Katie Sandford has dreamed for years of working as a writer for The Line, a prestigious music magazine, but when she finally lands an interview, she shows up still drunk from the night before. She wouldn’t have shown up at all were it not for her roommate, Joanne, who roused her from her stupor so that she could throw herself together at the last minute. Katie simply could not resist her friends’ invitation to go out drinking for a pre-thirtieth birthday bash the night before.
Some of those friends believe that she is a twenty-five-year-old graduate student because she has never been able to bring herself to tell them the truth about herself. While classmates like her best friend since childhood, Rorie, have launched successful careers and started families, Katie has been hiding from her own family and barely eking out a living accepting freelance assignments. In addition to her problem with alcohol, Katie has trouble telling the truth, especially to herself.
But the folks at The Line have decided to give Katie a second chance because they recognized her talent. Bob, editor at a gossip magazine owned by the same corporation, needs an undercover reporter inside the rehab facility where Amber Sheppard, Hollywood’s current “it” girl, is receiving treatment. Offering a substantial sum and the pirated password to the facility’s wireless network, if Katie is willing to spend thirty days spying on Amber and surreptitiously emailing reports to Bob, she can still earn her dream job with The Line. In typical fashion, Katie accepts the offer without thoroughly thinking it through, abandoning, without explanation or thanks, the job Rorie secured for her.
With everything on the line, especially her integrity, Katie is about to discover just how much she is willing to risk in order to fulfill her dreams, as well as what and, more importantly, who she is willing to sacrifice in order to attain her goals.
Given its premise, author Catherine McKenzie’s debut novel, Spin, could have been predictable and thoroughly unremarkable. After all, it is not hard to foresee that Katie’s time in rehab is going to be life-changing and she will arrive at a moral crossroads after she finds herself caring about Amber, the troubled young actress she has been sent to spy on. In McKenzie’s capable hands, however, those obvious plot developments are only part of a clever, surprising, and touching story about a young woman whose denial and avoidance of reality have consigned her to sleep-walking through her own life.
Katie’s parents were former hippies and her father counseled her not to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but to limit her choices. He even provided her with a taste of champagne when she was a mere four years old, leading to an incident that is parent of her family’s lore. Katie took his advice seriously and has been a serious drinker for quite a few years. It’s likely that the only reason she hasn’t lost many jobs is her status as a freelance writer. On the eve of her thirtieth birthday, she has amassed few markers of adulthood — not even her own home. Rather, she shares a small apartment with Joanne, the grumpy-but-good-hearted roommate from whom she pilfers good wine and food. She loves her parents, but her relationship with her sister, a married elementary school teacher, is strained. She hasn’t been home in more than four years. Mostly, Katie writes enough to barely support herself between partying with her small group of friends, including Greer, a Scottish beauty who believes Katie is only twenty-five and still in graduate school. She also spends a lot of time alone, watching television and hoping Joanne won’t notice how much of her wine collection has gone missing.
When Katie accepts the undercover assignment because it promises another shot at a job with The Line, her only perception of Amber is founded upon what she has seen in the media. Katie believes Amber is merely a spoiled Hollywood princess with a substance abuse problem, utterly failing to pause and consider the ethical implications of relaying intimate details about Amber’s treatment to a gossip magazine. She is also so enamored with the promise of scoring her dream job that she never thinks about the fact that she will be posing as a patient and required to participate in the program.
All of her shortcomings make Katie both fascinating and empathetic, a somewhat typically self-absorbed twenty-something-year-old woman on the cusp of what is supposed to come next in her life, if she can just figure out what that is. From the outset, Katie is hapless and thoughtless, but McKenzie manages to also make her likable so that her readers willingly sign on for her rehab adventure, hoping that it will lead to a happy ending for her.
McKenzie wisely surrounds Katie with a cast of supporting characters that keep readers interested, including Amber and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Connor, Hollywood’s Young James Bond, who shows up in the same treatment facility, further complicating matters. Connor has been allowed to bring a mini-entourage in the form of his handsome assistant, Henry. As Katie insinuates herself into Amber’s confidence, she gets to know Connor and Henry, along with why Amber is so troubled in spite of her enormous success. The rehab facility, along with its eclectic group of patients and staff, becomes an integral character in the story, as well.
Kate reluctantly acknowledges her drinking problem, as well as the reasons for it. But McKenzie throws in enough surprising plot twists to keep readers entertained despite the overarching story’s predictability. Some are hilarious, others poignant. Of course, Katie also learns to care about Amber and her hand is ultimately forced: Will she complete the assignment or face the consequences of not doing so? McKenzie cleverly throws in a few plot developments that make the story’s climactic resolution both interesting and emotionally satisfying. Spin is a coming-of-age story with a very big heart. Despite all of her short-sighted choices, and the moral and ethic conundrums they create, Katie’s humanity and vulnerability drive the story, transforming her from a potentially reprehensible character into a highly relatable one for whom readers will find themselves cheering.
Spin shows that McKenzie, like Katie, is a talented writer worthy of the accolades she has received. I am anxious to read more of her work.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Spin free of charge from the author. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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