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All Grown Up

All Grown Up

by Jami Attenberg

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From the New York Times best-selling author of The Middlesteins comes a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, childfree woman who defies convention as she seeks connection.

Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she’s a designer


From the New York Times best-selling author of The Middlesteins comes a wickedly funny novel about a thirty-nine-year-old single, childfree woman who defies convention as she seeks connection.

Who is Andrea Bern? When her therapist asks the question, Andrea knows the right things to say: she’s a designer, a friend, a daughter, a sister. But it’s what she leaves unsaid—she’s alone, a drinker, a former artist, a shrieker in bed, captain of the sinking ship that is her flesh—that feels the most true. Everyone around her seems to have an entirely different idea of what it means to be an adult: her best friend, Indigo, is getting married; her brother—who miraculously seems unscathed by their shared tumultuous childhood—and sister-in-law are having a hoped-for baby; and her friend Matthew continues to wholly devote himself to making dark paintings at the cost of being flat broke. 
But when Andrea’s niece finally arrives, born with a heartbreaking ailment, the Bern family is forced to reexamine what really matters. Will this drive them together or tear them apart? Told in gut-wrenchingly honest, mordantly comic vignettes, All Grown Up is a breathtaking display of Jami Attenberg’s power as a storyteller, a whip-smart examination of one woman’s life, lived entirely on her own terms.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Attenberg’s (Saint Mazie) new novel is a bildungsroman with a twist, adapting a coming-of-age narrative to a protagonist who is not as young as her immaturity sometimes suggests. In her 30s, New Yorker Andrea Bern is a gifted artist whose talents don’t quite extend to mastering adulthood as those around her understand it. While her friends dedicate themselves to building families or careers and her brother and sister-in-law cope with a terminally ill child, Andrea seems stuck in a holding pattern. She abandons the art making she loves, clings to a dead-end job, and embraces drinking and rote sexual encounters; though not making much headway, she sees a therapist for nearly a decade in an attempt to grapple with inner wounds, notably the overdose death of her musician father in the family apartment when she was 13. The novel’s darkly comic voice is a delight to read, capturing Andrea’s sharp insights as well as her self-destructiveness, while brief chapters that shift back and forth in time effectively convey both the chaos and the stasis of her personal landscape. (Mar.)
From the Publisher

A Read It Forward “Book We’re Looking Forward to in 2017”
An Elle.com Most Anticipated Novel for 2017
A Glamour Best Book to Read in 2017
A Chicago Tribune “34 Books We’re Most Excited About in 2017”
A Martha Stewart Living “Page Turner for 2017”
A Bustle Most Anticipated Novel for 2017
A Nylon “50 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2017”
A The Millions Most Anticipated Book
A Book Riot Most Anticipated Book
A Chicago Reader “Book We Can’t Wait to Read in 2017”
A Globe “Book We Can’t Wait to Read in 2017”

“Told in vignettes, All Grown Up asks what happens after you've got the whole 'adult' thing under control.”—Glamour, “Best Books to Read in 2017”

“Attenberg is one of our finest contemporary storytellers, and here, with her trademark clever, witty voice, she tackles the age-old question plaguing people of all ages: When do we know if we’re actually all grown up?”—Nylon, “50 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2017”

“Smart, heartfelt, and really freakin’ funny.”—Sara Nović, Elle.com, “25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017”
“Attenberg knows how to make a reader laugh and feel. This novel takes a hard look at what it means to be a woman living on her own terms.”—Lisa Lucas, Martha Stewart Living, “Page Turners for 2017”

“This is Attenberg’s fiercest, funniest, sexiest book yet. And the most heart-wrenching. She covers all the bases. I adored every word of it.” —Liberty Hardy, Book Riot

“Jami Attenberg’s sharply drawn protagonist, Andrea, has such a riveting, propulsive voice that All Grown Up is hard to put down, but I urge you to resist reading it in one sitting. Both the prose and the author’s knowing excavation of one woman’s desires, compromises, strengths, and fears deserve closer attention. Like Andrea herself, this novel is beautiful and brutal, intelligent and funny, frank and sexy.”—Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times best-selling author of The Nest

