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The Assistants


The Assistants

From sharp and funny newcomer Camille Perri comes THE ASSISTANTS, a Robin Hood-esque novel about two bright young women who accidentally begin a movement. Told in first person, this engaging, witty book will delight millennials and twentysomethings alike while enticing readers of all ages.

Tina Fontana is the meek assistant to the most powerful man in the world, Robert Barlow. Robert is a media mogul who owns a private jet and four yachts, and can buy out the entirety of a first class flight at the blink of an eye. And yet, it is Tina who handles the minutiae of these dealings for him, all while slicing limes for his cocktails, scheduling his meetings and meals, and making sure that everything about Robert’s day runs smoothly. It would be a stretch to say that Tina is unappreciated by Robert, but she is certainly underpaid and did not expect her college education to take her to the lowly role of assistant --- never mind the looming $20,000 debt that she will be paying off for the foreseeable future.

"Reading THE ASSISTANTS is like meeting a stranger in a bar and immediately hearing their life story: endlessly fascinating and peppered with cringeworthy moments of irony and awkwardness."

It makes sense, then, that when a clerical error results in a $19,147 check landing on her desk, she becomes infatuated with the idea of cashing it for herself and breaking free of her debt. After all, Robert himself is worth far, far more than that, and that’s without tying in the collective worth of his company, Titan Corporation, and all of its subsidiaries. Tina was not raised to do something like that, however, so instead she keeps the check with her for three weeks. After nearly a month, the error remains unnoticed, and Tina casually, very nearly accidentally, deposits it into her account and pays off her student loans. She remarks that the convenience of technology makes the whole process seem like a dream --- she not only has stolen nearly $20,000, she has broken free of the debt that follows some people to their death, all with the same amount of effort it would take to order Chinese food.

Soon, however, Tina is called to the 43rd floor of Titan, where accounts and transactions are handled. There, she is accosted by beautiful, Harvard-educated Emily Johnson. Only the Emily who confronts her behind closed doors is not, in fact, born and bred of money, but rather a course, rough-and-tumble sort of girl who was born in Bridgeport and attended Hartford College. She knows what Tina has done and wants her debts paid off as well. Terrified of losing not only her job, but also Robert’s trust and respect, Tina complies. Before long, they are also paying off the debts of two other Titan assistants. Although the casual theft gives Tina very serious anxiety, she cannot help but notice that she and her cohorts are, perhaps, in the right.

It would be easy, at this point, for many authors to turn Tina and her pals into a “Sex and the City” reboot, but Perri carefully details each character enough that they all stand out as individuals while representing millennials as a whole. Even her development of Robert Barlow is superb --- he is more than likely a criminal, yet, as a reader, you cannot help but admire him and wish that he would pop out of the book to invite you over for steak and bourbon.

Before long, Tina finds herself at the forefront of a movement. Young women everywhere are clamoring for her attention --- not only to eliminate their own debts, but to help the mission move forward. Suddenly, professional assistant Tina finds herself barreling out of her shell and transforming into the young woman she always dreamed of being. Unlike her companions, this does not mean that Tina is walking into boardroom meetings dripping in diamonds, but she finally has the confidence to take what the world has to offer and enjoy it. Her character arc is not only believable, but also empowering.

What follows is a hilarious, yet anxiety-inducing, trip through debt, cons, and the harrowing ins and outs of twentysomething relationships. Perri’s use of first person is careful but simultaneously engaging --- a true balancing act that many authors could not successfully achieve. Reading THE ASSISTANTS is like meeting a stranger in a bar and immediately hearing their life story: endlessly fascinating and peppered with cringeworthy moments of irony and awkwardness.

Through it all, Perri maintains a tone that, while lighthearted, is still keenly observant and, above all, informed. Readers will forgive the unrealistic course of events for the fantasies they inspire and nourish. After all, in a world where twentysomethings are shackled to debts that would make a Rockefeller cringe, it is these heroic fantasies that will keep us going.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 30, 2016

The Assistants
by Camille Perri

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Satire
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0399185178
  • ISBN-13: 9780399185175