Carpe Diem. Do people still think of the movie Dead Poets Society when they hear that phrase? Maybe it’s just me because my cousin was in the movie. (“Who?” you ask. The kid who killed himself.) When I saw the book Carpe Diem, by Autumn Cornell, the movie was the first thing I thought of, and it intruded on my book-reading experience.
Vassar has been working since birth on her life plan, which includes Vassar (naturally), a Ph.D., a Pulitizer, and then more. Her parents believe in planning, planning, planning, and so does Vassar. But when her artistic, hippie grandmother sends her a present of tickets to travel around Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos and then blackmails her parents into making Vassar go Vassar finds an entire world that she’s not prepared for. She has a family secret to discover, a guy, adventures, and danger. She deals with oversized poisonous centipedes and opium den thugs. Priceless treasures and squatting toilets.
I liked the book for the most part, though I thought that the characters were exaggerated. The mom’s looking over Vassar’s life goals and saying, “After the Pulitzer, then what? Think big, Vassar.” The dad’s taking over his own parenting including hiring the household help at age six. Vassar’s ten huge trunks sent overseas with her. The Grandmother’s hippie, flaky style. It was a little distracting for me.
Also, for some reason, I thought this book was going to have a different tone than it turned out to have. Maybe it was the cover, maybe something I read... I don’t know, but I expected more of a serious book than I got. Along with the DPS thing, it made it hard for me to let go and enjoy the ride of the story. However, if you are ready to look at the book as a fish-out-of-water story, with lots of outlandish moments, then it can be a fun read. You’ll get a little bit of culture exposure, but that’s certainly not the point of the book. It’s all about, yes, seizing the day. Making your life extraordinary.