“Jami Attenberg’s Andrea is the most addicting female protagonist voice I have read in years, with her cutting observations on human relationships. This witty journey through a mess of men, female friendships, family, and boozy urban existence positions the single girl not as object to be fixed but as contemporary sage and seer: the ultimate witness of truth in love today.”—Melissa Broder, author of So Sad Today

“Jami Attenberg has written her frankest, funniest, and most riveting and heartbreaking book yet. In Andrea, she has created a character women will be talking about for years; she has opened the door for us to see ourselves in literature in a new way, writing with skill and fearlessness few others can match.”—Emily Gould, author of Friendship  

“Hilarious, courageous, and mesmerizing from page one, All Grown Up  is a little gem that packs a devastating wallop. It’s that rare book I’m dying to give all my friends so we can discuss it deep into the night. I’m in awe of Jami Attenberg.”—Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette

“Is all life junk - sparkly and seductive and devastating - just waiting to be told correctly by someone who will hold our hand and walk with us a while confirming that what we’re living is true. This is a good proud urban book, a sad and specific blast for the fearless to read. Thank you Jami.”—Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls

“What a voice. Honest and hilarious, unflinching and unapologetic, Jami Attenberg writes what it is to be single, sexual, and childfree by choice. I read the first page of All Grown Up and knew the novelist was going to outdo herself. I am happy to report that she most certainly did.”—Helen Ellis, author of American Housewife

“Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up is one part Denis Johnson, one part Grace Paley, but all her. Every sentence pulls taut and glows—electric, gossipy, searing fun that is also a map to how to be more human.”—Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night

“All Grown Up is one of those rare books –even the greatest writers often only get one or two in their careers— in which an author’s unique sensibility meets with the story she was born to tell. This fractured, soulful portrait of a determinedly independent woman –a woman whose radical independence often puts her at odds with a misunderstanding society— is vital reading for women and men alike.”—Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting and The Storm at the Door

“Deeply perceptive and dryly hilarious, Attenberg's latest novel follows Andrea Bern: on the cusp of 40, single, child-free by choice, and reasonably content, she's living a life that still, even now, bucks societal conventions. . . . Structured as a series of addictive vignettes—they fly by if you let them, though they deserve to be savored—the novel is a study not only of Andrea, but of her entire ecosystem. . . .Wry, sharp, and profoundly kind; a necessary pleasure.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Andrea’s story is stinging, sweet, and remarkably fleshed out in relatively few pages. Attenberg follows her best-selling family novel, The Middlesteins (2012) with a creative, vivid tableau of one woman’s whole life, which almost can’t help but be a comment on all the things women ought to be and to want, which Attenberg conveys with immense, aching charm.”Booklist (starred)

