I had bought Ned Vizzini's novel Be More Chill at a used bookstore in my local mall before the bookstore (and eventually the whole mall) went belly-up. I had heard of the author before through his second (and arguably more famous) book, It's Kind of a Funny Story (which spawned a movie adaption with Keir Gilchrist and Zach Galifianakis.) However, the book was relegated to collecting dust until I finally picked it up and began to read the novel.
Be More Chill is a 2005 teen comedy with a science fiction flair. The story is told through the eyes of Jeremy Heere, a classic high school dork archetype. He is derided by both his male and female classmates, and he notes each incident on his "humiliation sheets". However, Jeremy's life begins to change when he learns of a new technology called the "squip", a small, ingestable quantum computer designed to assist its user in getting whatever he or she wants, whether it be a partner, popularity, or large sums of money. Jeremy decides to take the squip, and his life begins to change.
The strongest point of the book is likely the tone and style of the book. Each chapter is short with a clippy pace. Jeremy's narrative walks the line between furiously deadpan and a myopic focus on popularity. If Jeremy acted too above the masses of his high school, then he would not have much of a reason to take the squip. However, if Jeremy longed too much to be a part of the popular set, then he would not be easy to watch, for it would seem like the pursuit of popularity was his only character trait. The author does well in portraying the awkwardness of teen life through the eyes of someone getting the short end of the stick. Some of Jeremy's most embarrassing moments were even hard to read due to the sheer second-hand embarrassment that I felt as a result.
Some of Jeremy's questionable behavior throughout the book may seem a bit offputting, but in taking a step back, it is perfect for his character. Jeremy is a teenager, and while he means well, he is not going to have all of the faculties that allow him to make the best decision. As frustrating as it can be, I cannot fault Jeremy for being a bad character. However, due to some of his attitudes and behavior, I sometimes had a hard time feeling for the main character. One of Jeremy's biggest goals in the book is to be able to get with girls, especially his crush Christine. However, some of the squip's instructions and Jeremy's behaviors did not sit well with me. While Jeremy does not exactly get what he wants all the time, the way that the squip portrays how to get women comes off as superficial and simplified. Save for Christine, a lot of the girls portrayed in the book come off as cardboard cutouts (which is ironic, given the fact that Jeremy is relatively well-rounded.) This choice could have been intentional in context with the ending, but I am not sure I am ready to take such an explanation without question. Another thing to note is that this book was written in 2004, and it shows. One of my favorite parts of the book was taking pictures of outdated passages and sharing them with my friends online, such as the Gameboy SP being the handhold console of choice and Ashton Kutcher being the ideal male form in the eyes of teenage girls.
Be More Chill is a time capsule worth keeping around. While there are times that the book dates itself, there are timeless aspects of trying to navigate through high school life socially and romantically that still hold up today. If you already enjoy a good high school comedy or want a breezy read this summer, I strongly recommend picking up a copy. I think we all have had some kind of "Jeremy Heere" moment, whether we like to admit it or not.