Release Date: September 1st, 2014
Sofia's had a really rough year - busted for cheating at prep school, dumped - dumped! - for the first time ever, and her new non-profit working stepmother is turning out to be an uppity bitch.
She deserves to treat herself. But when she throws herself a birthday party with 20 of her closest friends in Paris and (accidentally!) maxes out her dad's credit card in the process, he’s had enough of her attitude. As punishment, he switches her planned gap year touring Europe to one doing community service work with the evil stepmother’s relief organization in Guyana.
The rural village of Dabu needs help in every area from education to getting safe drinking water. But Sofia’s more concerned about her roommate Callum, the gardening expert, who calls Sofia "Princess" and scoffs at her distaste for sweaty, muddy, iguana-eating, outhouse-using life in Guyana.
Eventually, life on the equator, her work in the village, and especially Callum - with his brooding eyes and bewitching New Zealand accent - start to grow on Sofia. Life is rough in Guyana, but it’s roughest on the girls, whose families are too poor to send only the most promising boys in school. They’re trapped in a cycle that will keep them from ever making a better life for themselves, or for the village. Worse, Callum doesn’t seem to think any of the changes Sofia envisions are actually necessary.
Determined to change the girls’ futures, she comes up with a strategy to help them and, ultimately, the village. But what starts out as a plan to convince Callum and her father that she’s fallen in love with Guyana, turns into the realization that maybe she’s falling for Callum, too. And that by changing these girls’ lives, she might also be changing her own.
"[First World Problems] reminded me of many of my own experiences, and I treasure this book for it. The romance is perfect, but it's also secondary to Sofia's character growth and development, and I find that fact really valuable."
Disclaimer: I received an eARC from the author. This did not affect my thoughts in any way, nor am I being compensated for this review.
GUYYYSSSSS. You have NO idea how excited I was to finally be able to read this lovely book! I've been eagerly awaiting this book since I finished Solving for Ex, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I even wrote a song inspired by the book! Anyway, I'm happy to say First World Problems lived up to my expectations.
Of course, I must start out by talking about Sofia. In Solving for Ex, you're meant to dislike her. For the most part, I'd say you do. But First World Problems really changes the way you view her. Of course, you start off still not liking her. She's spoiled and bratty and everything you remember from SfE. But as the story progresses, you really start to see her change. Some of it is very subtle and/or slowly developed, and some of it occurs very obviously. They both work well for the different aspects of Sofia's character. Her character arc reminds me a lot of Lainey's character arc in The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes. That being said, of course, there were many moments when Sofia really annoyed me for one reason or another, even towards the middle/end. She's determined, but part of that also means she's incredibly stubborn. There were times when I wanted to shake her and just gahhh! Frustrating! But maybe that's the intended response; I'm not quite sure. The thing is, she really did change.
You can really see her change when she is finally able to get back home. Wow, what a difference that made. It's then that you especially see how much she's gone through and how different she is now. Yet she remains determined through everything she does, which pays off in the end. I just can't put into words you how well-done this part of the story is. It makes you start to view our world and our lifestyles in a different light. I can't even explain how impactful it is. It highlights Sofia's change in so many ways, and it's one of my favorite aspects of the story.
However, there was one aspect of her character change that I found to be really sudden. It was really the transition from her doing all the great stuff to please Callum and get a good report so she could go back home to suddenly realizing she really loves it and actually does like Callum, not just for show. The thing is, there was a part where I personally thought she had made that transition through Kopans' showing not telling. Then, it seemed like a few pages later, I was told that she was still just manipulating Callum. Then, a bit later in the book, she suddenly goes no, I actually do like this, and I'm not pretending anymore. Uhh...
Speaking of Callum, I love him, and I love how he's written as a character. Oftentimes, swoony guys are written to come off as nearly perfect. But Callum is different. He is completely flawed, and we know it. But just like Sofia, we come to see the other side of Callum. I love Callum because of good parts, but I also love Callum because he is flawed and imperfect and moody and everything, yet he's genuine, and he cares so much. And it's so real because every person you love in this world is like Sofia and Callum and all the characters in this book too: flawed, yet loved. And I can't tell you how powerful that message is. While it certainly exists in most books, for some reason, it really stuck out to me in this book. Maybe it's because of how stripped down the book is. When you take away all these prized possessions and are left with the bare basics, if that, you really view everything differently. You get to see who a person is when they have nothing to hide behind.
And Callum's relationship with Sofia is beautiful in the way it evolves throughout the story. It's so far from perfect, but I liked how it was slow-burning in the best way possible. They start off at great odds and for good reason. But their evolving relationship also serves to highlight the character development both of them go through. It's obvious they'll end up together, and it'll be happily ever after for them in the end, but it progresses at just the right pace, changing at the right moments as they correlate with the character's arc up to that point. (Also, can we talk about how interesting it is to learn about Sofia's thoughts on her past relationships?!)
