The Birthday Girl (Book Review)

Oh boy, where do I start with this book?

The problem with this book, or more specifically the problem with writing a review for this book, is that I can’t see how I can properly dive into the feelings I had about it – both good and bad – without spoiling the entire thing. Generally speaking, spoiling a book is a bad thing. If you’re reviewing a book, you want to do your best to not spoil the story, while explaining enough to convey your impression of that story. I actually initially wrote this entire review immediately after reading it while the feelings were still fresh and as a result it was absolutely full of spoilers and was more of a ranting analysis of the story than a review. I shelved that (for now) and the following post should be mostly spoiler free now.

I’m going to just put a T/W right now to let you know that there are a couple different incidences of s*xual *ss*ult in this book. Neither are especially graphic, in my opinion only, but they still exist and could be upsetting for some people. I just want to warn potential readers who might have trouble with that topic that this may not be the book for them.

The Review:

One thing you should know about me, I’m a sucker for an unlikable character. I don’t mean a villain, though I usually do prefer the so-called villain character in most stories and will often argue that they actually have the right idea all along it’s just their circumstances lead them to become the “bad guy.” But when I say I’m a sucker for an unlikable character, I just literally mean a character that is in some way genuinely very hard to like. Sometimes I think I like being annoyed or something. I don’t know. But anyways.

One of the main characters in this story, Ellie, is pretty damn unlikable. She’s one of those women who grew up poor but clawed her way up out of her old life and has made herself extremely wealthy. In fact, the entire present day story of this book revolves around the extravagant 40th birthday party she is throwing herself at her new mansion she just bought in the desert, and all of the whiny self indulgent thoughts floating throughout her head on this day. From unruly kids that her husband is supposed to be dealing with, to wilting flowers, to worries that said husband might be cheating on her, to feeling inferior yet somehow also superior to all her – many even richer -friends, Ellie has a lot to complain/worry about on this day.

Oh, and she also gets a somewhat ominous text from someone from her past, who she thinks of only as Him for most of the story. Wishing her a happy birthday and saying He’ll see her tonight. Is this a threat? What does it mean? Who is He?

Most of the present day chapters are told from Ellie’s perspective, with a few random ones here and there tossed in from her husbands perspective. Most of these don’t seem to serve much purpose other than perhaps to showcase how Ellie’s perception of certain things is flawed. Honestly these chapters mostly just make him seem just as annoying as she is. He’s very self-congratulatory and the kind of guy who thinks he’s helpful when he isn’t at all. As an example, he responds to his children breaking expensive equipment by giving them ice cream, then pats himself on the back for doing such a great job parenting. That kind of guy.

Ellie on the other hand is one of those women who has a snide thought about even her best friends as she’s asking them for favours. You know the type of woman who thinks that she couldn’t possibly be homophobic because she refers to some of her friends as “her Gays”? that’s Ellie for ya.

The other half of the story takes place 24 years ago on the 16th birthday of Eleonore, aka “Leo.” It’s pretty clear based on the way the stories line up and some overlapping details, that this is young Ellie before she got rich. Her younger self lives a life that is quite bleak. Like I said, it’s her birthday in these flashback chapters and the entire day is just downright depressing. She’s forced to be a 3rd wheel with her best friend and her best friend’s boyfriend, she has to experience some incredibly upsetting and demoralizing moments that no one should experience – least of all on their birthday, it’s just really sad to read. But due to the contrasting timelines you kind of experience it through this lens of understanding where her life would eventually end up and although that doesn’t make any of the things she goes through “OK” it kind of softens some of it because you can’t help but think of this as just a small moment in time in an otherwise very full life. It also kind of gives you a little bit of insight into Ellie’s current day attitude because you have that perspective of where she came from and what she’s been through. Maybe even enough to sort of forgive some of her behavior throughout the story. Or if not forgive, perhaps just to understand.

The story continues in this manner, describing the events of Ellie/Leo’s birthdays, 24 years apart. As story formats go, I really enjoy this. I like alternating timelines and perspectives. I love when small details are revealed over time and you start to notice the overlapping themes. I like when something is hinted at in one timeline, or kept kind of vague, then explained or revealed in the other timeline. I’m definitely a fan of that type of story and how it turns details into clues to try to figure out the bigger picture. Especially with regards to the mysterious Him who texted her, it was a fun little game to try to guess which boy mentioned in the previous timeline might be the Him, and what might have happened to make her reaction to the text what it was.

At multiple times in the story, however, I found myself wondering what the point of it was. What was the actual story? Was it just to recap her 16th and 40th birthdays and show the difference? Was that the entire message? Sure, the description of Ellie’s ridiculous party was entertaining in that “Rich People Are So Obnoxious & Have No Self Awareness” kind of way, and the contrast between her younger self and her current day life was oddly interesting in a really sad way. But what was the point? The whole suspenseful hook of Who Is The Mysterious “Him” that texted her was obviously a key part but was that interesting enough to warrant an entire story? I’m honestly not sure.

Did I Enjoy This Story?

Yes, and no. Through most of the book, I was able to find it at least mildly entertaining and I even kind of liked it. I was curious to see how it would end, curious to know who He was, and I found it interesting to compare and contrast the two different timelines. As it went on, and as certain things are revealed and we start seeing the full picture, my feelings on this story shifted.

By the end, I hated it. My entire opinion of Ellie changed and I couldn’t think of her as a mildly annoying, occasionally problematic character anymore. She went from being merely unlikable to a complete monster. And many of the events that had taken place which could be considered unpleasant and uncomfortable, suddenly became cruel to the point of being unnecessary.

Would I Recommend This Book?

I honestly can’t say that I would. I do think the majority of the story is good, but the ending absolutely ruined it for me and left me with a deep sense of sadness that I couldn’t shake for days. I feel like point of the story is still unclear and the ending was not satisfying in any way, and worse, it ruined everything that had come before it. That said, just because I didn’t end up loving, doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t enjoy it.

Where to buy: Amazon Kindle | Amazon Paperback | Audiobook | Indie Bound

I’m curious to know your thoughts, if you have read this book. What did you think? Am I being too harsh on it, or do you agree? Can you think of a book you’ve read where the ending ruined the book for you? Let me know what you think!

(Disclosure statement: links contained in this blog post may be affiliate links. This means that if you use these links to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. You are in no way obligated to use these links, and your support is very much appreciated either way.)

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