This Is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jess is a typical teenage girl in the 90s: she has a younger sister she loves, but who is really sick; she's got her friends, and sometimes they are drama but they are there for each other; there's a boy she's interested in; parents who love her but have busy jobs; and she's watching Titanic and etcetera etcetera.
Just as you are wondering WHY the 90s, you find out.
And so spoilers galore. Jess is actually living in the future, a few decades down the road, but her parents are actors and have gone one step further than a reTV show reality TV show. When Jess was born, they started a TV show that is semi reality (Jess is really their daughter! They are her parents!) and semi scripted: for reasons, they decided not just to set the show in the 90s but also to have Jess believe that the TV show is real.
This leads to some hilarious things, funny at least to the reader. Why is half the town down with a mysterious flu? Because the actors are on strike! Why does something terrible or drastic happen every spring? Sweeps and season ending cliffhangers!
There is also a lot to unpack, such as Jess being a loved daughter and also a product that has been bought and sold and packaged. Or that everyone she has ever met is a paid actor playing a role.
Sometimes when you're reading, you sit back and go "ok, but . . . ." Like, the fact that Jess's life was limited to just the town? I may be misremembering -- much is made of a trip to Disney that never took place, but there may have been summer trips to remote areas the could control. Still, most of her life was confined to just her town.
More spoilers: Jess decides to flee, but because the show is really all about her, her parents and the producers want her back at all costs. I enjoyed this part a lot -- seeing Jess figuring out how to escape, her reactions to the world outside, to realizing just how much a part of the world's pop culture she is.
I'm relieved to see this is marked as book one: because I'll be honest. Given how much of Jess's life had always been secretly managed; how all her choices were illusions; all along, until the end, even after, I had doubts about what was really going on. Let's just say, others help her in her escape. And I have questions.
I look forward to a book two to have either my suspicions confirmed or to learn more.