Review of Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard
Something Certain, Maybe
by Sara Barnard
Four years ago feels almost like a lifetime for me, but that’s when Sara Barnard published Beautiful Broken Things and kicked off this loose trilogy. From Caddy to Suzanne to Rosie, we’ve come full circle. Now the three girls are on the cusp of womanhood, two of them university-bound, the other working a full-time job. Told from Rosie’s perspective, Something Certain, Maybe embraces the uncertainty inherent in youthful transitions and coming of age. It’s a story of slow, simmering upset and long-term, lingering emotions. Barnard is just so good at writing from the heart, and this novel is no exception.
Rosie Caron has made it, or so she thinks. The pharmacy program. A vocation. But her time at uni quickly descends into disappointing doldrums of unsympathetic housemates, difficult coursework and long hours of classes, and the gulf of distance from her best friends. Only Jade offers a bright light in all this: Jade, older and more confident in her queerness, her role in life, seemingly her everything. Rosie latches on to Jade like a romantic life preserver. Except not everything is OK in Rosie’s life—not her mum, not her friends, not her housemates, not even the once-bedrock certainty of her choice of career. Soon, things feel like they are all spinning out of control, and Rosie has to decide if she wants to confront the one constant amidst this upset: herself.
I get Rosie quite a bit. It has been several years since I spent time with her, Suzanne, and Caddy, but suddenly it feels like I’m back with friends. The way she wants to be part of a group but doesn’t really know how. The awkwardness she feels. The desire to have a plan. Oh, yeah. Not bi, myself, didn’t drink in university (don’t drink now)—but I get it.
Barnard is very good at deciding which events to highlight, which ones to mention in passing versus drawing out. Often, young adult and new adult books focus on telling grand coming-of-age stories, with pivotal scenes happening as the protagonist experiences a party, has a fight with her bestie, etc. Don’t get me wrong—such storytelling is immensely valuable. But I also find value in the big quiet that Barnard demonstrates here. The way Rosie just casually drinks and goes to these parties and gets her first girlfriend (go, girl). I though Jade’s initial erasure of Rosie’s bisexuality might be the sign of a biphobic subplot, but in reality this book is just a great big slice of queer acceptance.
No, the conflict here comes from the most mundane and ordinary moments of drama. A lot of it is manufactured by Rosie herself—not on purpose, of course, but in that unfortunate way we all have of making our lives harder on ourselves. As Rosie’s dissatisfaction turns into depression, she naturally responds with denial. Now, I’ve never experienced chronic depression myself, so I won’t comment on how accurate a portrayal this is—but it feels very real to me, because it feels so unremarkable. Rosie is living with a mental illness, just getting by, but every little hit is a little harder as a result. From conflicts with Suzanne and Caddy to spats with Jade and finally her mother’s issues, Rosie struggles more because she already has a great weight on her.
It’s really tough to admit to yourself that your plan isn’t what you wanted after all.
Another quirk? Throughout the entire story, Barnard throws us character after character who delivers compassion. At one point, Rosie meets with her adviser about finishing out her first year. Some books would make this character a mouthpiece for an unsympathetic university establishment—after all, the more cynical among us might point to all the examples of universities hearding students through like cash cows and not caring about their mental health. While there is truth to that systemic story, there are also people doing their best for students, like this adviser does for Rosie, and it’s heartening to see that.
The same goes for Rosie’s relationship with Jade. It gets rocky, of course, and I won’t reveal how it ends. But the best part of it is the gentleness throughout. It’s a healthy relationship, one in which they allow each other space to recover from arguments, then they talk it out. I loved seeing this portrayal.
You’ll notice that unlike my reviews of Beautiful Broken Things and Fierce Fragile Hearts, I haven’t quoted extensively while praising this book. Partly that’s because autumn and a new school year caught me unawares, and so I’m writing this review two weeks after finishing the book, oops. Partly it’s because, while I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I get Rosie, the book didn’t speak to as much as Fierce Fragile Hearts did. For one thing, the friendship elements were less in the foreground, and we all know that’s ultimately where my interests lie.
Nevertheless, Something Certain, Maybe is yet another solid novel from Sara Barnard and only reaffirms my desire to read everything she ever publishes. This is a comfy type of new-adult fiction that I love.