I also really enjoyed the other characters in the story: Lena, Arielle, Anne, Riya, etc. Vincent serves as a nice reminder of who Sofia used to be, but it's also really nice to get a small glimpse into their side of the Solving for Ex story. It's a great way to tie the two together, though they're very different stories. In a similar way that Callum and Sofia's changing relationship shows how they're both changing, her relationship with Anne, her stepmother, also highlights Sofia's change throughout the book.
Arielle and Lena are interesting characters to say the least. It was interesting to see their interactions with both one another and with Sofia on a separate basis. Particularly at the beginning, it really went to highlight how foreign the situation and environment is to Sofia. So I don't really agree with how they react to some of her actions, but overall, I liked what they added to the story. The plot arc and interactions between Arielle and Lena were interesting, but I'm not sure why it didn't occur before. I mean, I get it, but it felt like they'd been in Guyana for a while, so I'm not quite sure what exactly brought about what happened between the two of them. Just something to think about...
And of course I have to mention Riya and the other girls, especially in terms of how they influence the story. It's really through this storyline that we see Sofia's transformation. She's completely dedicated to her/their project, and I think it's really great that Sofia's really trying to help them. I do have some qualms about it, but that's my interested-in-international-development part showing. I don't know...I do think what she's trying to do is great and beyond amazing, but at the same time, I wonder how it works into their culture and society. The Guyanese people don't seem to particularly want to be influenced by Western society and culture, and I'd be interested to see how the project will affect them in the future. Because yes, it's amazing for the girls. It's empowering and educational and it allows them to use their skills to help themselves and their families, but there's always more to an issue than that. (As you can tell, I'm really interested in this kind of stuff. Hence why I want to study International Relations/International Development.)
Which somehow brings me to one of my last points. This book has a special place in my heart because it reminds me of one of my own experiences. Three summers ago (summer 2012), I visited Brazil so I could see my family. But I also went to volunteer. It turns out, just a few minutes/blocks away from one of my uncles' apartments is one section of one the biggest favelas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. And so, I spent one of the two months I was in Brazil teaching English to kids and teens in a church-run center. I can't tell you how much that experience changed the way I view the world. Have I given up my unnecessary possessions? No. But it really did change how I view myself in the world. It's an experience I will never forget. The teens I taught showed me so much love, and they really showed me that some things span across language barriers because in the end, at the heart of everything, we're all human, and we always find ways to communicate. It was beautiful, and it was also so heartbreaking to see the conditions under which they were living. A handful of the students have such potential, and it still breaks my heart to know that the world will likely never see that potential because they're poor and don't have the means. Unlike Sofia, I didn't have to live in the conditions they were living in, but even knowing it was like a bullet in my heart. I wasn't able to help them as much as Sofia was able to help Riya and the villagers in Guyana, but I hope I inspired someone to continue their education. I hope I inspired someone to learn. I hope I inspired someone to continue to study English. I admire Sofia's courage and determination to set up the project for the girls in Guyana because I wish I could've done something to help the people I met in that favela more than teaching them the bare bones of English in one month. And so I greatly connected to Sofia's story and her experiences.
(On a separate note: A few months after I got back home and got back to school, I learned that a large portion of the favela had been burned down. I also learned that the government was planning to get rid of the homes the residents had made, kicking out all the residents and leaving them to figure out what to do. Part of that included knocking down the center I had volunteered at. The government is planning to build a new Metro stop there for the Olympics (and at that time, supposedly the World Cup). The last I heard, most of the homes were knocked down, but the center hasn't been knocked down yet. More recently, I learned that one of the girls I taught gave birth to a baby boy. She's younger than I am. I can't necessarily say I'm surprised, but it's one of the issues facing residents in favelas. I do wish her happiness, but I can only imagine how different her life would be if she had been born into a different life.)
My only other qualm that I want to address really quickly is there are a couple of inconsistencies in the book, if I recall correctly. None of it is major, which is why I'm making this short and to the point. The one that stuck out to me the most was how Sofia started off being afraid of heights (when faced with the hammock). Then, later in the story, she claimed to love, or at the very least not be afraid of, heights. But again, it's just something small.
I really enjoyed this book, and I really hope a bunch of people will check out the book and love it too. It reminded me of many of my own experiences, and I treasure this book for it. The romance is perfect, but it's also secondary to Sofia's character growth and development, and I find that fact really valuable. Her growth is what really makes this book shine. It's thought-provoking, at least for me, and I hope to book push this when possible. Please check it out, especially if you read and enjoyed Solving for Ex but also if you haven't or didn't. This is a very different story in the best way possible.
PS. Be on the lookout for a song inspired by the book soon (hopefully)!
Comment below with why you want to read the book and/or what you liked about the book. Be sure to leave your email, so I can contact you if you win. (I'd greatly appreciate a follow, but it's not necessary to be entered to win.) One person will win an ecopy of First World Problems! Thanks for stopping by, and good luck. :)
Ends Oct 1st.
Ends Oct 1st.