Review: I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagán

by Heather Caliendo

Editorial note: I received a copy of I’m Fine and Neither Are You in exchange for a review. 

I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagán is a timely novel that is thought-provoking and engaging. The title is absolutely perfect and will no doubt resonate with many readers out there.

While I read all different kinds of genres, I have a soft spot for contemporary fiction written by women. These stories are typically relatable in some form or another and will makes you think. Oftentimes, these stories are a refreshing take on the challenges for modern women. This is especially true in I’m Fine and Neither Are You.

The story follows Penelope—a wife, mother and the breadwinner of her house. While she proclaims she’s “fine,” in reality; she’s barely holding it together. She’s able to vent her frustrations to her best friend Jenny, even though it seems Jenny is sailing through life. As close as the two women are, Jenny’s passionate marriage, pristine house, and ultra-polite child stand in stark contrast to Penelope’s underemployed husband, Sanjay, their unruly brood and the daily grind she calls a career.

Then a shocking tragedy reveals that Jenny’s life is far from perfect. Reeling, Penelope vows to stop keeping the peace and finally deal with the issues in her relationship. So she and Sanjay agree to a radical proposal: both will write a list of changes they want each other to make—then commit to complete and total honesty. But both quickly wonder if honesty is the best policy?

Dealing with tragedy

If you don’t want to know anything more about the plot—stop reading here as I want to address the tragedy that takes place.

Jenny passes away from an accidental opioid overdose. It’s not only such a shock to lose her best friend suddenly but also because Penelope had no idea that Jenny had any issues. Jenny was the last person she’d expect dealing with an addiction. It shows that there are always cracks beneath perfect veneers. The author Camille Pagán wrote about opioid addiction and the tragic aftermath in a realistic and honest way.

I’ve personally lost loved ones and how Camille wrote about the tragedy of losing a beloved friend—completely resonated with me. The truth is when you lose a friend, especially in a sudden and tragic way, not only are you dealing with huge grief—it also causes you to reflect. And to appreciate that life is fragile and to make the most out of your time here.

The problem with “I’m Fine”

Especially in American culture, we are programmed to ask each other, “how are you?” And not expect an honest answer back. The standard reply is “I’m fine,” even when it’s the opposite. I think for women, especially, we feel pressure to act a certain way and never lose our cool. If you show emotion and frustration at work—you’re an erratic woman. If you’re honest when talking out issues with loved ones and friends, you’re seen as too harsh. Where’s the limit between fibbing about being fine but also being too honest? That’s what this novel explores.

Penelope has a hard time being truly honest with both her husband and at work. She’s seen as the stable rock of the family and she feels pressure to always seem ok. But when she loses Jenny, someone who seemed to have it all together, she realizes that she needs to take different actions.

I sometimes got quite frustrated with her husband, Sanjay, but I came around to him. As much as saying “I’m fine,” is bad for Penelope —it’s also harmful to those around her. While Sanjay might be a little too clueless about things, Penelope wasn’t coming to him with her resentments so how would he really know how she feels? Sometimes you only know the information given to you. But he also learns quite a bit in this novel as well about his own actions.

Penelope’s character development is quite strong. Who she is at the beginning of the novel is different than at the end.

This novel is full of depth and will really make you think. It’s a fast, page-turner that is well-written and relatable. Definitely worth your time.

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