Better Than Yesterday by Robyn Schneider
I first came across Robyn Schneider in the Ingram Advance magazine, which touted her as a hot first time Young Adult author. Her hook is that she’s only twenty years old and started her novel Better Than Yesterday when she was fifteen. I was intrigued – I love prep school stories and the fact that she was so young and so close to the experience seemed to suggest that the book would be a sizzling slice of today’s sassy youth combined with the timeless world of prep school. What I was served was a piece of cold plastic.
The book doesn’t start out badly. It’s a sort of riff on Catcher in the Rye, told from the point of view of a group of concerned friends who band together to rescue a wayward runaway prep, bravely endangering their own GPA’s in order to prevent their classmate from blowing his chance to get into a good college. It’s told from the alternating points of view of Skylar, the author’s alter-ego who is practically perfect and Charley (somebody buy this girl an "I"!) her male admirer and rival. Predictably Schneider handles the female point of view much better than the male, and Charley’s main function seems to be to remind the reader how beautiful, brilliant and wonderful Skylar is.
Better Than Yesterday is slick, mildly clever and well paced, and it didn’t start to actively annoy me until about thee quarters of the way through, when our heroine and her drones are in New York City and the whole thing starts to resemble an Afterschool Special. You expect a young writer to be bursting with energy and emotion, but Schneider’s denouement seems as calculated as a meatloaf recipe. There’s not a moment of authentic feeling in the entire product. And clearly, it is a product, as she thanks her "incredible" agent, "amazing" editor and "wonderful" publisher as well as a myriad of writing groups in her acknowledgments. This is writing by committee, by focus group, another nail in the Romantic conception of the rebellious artist. Here the rebel is tracked down by his peers (his dissatisfaction with life evidently centered on his thwarted love for Skylar), and brought back into line like a total wuss. Personally I wanted to hear more about the girl who barfed in the trash can lid and the guys who used their diplomas as rolling papers – at least they have some life to them. In the final scene at graduation Skylar and Charley have an on stage debate about which is more important, school or friends (friends, it turns out, as long as you still get into the right college), and unbeknownst to the author or her characters, the reader’s sympathy is with the audience who are no doubt likewise groaning please let it be over.
The prose is so controlled and modulated that there’s very little of it that’s memorable for good or ill, though, as is often the case, as the plot gets trite, so does the language. Here’s my nominee for the worst chunk of dialogue:
"Like you deserve her more?" Blake shot back.
"Damn right I do. She took every prize I ever wanted, and, in the end, all I wanted was her. And not just to have sex with. To see what came of it. You don’t know her any more. And I don’t know you."
Can’t you just hear that coming out of the mouth of, say, a young Keanu Reeves in some awful movie? Holden Caulfield had a word for it: phoney.