Nice Try, Jane Sinner – Lianne Oelke (ARC Review)

January 26, 2018


TITLE: Nice Try, Jane Sinner
AUTHOR: Lianne Oelke
RELEASED: January 9th, 2018; Clarion Books/HMH Teen
GENRE: Contemporary
SYNOPSIS: The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.
Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don’t know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she’ll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.
As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She’ll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.


It’s too bad that one Event is enough to wipe out years of accumulated Good Kid credit.

I went into this book expecting a story about a Survivor/Big Brother-style game show, but what I got was a story about growing up, mental health, healing, forgiving yourself, and learning to live with the consequences of your actions.


Perhaps if I spent more time in my childhood socializing with secular children instead of praying when I felt uncomfortable, I’d be better equipped to handle this situation.

→ Jane Sinner ←
Despite being tremendously flawed – or, perhaps, because of her flaws – Jane Sinner is one of the most unique narrators I’ve seen in the YA contemporary genre in a really long time. Let me say, despite the topics of much of this book being incredibly heavy, Jane’s sense of self-deprecating, nihilistic humor makes it hilarious. I mean, between how much it made me laugh, and how much I related to, well… Jane’s entire outlook on life, basically – I would be friends with Jane Sinner in a heartbeat, if she were a real person and in my own life. (Plus, honestly, I would never get tired of her ridiculously misused idioms.)

One of my favorite things about her sense of humor was actually something I usually don’t like in books: her pop culture references. While a lot of books overuse and over-explain references, or use references that don’t even fit the character’s lifespan’s time frame, Oelke peppers them in seldom enough to keep them fresh, and each one actually seemed like a reference that an older teen today could use (like The Hunger Games, or The Big Lebowski).

It took me a few days to realize what that meant. I didn’t believe in God. Everything I knew about who I was and what was true became irrelevant. It felt like I was on a roller coaster, sitting at the peak and waiting to drop.

→ religion ←
We get to see a lot of Jane’s frustrations and confusion that came along with the realization that, despite being raised in church by a religious family, she no longer believed in God. I am fully supportive of anyone’s views and lifestyles, so long as they aren’t harming another individual, but I was raised in church, too, and just like Jane, I woke up one day as a teen and realized that church wasn’t the place for me anymore – and I couldn’t keep serving a deity I didn’t believe in.

I went through the same anxiety-inducing struggles of coming to terms with my new lack of a belief system. When you’re raised in an incredibly religious home, it becomes part of your identity – and leaving it behind can feel like losing a big piece of yourself, for better or for worse. I was stunned by how well Jane explained it, without ever insulting religion or faith itself. Instead, we see that Jane regrets her own religion-inspired decisions of her past, such as a delayed acceptance of her best friend’s bisexuality because of a belief that it’s immoral. I can relate to that, too, and I loved seeing this side of the debate presented in a story.

There is no divine plan, no destiny, no life after death, and no compensation for what you lose. There is only here and now. There is only what you’ve done and what you are going to do.

→ depression ←
Continuing on with the theme of how downright relatable Jane is, she suffers from depression, and is still mentally healing from attempting suicide several months prior. If discussions of suicidal ideation trigger you, please proceed with caution while reading both this review and the book, because Jane’s take on it feels so authentic and real. There is even a moment taken to discuss how, sometimes, suicidal ideation isn’t wanting to die, it’s just wanting to cease existing – to rest, for a while. There’s also a little bit of discussion on mental health medications, as well as the ever common self-analyzation habit that so many individuals suffering from mental illness have. Jane’s introspection is a reminder that it’s easy to know what we need to do for self-care, while still not having the energy or willpower to do it.

I don’t need to know God loves me. I just need to know that she does.

→ friends & family; rep ←
This aspect of the book was a mixed bag for me: mostly positive, but a little negative in some aspects, too. My favorite aspect of Jane’s friends and family was her little sister, Carol, who is so sweet and genuine. I loved their interactions, and how much she meant to Jane. While Jane’s parents were distant and a bit callous, her sister was fully supportive of her, and my only frustrations with Jane’s character came from how she held Carol so distant at times (though, we do see major character development in this space!).

We also had a bit of diverse representation in two of Jane’s friends: Bonnie, her best friend, is bisexual and proud, but sadly a little stunted in development. She never felt like a particularly complex character to me, and I would have liked to have spent a little more time with her, as well as seeing more consistent behavior from her. The other major diversity represented came in the form of Robbie, Jane’s housemate, friend, and minor love interest: he’s Indian, and while we don’t get to see much of that explored, we do learn quite a bit about the fact that he is terrified of germs and dirt, and is trying desperately to overcome it. His character felt a little bit questionable to me at times, but I appreciated a lot of what he brought to the story, as well as the fact that the romantic aspect was very under-played and almost nonexistent.

Her faith was a conscious decision, a hard-earned achievement … I wore my own faith like the shirt I fell asleep in because I was too lazy to change.

→ final thoughts ←
All in all, I thought Nice Try, Jane Sinner was a really fun, quick read. I loved the journal entry formatting of the story, and I enjoyed Jane’s narrative tremendously. I thought it shined a light on a lot of things that people don’t like to talk about in YA, like suicide and attempts, depression, and the effects (negative or positive) that Christianity can have on a child or teen. All in all, I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely be picking up Lianne’s next release!

Content warnings: suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression
Thank you to HMH Teen for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review! All quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC and may not match the final publication.


More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

Leave a comment
    1. I was on the fence about reading this because the blurb didn’t really give me a lot to work with, but your review makes it sound lovely! I’m definitely going to try to get to this one. 🙂

    1. Oh man..Your review! <3 I usually don't like pop culture references either, so I am glad they are used in a positive manner here. I think I am going to love how emotional this gets with all the issues it touches.

      1. Thank you! <3 I'm so glad you could relate! I always feel like an outcast when it comes to pop culture references in books because I'm usually so turned off by them, lol. I was surprised at how perfect these were, though!

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