four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
By: 
Melissa Bank
user_rating: 
0

A-WonderSpotA lighthearted bildungsroman, The Wonder Spot follows Sophie Applebaum through her adolescence in Surrey, Pennsylvania— where dad’s a judge and mom’s a homemaker—all the way to her newfound adulthood. After college at a second-tier liberal arts school, Sophie moves to the Big Apple, where she bounces from a short-lived career in publishing to a more satisfying post in advertising, and searches for Mr. Right. We not only follow Sophie’s travails, but those of her family: Sophie’s grandmother ages and declines, her mother gets restless in her Donna Reed marriage, and her brother explores Orthodox Judaism. By the end of the book, readers know that not only has Sophie grown up—chick lit, it seems, has too.
Viking. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670034118

Atlantic Monthly 4 of 5 Stars
"Melissa Bank’s terrific new novel lacks the topical conflicts and poetic imagery that critics appreciate, and its strong suit—a companionable, offhand sense of humor leading to subtle revelations of character—Is deceptively difficult to achieve. … Bank’s central theme is the lifelong quest to balance obligation and personal pleasure, a conflict each Applebaum must somehow resolve." Elizabeth Judd

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Forget sophomore slump: this book proves that the second time’s a charm. … The most gratifying aspect of The Wonder Spot involves tracking the Applebaum family through two decades." Elisabeth Egan

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"This assured, beautifully crafted story showcases a young woman who struggles to find her footing and in the process captivates with her wry observations and awkward charm. … Sophie is a wonder, and it’s a pleasure to enjoy her witty, wistful company."
Carole Goldberg

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Bank’s work, especially The Wonder Spot, is more like a five-course meal: loaded with pleasure and calories, yes, but offering enough protein and complex carbohydrates to satisfy both body and soul. … Bank mixes humor with sadness while leavening difficulty with laughter to create a rich narrative that gratifies on many levels."
Bernadette Murphy

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Wonder Spot, Bank’s bittersweet, tremendously winning return, isn’t just a great read. It is a wake-up call, alerting the literary establishment that stories about young women’s coming-of-age can still be enthralling, engaging, and deserving of their notice." Jennifer Weiner

People Weekly 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Fans will be happy to know that in her latest Bank balances humor and poignance within the genre’s format to deliver a satisfying read. But anyone growing weary of the Bridgets and Sophies of the literary world may be disappointed to learn that this talented author missed an opportunity to steer the genre in a new direction." Lisa Ingrassia

Critical Summary

Reviewers likely licked their chops when they got the galleys to The Wonder Spot in the mail—a chance to take superstar Melissa Bank down a peg and write the predictable second-novel review: "Bank was just a one-book wonder…" But Bank defied them, and critics roundly agree that her second book shines just as brightly as The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999). Yes, the two books share certain superficial similarities—young female protagonist, the presence of poodles, the death of a dad—but The Wonder Spot is in many ways the more mature, more sophisticated read.