“The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky” (Knopf), by Jana Casale

Leda walks through life with a constant friction between expectation and reality. We meet her as a self-conscious, hopeful college student in Boston willing herself to become the woman she thinks she should be (one who reads books by Noam Chomsky).

Instead, the ordinary minutes of Leda’s life morph into decades, and we follow her throughout adulthood. She sorts through her underwear drawer and concludes, “I value affordability.” She talks to strangers at a party while her friend kisses a new boyfriend on the couch. She scans Yelp reviews in search of a gym. It’s these common scenes combined with Leda’s piercing vulnerability with readers that create Jana Casale’s stellar debut novel, “The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky.”

The story is linear, but we do catch quick glimpses into the past and future. Casale introduces these snapshots so seamlessly that readers will remain anchored in the present yet find themselves possessing a deeper understanding of the main character’s current state.

Leda’s observances slyly hypnotize readers into yearning for or detesting the people around her. When her cousin (the one the family can’t stop gushing over due to her romance with a doctor) eats “potato salad with swift overachieving mouthfuls,” readers will loathe her appropriately. Leda’s reflections also add a consistent dose of well-timed humor.

Body image places a significant role in the read, dominating much of Leda’s thoughts. Her inner dialogue proves raw and articulate, portraying feelings many will relate to with sharp eloquence.

Casale’s writing possesses a certain snap, instantly relating us to her protagonist. Reading her work is like watching a play from the dressing room as the heroine squeezes into pants she hopes conceal extra weight, tries to make sense of last week’s one-night stand and murmurs her lines before stepping onto the stage.

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CHRISTINA LEDBETTER
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