“A delight to read.”—Publishers Weekly
Library Journal
Andrea Bern is a mixed-up, messed-up native New Yorker, the type you meet at a party and take an instant liking to, but by evening's end you're inching toward the exit. Then the next day you wonder what she's up to; perhaps she's free to meet for coffee. Attenberg's (Saint Maizie; The Middlesteins) heroine tells her story in choppy, time-hopping vignettes that evoke laughter, occasional revulsion, sympathy, and exasperation. Andrea has anger issues, she drinks too much, she hates her job but can't quit, she bed-hops and obsesses. Backtracking chapters explain some of the pain—a mentor rejects her, her father ODs when she's a teen, her distracted mother isn't there for her. But Andrea's a survivor, a funny observer of her off-kilter life. Not all the supporting characters are fleshed out, an ailing child is less than a Macguffin, but the author perfectly captures the voice of a special New Yorker and her city. VERDICT Attenberg's novel is layered and deceptive, as is her heroine. You'll enter Andrea's world for the throwaway lines and sardonic humor, but stay for the poignancy and depth. Recommended for readers who like complicated characters à la Jennifer Egan and Maria Semple. [See Prepub Alert, 10/3/16.]—Liz French, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-12-15
Deeply perceptive and dryly hilarious, Attenberg's (Saint Mazie, 2015, etc.) latest novel follows Andrea Bern: on the cusp of 40, single, child-free by choice, and reasonably content, she's living a life that still, even now, bucks societal conventions. But without the benchmarks of "grown up" success—an engagement, a husband, a baby—Andrea is left to navigate her own shifting understanding of adulthood."Why is being single the only thing people think of when they think of me? I'm other things, too," Andrea says, much to the delight of her therapist, who wants to know, then, what exactly those other things are. She is a woman, Andrea says. A designer who works in advertising; a New Yorker; technically, a Jew. A friend, she tells her therapist. A daughter, a sister, an aunt. Here are the things that Andrea does not say: she's alone. A drinker. A former artist. A shrieker in bed. At 39, Andrea is neither an aspirational figure nor a cautionary tale of urban solitude. She is, instead, a human being, a person who, a few years ago, got a pair of raises at work and paid off her debt from her abandoned graduate program and then bought some real furniture, as well as proper wine glasses. And still she does not fully compute to the people around her, people whose "lives are constructed like buildings, each precious but totally unsurprising block stacked before your eyes." Everyone is married or marrying, parenting or pregnant, and it's not so much that she's lusting after these things, specifically—neither marriage nor babies is her "bag," anyway—so much as it's that her lack of them puts her at odds with the adult world and its definitions of progress. Structured as a series of addictive vignettes—they fly by if you let them, though they deserve to be savored—the novel is a study not only of Andrea, but of her entire ecosystem: her gorgeous, earthy best friend whose perfect marriage maybe isn't; her much younger co-worker; her friend, the broke artist, who is also her ex-boyfriend and sometimes her current one. And above all, her brother and his wife, whose marriage, once a living affirmation of the possibility of love, is now crumbling under the pressure of their terminally ill child. Wry, sharp, and profoundly kind; a necessary pleasure.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.77(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Apartment
You’re in art school, you hate it, you drop out, you move to New York City. For most people, moving to New York City is a gesture of ambition. But for you, it signifies failure, because you grew up there, so it just means you’re moving back home after you couldn’t make it in the world. Spiritually, it’s a reverse commute.
     For a while you live downtown with your brother and his girlfriend, in a small spare room, your bed jammed between shoe racks and a few of your brother’s guitars in cases plus a wall of books from his girlfriend’s undergraduate days at Brown. You get a job, via same girlfriend. You don’t hate the job and you don’t love the job, but you can’t sniff at a hard day’s work because you are no better than anyone else, and, in some ways, you are much, much worse. You acknowledge your privilege, and you get to work.
     You start making money. You find a small, dusty, crumbling loft in a shitty waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn. It has one floor-to-ceiling window, a tiny Empire State Building in the distance framed beautifully within it. Now you are home. Everyone in your life breathes easier. She’s safe now, they all think. At no point does anyone say to you, “So you’ve stopped making art?” It is because they don’t want to know the answer or they don’t care or they are scared to ask you because you scare them. Whatever the case, everyone is complicit in this, this new, non-art-making phase of your life. Even though it was the thing you loved most in the world.
