There is something incredibly liberating about anonymously sharing your secrets with strangers. And something horribly terrifying about the possibility of someone you know finding out your secrets. It’s easy to imagine Tabitha being pulled in to the secret-driven community she finds online, especially with the burden of her inappropriate relationship that she’s been holding in. When Tabitha joins the community and spills her secret – that she’s kissed a boy who has a girlfriend – she’s given the assignment of kissing him again. She feels completely adrift… being given direction (and permission to pursue the relationship) would have been intoxicating. Plus, Tab is painfully lonely. Sharing secrets bonds people, giving Tab a sense of companionship, something she desperately missed.