Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda (Tara Lee Reed)


 4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

Love, love, love the concept of this one. Tara Lee Reed’s debut novel is a wonderful blend of dating do’s and don’ts combined with choose-your-own-adventure with a dose of single-in-the-city. Every few pages, “you” get to make choices for a protagonist who’s currently on the rebound: is she out for a night with the gals to unwind? Does she take the number of the cute, sexy finance guy who’s more date-material than rebound-material? Does she give him her number? Do they kiss on the first date? Does she call after one day or wait the Swingers-rule-of-three? It’s completely fun and absolutely wonderful on an e-reader (I think back to all the time I wasted, flipping actual pages as a pre-teen reading such books). The reason I’m giving it 4-stars instead of 5? Though I totally loved the idea and thought it was generally executed well, it’s hard to know what outcome (if any) I really liked. There are sad endings and a couple happy ones, as well as a slew of in-between girl-you’re-better-off-without-him endings. As a completionist, I had to go through all the endings and am left not really knowing how I feel. It’s different than the choose-your-own-adventures I read as a kid because the ending you “want” isn’t clear (clearer detail below). That said, it was a super fun, super quick read (I think I got to my first “ending” within five minutes?) and definitely recommended.

Greater Detail (with a few spoilers):

As I’ve already said before, the concept and execution of this book are quite good. There are only three main gripes I have with the story:

1. Honestly? The beginning is the slowest part of the story. I know it’s necessary for the setup to be told that Elle Masters has just gotten dumped (but in a thank-goodness-you-dumped-me-first way) but the exposition within the first chapter is probably the least involving part. It’s the only part of the novel where you don’t actively feel a part of the action. Still, it’s not an overly long intro, and once you’re through, you’re pretty heavily engaged.

2. Man, Elle, which really quickly becomes you, the reader, makes some stupid decisions. It’s a little off-putting when you (the reader)¬†pick an action that seems totally reasonable and then, a few pages later, you see you (as Elle, the protagonist) going off the deep-end of crazy. Now, Elle usually recognizes when she’s stepped off the cliff of insanity (there’s some seriously stalker-like mistakes here), but it can still be a little tough when you (the reader) felt as though you were directing Elle is a reasonable way and then it all blows up in your face…

3. (Spoilers Ahead!!!!) So the thing I probably had the most trouble with wasn’t the fact that there were multiple endings or even that Elle’s a little crazy sometimes (we’re all a little crazy sometimes). The trouble I had is that I had gone through many, many of the less-than-happy endings before I accidentally ended up at one of the happy ones. BUT, despite the fact that I knew it was supposed to be one of the “happy” endings, I couldn’t enjoy it. I’d seen both of the main characters (Elle and Nick) act like such jerks and break up in so many other scenarios, that I really distrusted their happy ending. Maybe that means I don’t think these people should be together… except that’s also not an opinion I would have had if I hadn’t gone through SO MANY bad endings. In the end (where I had read through everything) I just didn’t know where I hoped these people would end up, and I found that… unsettling.

All of that said, it’s a super-fun, super-quick read, ambitious and engaging.

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