Have you ever received a book and thought that it didn’t really look that great. After all I’d never heard of this book before and I’ve read quite a few YA novels, but in true never-judging-a-book-by-it’s-cover spirit, I decided to give “Carpe Diem” a chance. The verdict is in: I loved it!
The story is about a 16 year old girl named Vassar Spore. Vassar is an AP student who has her entire life planned out including college and job and every step in between. One day her eccentric grandmother calls and blackmails Vassar’s parents into sending her to Southeast Asia for the summer. This unexpected trip throws a monkey wrench into Vassar’s plans as she was intending to take additional AP classes to get into college. In order to prevent herself from falling behind, Vassar agrees to write a novel “loosely” based on her travels. What follows is the wildest adventure any 16 year old could expect. Between nearly dying of food poisoning, setting a herd of cows loose, accidentally stealing national artifacts, and falling in love with a Malaysian cow-bow, Vassar has her work cut out for her. Looming over her entire trip is the mysterious secret. What could her grandmother have on her rule following parents? Vassar is going to have to do some serious soul-searching if she wants to find out.
Reason 1: In a culture that puts so much pressure on high-school students to “succeed” and “go to college” this novel shows that a life spent in pursuit of this sort of achievement is no achievement at all. I was the over-achieving, AP taking, future stressing high-schooler that Vassar is when the novel starts, so I completely relate. There is a movement in schools that preaches for students to succeed they have to work harder than ever before to reach a certain level of perfection in order to get into college. But what they fail to teach in schools is that there is so much more to life than homework. Life is more than a bubble on a scantron and there is so much color and life when you choose to put down the text books and explore all that the world has to offer.
Reason 2: Learning how to L.I.M. (Live in the Moment). Grandma Gerd’s philosophy is simple, but often gets her and Vassar into all sorts of trouble. However, it is an important one. Vassar is so consumed with her goals in the future that she is missing out on all the wonderful parts of life that are happening in the moment. If we are constantly waiting for when we are going to “arrive” in life, we will spend our short amount of time on this Earth being disappointed and over-worked. Being content and appreciating whatever stage of life you happen to be brings so much freedom and joy.
Reason 3: Learning how to be open-minded to new people and places. At the start of the novel, Vassar is horrified to find she is being shipped off to the other side of the world and even more disgusted when she discovers that her only friend is to be a Malaysian cow-boy called Hanks. By the end of the novel, Vassar has learned to appreciate places that are so much more than her comfortable suburban life and she has fallen head-over heels for the most unlikely Prince Charming…Hanks. Even Vassar’s acceptance of her eccentric grandmother is a sign of how much she grows from the beginning of the novel to the end and even embraces some of her own hidden eccentricities.
In what ways have you experienced the pressure of “success?” How do you think we can teach kids to embrace a more free-spirited way of life? Have you ever experienced reading a book and then wanting to travel to that place? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Cornwell, A. (2009). Carpe diem. New York: Square Fish.
Photo by Drew Coffman.
Link to photo license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode