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Everything's Fine


Everything's Fine

Shining a bright, discerning eye on the political divide plaguing our country, debut author Cecilia Rabess chronicles the ups and downs of a mixed-race, mixed-politics couple who will stop at nothing to convince themselves that EVERYTHING’S FINE.

November 4, 2008: a historic night for America that ended with the election of the first-ever Black president. On the Ivy League campus where Jess is a proud freshman, it also was the night that she met Josh, a typical pink shorts-wearing, affirmative action-criticizing, white, conservative man who would become her nemesis for the next four years. Right up until graduation, the two debate everything from the economy to reparations. So when Jess moves on from college, she is ready to change the world and forget sneering, privileged men like Josh. Until reality hits.

"Full of rich, timely topics with plenty of room for discussions (and arguments), this sharply written, polarizing book is a perfect rendition of our time and announces the arrival of a truly exciting voice on par with writers like Kiese Laymon or Mateo Askaripour."

Raised by a widowed Black father, Jess has had it instilled in her practically from birth that it is on her not only to perform twice as well as her white peers, but to continue to uplift and support her Black peers while aiming to educate by example. But unlike those who work fake-sounding jobs --- such as social media marketer at a cookie dough startup --- Jess has bills mounting up and a rapidly diminishing bank account. Before long, her dreams of creating art or writing feminist articles collide with her desire to pay her rent and eat, and she finds herself putting her math degree to use at Goldman Sachs as an analyst. However, much to her chagrin, the company's rising star is none other than Josh himself, who is assigned to be her “buddy.”

Not just the only woman on the floor, but the sole person of color, Jess quickly finds the odds stacked against her. Unlike the other analysts, she is forced to sit with the secretaries. And instead of crunching numbers, she usually is taking notes or, even worse, picking up dry cleaning. To add insult to injury, Josh frequently asks her why she thinks she is so special and what she can do to prove it. These micro- and macroaggressions are easy to cast aside in theory, but much harder in practice, and even Jess can't deny that Josh might have a point.

Jess knows that systemic racism and misogyny exist, but Josh’s continued reminders that they came from the same college and had the same opportunities start to chip at her armor. She also notices that Josh seems different: he still argues that it is economic inequality and not race that represents the country’s greatest divide, but he also pushes for greater diversity in the workplace and praises affirmative action. It also is obvious that they have chemistry, the kind that no mathematical equation can explain.

As Jess and Josh become friends, it seems that the differences between them start to fade. She’s Black and he’s white, but the point is that they are equals, right? And yes, they disagree politically, but they agree on values and are able to have intelligent, even-tempered discussions. Still, outside forces --- the cruel taunts of their coworkers, the inequity of the workplace, particularly in finance, the rapidly changing political landscape --- continue to simmer in the background.

Almost before Jess can realize it, they are in love and cohabitating, and she is depending on Josh for everything from her rent and expensive groceries to her sense of self-worth. But then 2016 arrives, and with it comes a certain red hat on their credenza. As everyone knows, it’s more than just a hat.

For a novel about making love work against all odds, EVERYTHING’S FINE is far from fluffy or even romantic. Although the book is ostensibly about Jess and Josh and the forbidden love between them, what makes their relationship interesting is how obviously doomed it is from the start…and how willfully they try to ignore that fact. While the heated culture and political arguments between them are no doubt enticing (and painfully familiar to most of us), it is the finer moments of tension where Rabess truly shines. Neither Jess nor Josh are particularly strident in their political beliefs, and they are what we typically would call “good people.” Yet, despite a shared value system, there are fissures between them.

Josh cares for Jess and always tries to help her, but in his stubborn refusal to see her as Black, he often ends up gaslighting or heckling her. At the same time, though, there’s a gorgeous, powerful subplot of Jess coming into her own identity: making friends with other Black people, experimenting with her hairstyles and attacking the race issue head-on. Combined, these two storyines are complex, messy and nearly impossible to come to any real conclusions about, making them spot-on depictions of the American political landscape.

Full of rich, timely topics with plenty of room for discussions (and arguments), this sharply written, polarizing book is a perfect rendition of our time and announces the arrival of a truly exciting voice on par with writers like Kiese Laymon or Mateo Askaripour. Whether the concept of a mixed-politics romance excites or horrifies you, don’t stop reading this book until the very end. Rabess provides a moment of pure irony that will stick with me for years.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 24, 2023

Everything's Fine
by Cecilia Rabess

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1982187751
  • ISBN-13: 9781982187750