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Emi is not your average SoCal teen. As a senior in high school, the ambitious Emi works for a film production company as a set design intern. With the glamour of a Hollywood hotshot tempered by her still-adolescent heedlessness, Emi embarks on an unforgettable summer journey that could only take place in Los Angeles.
Her adventure begins when she and her best friend, Charlotte, attend an estate sale at the home of the late movie icon, Clyde Jones. There, they serendipitously come into possession of a treasure, which sets them off on a mission to track down Clyde’s long-lost teenage granddaughter, Ava, and unravel the heretofore buried mysteries of Clyde’s family life.
But this heroic quest is only part of their escapades.
Emi’s brother, Toby, lends her his apartment while he’s away for the summer on the condition that she do “something epic” with the place while he’s gone. The apartment quickly becomes the backdrop against which Emi and Charlotte explore the uncharted world of Hollywood relationships and secret scandals.
After Toby leaves, Emi and Charlotte’s adventures kick into high gear. They cruise around Los Angeles meeting people from Clyde Jones’s past, track down Ava, who has been living in a teen homeless shelter with her friend, Jamal, and Emi’s ex-girlfriend hooks her up with a prestigious position on a small, passion-project film production.
Throughout the story we witness Emi’s professional savvy and aesthetics develop, and watch her learn about the business and gain confidence that will serve her both in her career and love life. Though too young and inexperienced to be considered a professional in the field, Emi has an instinctive knack for creating spaces that evoke emotion.
In a scene with a producer, she proposes a look for his independent film: “I don’t want stylized, I want naturalistic. Instead of drawing the audience’s attention to a few meaningful objects, I want everything to be meaningful.”
The emphasis on appearances in this book is pervasive. This story is cinematic to the max: it is set in the world of Hollywood, and characters are prototypical, conventionally beautiful (almost always white), and strike stylized poses in just-right lighting for maximum affect. In this world, what can be seen is always more potent than what can be felt.
But what sheds light on the limits of these illusions is Emi’s perspective; while Emi constantly imagines how the scenes, stories, and moments of her life might unfold in a movie, eventually she sees that the fantasy created in film doesn’t hold a candle to reality.
Yet this book wants to be a movie. The writing doesn’t draw attention to itself, so readers’ minds can easily slip into the visual realm, foregoing entirely, the intellectual. Further, the conversational, chatty writing captures the strange line between adolescence and adulthood.
Emi continually wonders how things might turn out and then learns from the reality of how they actually end up. These small joys and disappointments expose the unabating grip fantasy has on all our lives, whether we’re 17 or 70 years old.
The lessons Emi learns are not just for the young. They are a sweet and gentle reminder for those seasoned in love, work, and life: other people aren’t mere characters in the story of our own lives.
Toward the end of the book Emi has revelation after revelation, which open her up and prepare her for deep, mystifying, real love. She experiences the “collapse of the fantasy”: “what happens when the illusion pales in comparison to the truth,” and then later recognizes that “there are no scenes in life, there are only minutes.”
As a shrewd but still slightly sloppy teen, Emi challenges us to see anew the humanity of each person, especially the ones we love. She finally understands that “She [Ava] was never something waiting to be solved. All she is–all she’s ever been–is a person trying to live a life.”
This is a narrator who insists, in equal measure, on fantasy and authenticity.
Much more than a melancholy teen angst-fest, this book is romantic without being sappy, and darling without being insulting. Though full of juicy Hollywood-style plot, Everything Leads to You is less about building relationships and falling in love, than it is about how to set the stage for something amazing to happen.
A book that makes hope seem possible and love worth waiting for.
Everything Leads to You
By Nina LaCour
Hardcover, 9780525425885, 307 pp.