     But you have a little secret: while you are not making Art anymore you are at least drawing every day. To tell anyone about this would be admitting there is a hole in your life, and you’d rather not say that out loud, except in therapy. But there you are, once a day, drawing the same thing over and over: that goddamned Empire State Building. You get up every morning (or afternoon, on the weekends, depending on the hangover), have a cup of coffee, sit at the card table near the window, and draw it, usually in pencil. If you have time, you’ll ink it. Sometimes, if you are running late for work, you do it at night instead, and then you add color to the sketches, to reflect the building’s ever-changing lights. Sometimes you draw just the building and sometimes you draw the buildings around it and sometimes you draw the sky and sometimes you draw the bridge in the foreground and sometimes you draw the East River and sometimes you draw the window frame around the whole scene. You have sketchbooks full of these drawings. You could draw the same thing forever, you realize. No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man is a thing you read once. The Empire State Building is your river. And you don’t have to leave your apartment to step in it. Art feels safe for you again, even though you know you are not getting any better at it, that the work you are making could be sold to tourists on a sidewalk outside of Central Park on a sunny Saturday and that’s about it. That there’s no challenge to it, no message, just your view, on repeat. But this is all you can do, this is all you have to offer, and it is just enough to make you feel special.
     You do this for six years. Brooklyn apartment in a changing neighborhood, why move when the rent is so cheap? Mediocre but well-paying job at which you excel; you receive a few small promotions. Volunteer work here and there. You march where your activist mother tells you to march. Pointless sketchbooks pile up on the bottom row of a bookshelf. Barely scratching a feverish itch. You also drink plenty and for a long time use, too, coke and ecstasy mainly, although sometimes pills to bring you down at the end of the night. Another way to scratch the itch. There are men also, in your bed, in your world, foggily, but you are less interested in them than in muffling the voice in your head that says you are doing absolutely nothing with your life, that you are a child, that the accoutrements of adulthood are bullshit, they don’t mean a goddamn thing, and you are trapped between one place and another and you always will be unless something forces you to change. And also, you miss making art.
     Other people you know seem to change quite easily. They have no problem at all with succeeding at their careers and buying apartments and moving to other cities and falling in love and getting married and hyphenating their names and adopting rescue cats and, finally, having children, and then documenting all of this meticulously on the internet. Really, it appears to be effortless on their part. Their lives are constructed like buildings, each precious but totally unsurprising block stacked before your eyes.
     Your favorite thing is when a friend asks to meet you for a drink, a friend you have had a million drinks with in your life, and then, when you get to the bar, your friend stares at the menu and orders nothing, and you are forced to say, “Aren’t you drinking?” and she says, “I wish,” and she pauses dramatically and you know exactly what’s coming next: she’s about to tell you she’s pregnant. And there is this subtext that you are lucky because you can still drink, and she’s unlucky because she can’t drink, she has this dumb baby in her. What a stupid fucking baby. In her.
     Eventually your brother and his wife get pregnant, and you can’t hate on that because it’s family, and also they’ve always been incredibly kind to you, your brother and you particularly bonded because of your father’s young demise, an overdose. You throw a baby shower, at which you drink too many mimosas and cry in the bathroom, but you are pretty sure no one notices. It’s not that you want a baby, or want to get married, or any of it. It’s not your bag. You just feel tired for some reason. Tired of the world. Tired of trying to fit in where you don’t. You go home that night and draw the Empire State Building and you feel hopeful doing this thing you love to do, so hopeful you look up online what tonight’s colors mean ​— ​the lights are green and blue ​— ​and find out it’s in honor of National Eating Disorders Day and you get depressed all over again even though you’ve never had an eating disorder in your life.
     Nine months come and go, a baby could be born at any minute. You call your brother to find out when exactly, but they’ve been using a hippie-dippie midwife and he says, “We don’t know yet. Could be another week.” You are suddenly aswirl with enthusiasm. It’s going to be a girl. “Call me whenever you hear anything, anything at all,” you tell him. Then you have three intensely dull, soul-deadening afternoon meetings in a row and after that you are moved to a new cube, which you must share with a freshly hired coworker who is thirteen years younger than you and is hilarious and loud and pretty and is probably making half of what you make but still spends it all on tight dresses. It is a Friday. You go out for drinks in your neighborhood. You get lit. Then you call your dealer, whom you haven’t called in a few years. You can’t believe the number still works. He says, “It’s been a while since we last met.” You say, “I’ve been busy,” as if you need to justify why you’re not doing drugs anymore. You don’t buy that much, just enough, but then you meet a man at the bar ​— ​you both pretend you’ve met before although you haven’t, but it just feels safer that way for some reason ​— ​and he has more than enough for the two of you. Then you go home together, to your place, to tiny Manhattan in the window, to the piles of sketchbooks, and the two of you proceed to do all the drugs. This goes on for hours. There’s a little bit of sex involved but neither one of you is that interested in each other. Drug buddies, that’s about it. You can’t even get it up to get it up. Eventually he leaves, and you turn off your phone and go to sleep. You wake up on Sunday night. You turn on your phone. There are eight messages from your brother and your mother. You have missed your niece being born.

Meet the Author

JAMI ATTENBERG is the New York Times bestselling author of five novels, including The Middlesteins and Saint Mazie. She has contributed essays about sex, urban life, and food to The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and Lenny Letter, among other publications. She divides her time between Brooklyn and New Orleans.

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