This week I review Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth, released January 2020.
I picked up Adults because the vague stare of the scruffy dog on the cover piqued my interest. The word ‘Adults’ in bold, black lettering felt like a challenge to my adulting abilities. Was this a book that would validate or undermine my sense of competency? No. In the end, Adults is a book that provides forgiveness and empathy.
Adults explores the relationship between social media and trauma through the story of Jenny, a columnist more invested in her online presence than her real life. It’s an extreme representation but not an unfamiliar one. We’re led through Jenny’s story by a mixture of traditional prose, email and text messages. The differing styles offer insights into the different facets of Jenny’s personality and history.
The story begins with Jenny agonising over an Instagram post of a croissant. How many likes, shares and comments has the post attracted? Was the post banal? Will her favourite influencer follow her?
We cringe as she performs the obsessive rituals of virtual life, all the while pretending we don’t recognise them as a part of our own routine. Secretly we soothe ourselves, dismissing Jenny’s pathology as far-fetched.
Yes, but this book is over the top. I’m not as bad as that.
The need for online validation overtakes Jenny’s daily life to the detriment of her professional life and relationships. She crumbles at work, loses friendships and battles with self-doubt. Yet, we see her at her strongest when she’s constructing a self-image in the artificial realm of digital communication. Her online persona is dry, quick-witted and sardonic.
As Jenny’s physical life unravels, we see a darker side to her social media addiction. Adults leads us beyond the shallow self-obsession portrayed at the beginning of the book in a way that is reminiscent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fabulous Fleabag.
The flippant parody of the book’s early chapters transforms into a shared experience of grief and loss until we’re left staring at her vulnerability as it mirrors our own.
Adults is a modern take on a modern life. Addiction, self-preservation and camouflage come in many forms and are not easily teased apart.
Don’t want to take my word for it? Here are what a few other people thought of Adults:
Looking for something else to read? Here are few past reviews for you to check out: