Don’t waste your valuable brain cells or time on a book called Pretty Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton
Last summer I got all excited because on a radio news program they featured a local author who had published a new work of fiction. The hook on her line was that the book was a choose-your-own-adventure story. But hers had hundreds of potential outcomes and twists. It sounded really ambitious.
When I was young I loved reading choose-your-own-adventure books. They all must have come as a set because the books all looked the same — title arched across the top, big illustration in the center, the author’s name (which I can’t remember) on the bottom, same number of pages, paperback, easily fit in your hand. They were maddening because some of the choices made you end up in jail or eaten by a giant squid, even if you went back and tried to change the choices you made. Great stuff for a voracious young reader.
Please allow me to take this opportunity to caution you against Heather McElhatton’s Pretty Little Mistakes. Within the first chapters, there is a gratuitous amount of low behavior and crass language, and the choices made within the chapters go from bad to worse. I thought it must just be the choice I made in the previous chapter that would throw me into such a terrible story situation, so I went back and made the other choice offered to me, and still ended up reading about promiscuous behavior, illegal drug use, and avant-guard art that featured sculptures of genitalia set on fire. No, I’m not kidding. And I only read for about five minutes! In addition, many of the chapters are one page long, which makes the emphasis squarely on the plot, rather than the character. It moves things along, certainly, but doesn’t ever establish a reason to care why any of these things happen.
I was so disappointed. McEllhatton has such a creative mind and it is amazing that she could come up with so many twists and turns in this novel. The cover claims that it has 150 endings! But the choices she details are ones that end up in brokenness, twisted relationships, murder and ultimately the author’s own wasted talent.
Now, I know, Dear Reader, that some of you are like me, and when I warn you off about this book, you will find yourself sorely tempted to check it out. But please, if you must, find it at the library and do not use one penny of your income to support this book.
A Review of Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
While trying to come up with books to review, I discovered that I have a few that I just can’t get enough of. Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is one of those books. I’ve only read it through one time, but I’ve picked it up and read bits and pieces here and there since then, simply because it is so full of insight.
Donald Miller tends to be somewhat sarcastic, sometimes snarky, and self-depreciating. While in his earlier books these characteristics got to be tedious, making me cringe to read the mean things he said to the people he encountered, this book is less filled with those things and more focused on changing his story. I must say that throughout his previous work he was honest about being a jerk, though, and most of the jerks I know don’t realize it about themselves. Anyway, it sounds like he needed the change, and we get to be a party to the steps of his transformation.
The part that jumps out at me when thinking about this book is the point he makes and proves with his own life about choosing one’s story. He gets off his couch and starts challenging himself to do some crazy stuff that he’s never done before, stuff that he is scared of, stuff he’s not sure he can actually do. And we get the privilege of watching what happens to him. It’s great. But besides the voyeuristic pleasure there is in hearing about this guy joining a group to ride across the country on a bicycle with very little advanced training (just as one example), we get to see how this changes who he is, changes his story. And it is more than just “creating memories” although there is value in that aspect as well. He discovers things about himself and about others that he never would have known if he hadn’t made the essential decision to take a risk and invest in his own story, his own life.
Just to give you one little snipett, in one portion of the book he re-tells a scene that happened to a friend of his who had a teen-aged daughter who was making crummy choices: dating a questionable guy, telling lies, and generally veering from the path her parents had laid out for her. The dad reviews the situation and realizes that he has not offered his daughter a better story to be a part of. Then he does something about it. He offers his daughter the chance to be a part of something better, something more meaningful and interesting and worthwhile. And she quits her previous behaviors and jumps in to this new endeavor with both feet.
I love it. I loved the imagery of the adventures Miller and his friends take on. Even though the book includes a lot of sitting around or waking up late and then sitting around, this helps to contrast Miller’s old life with the one he is striving to create for himself. Which of us makes a resolution and immediately casts off our old habits or vices? That’s what makes this book authentic. The author doesn’t pretend that he has immediately arrived once he decides to liven things up, and that gives me more of a chance to connect with him and what he’s trying to accomplish; I too have tried to turn over many new leaves, only to find them flipped back over a few weeks later. But Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is good at inspiring me to flip over just one leaf and see what that can do for me and those around me; my family and friends, even those I meet just in passing. It challenges me to be purposeful about my life and decide consciously what I want it to be about.
It’s a worthy read, and one that I think you’ll come back to over and over again.