Synopsis: Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.
Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.
Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit. — per goodreads
-this review will contain spoilers-
This book. I love it.
You Asked For Perfect has a lot of familiar story beats, seen in many young adult novels. Ariel becomes single-minded and overly ambitious toward his goal, being valedictorian and getting into Harvard. He overextends himself and alienates those closest to him. This leads to the character realizing his priorities are misplaced, and he works to make everything right again. There are absolutely no surprises in this novel, but I have no qualms with that. Usually, when I read young adult literature, predictability is one of the reasons I like it. It’s like eating spaghetti. Sure, I know what it tastes like, but I look forward to eating it.
Despite that predictability, the book elevates itself with having a lot of emotional depth. Additionally, this book looks at this formula through a lens I’ve not seen before. It follows a realistic view of what it means to be the top of the class in today’s society. For Ariel, his day is packed with school work and activities to make his college application better, he never gets a full night of sleep, and he still can’t get it all done. On a personal note, I was a student who took just three AP classes in high school and was crushed by the insane workload. Even though my experience wasn’t intense as Ariel’s, I found it super relatable.
While it examines the issue of AP students having a hefty workload and the pressure it puts them under, it doesn’t really offer any working solutions to the issue. Different characters talk about how the pressure gets to them in different ways, but the story does not dig any deeper beyond a simple message of ‘the system is dumb, do what you can and try and to survive.’ At the same time, I think this services the book very well. I don’t think the characters in this book are equipped to tackle dismantling the issue; it’s more about learning to survive in the system, rather than fixing it. The characters are just kids after all. I believe the goal of the book is to plant a seed of thought about the issue that exists and leave the reader to figure out where to go from there.
You Asked For Perfect is a very wholesome story about a boy learning his limits as a human being. All the characters love and support each other, and it’s a joy to read about these relationships. Even though Ariel makes mistakes, nothing is unsalvageable in the end, and it definitely has an uplifting ending that I really enjoyed.
There all sorts of small flourishes in the novel that I thought were great as well. One example is Ariel’s family being devout Jewish and his faith playing an important role in his life. Another is with the ending: (minor spoiler warning) the readers don’t find out if Ariel gets into Harvard, as that is not nearly as important compared to the things the ending focuses on. The descriptions of food in this novel were awesome and made me hungry. I could go on and on…
Heads up though, for anyone interested, this book does have characters that enjoy and reference the Harry Potter series and that aspect of the book has aged poorly. There was a scene in the book that revolved around Harry Potter that absolutely failed to land, because Harry Potter is just yikes territory for me. Can I start a petition to restrict every young adult novel from mentioning Harry Potter ever again?
To be fair the shitshow with Harry Potter happened after the book was out but still…
That aside, this book is a well-written piece of YA fluff that leaves some interesting afterthoughts. If the premise sounds interesting to you, I recommend checking out this book. It’s not ground-breaking but it’s a fun romp worth your time.