Updated: Apr 21, 2020
Almost Maine, John Cariani
Pub. Date: March 31, 2020
*This Advanced Reader’s E-copy was provided through NetGalley and Feiwel and Friends, free of charge.*
To the general reader, John Cariani may not be a name they recognize. However, to myself and fellow theatre nerds, Cariani’s name brings up images of snow, soft lights, and love in all of its stages through his play Almost Maine. First published in 2004, the play may be iconic but does have its outdated moments. However, in this young adult novel version of Almost Maine, Cariani improves upon his short stories and actually creates a new one for the time we are living in now.
The plot itself is very simple: there is a small “almost-town” in Maine, named Almost. In this place, all on one night, several people have extraordinary moments where either something did or didn’t happen. There are ten couples/storylines to follow throughout the novel and it showcases love in all its stages and forms, centered around one ‘magical’ moment where you can feel something changing within you. The story is presented through short vignettes about each couple, and woven together through the journey of Ginette, a teenager who just said “I love you” to her best friend Pete and, after a confusing monologue about distance from him, is now making her way back home through Almost. Along the way, she sees various couples and Cariani takes us through each of their nights and stories.
When performed, the storylines in Almost Maine make sense - you almost need to see the actions of the characters in order to fully understand the situation occurring. However, when reading it, it is not easily understood and at times can seem like one-dimensional writing. In comparison to the play, this young adult Almost Maine is longer, but with some much needed backstory for the various characters and their relationships. We get to look inside their heads and see their thought processes for their actions - for example, we can see just why meeting Steve is so revolutionary for Marvalyn and how it changed her life, or why Gayle showed up at Lendall’s doorstep demanding all of her love back. In addition, it adds some much-needed dimension to the characters themselves - the women no longer seem like manic-pixie-dream-types and the men are no longer simple country hicks. This makes me root for the characters, as well as for the plot, instead of just enjoying the simplistically sweet storyline.
One thing I really enjoyed in this novelized version of Almost Maine over the play are the updated takes Cariani has adopted in the 16 years since the play premiered. The biggest examples I can list are from Rhonda and Dave’s night, as well as Michelle and Justin’s. For one, Michelle and Justin don’t exist within the original play - and are a welcome addition to the novelized version. Their story is one of platonic love and acceptance, and it warms the heart the most amongst all of the romantic stories. In addition, Cariani changed some of the storyline in Rhonda and Dave’s vignette to make Dave more accepting. In this version, Dave doesn’t effectively call Rhonda a prude for not having kissed someone before; instead he accepts her for who she is (seemingly asexual), and makes sure she is comfortable the entire time he is at her house, even to the point of stopping when they seemed about to have sex. I personally enjoy this updated version as it emphasizes the importance of consent, and also includes more LGBTQIA representation than previous editions have.
The only thing I disliked about this version is the monotony of one persistent scene. In every story, there comes a point where one or both people look at the other and feel a glowing sensation from within. This is used to describe the moment they fall in or out of love with the other person, and is present in every story. At first, it is a sweet and lovely description. However, as it is brought up in almost the same terms every time, it grows stale and I end up skipping over those descriptions. The language itself has nothing wrong - in my personal opinion, it is overused. However, I do recognize that is a matter of opinion, and to others who are not as familiar with the story, it may be just the right amount.
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the young adult novelization of Almost Maine. It is refreshingly simple in its storylines and messages about love. In a time where plot can be overcomplicated by love triangles and dystopian conflicts, it is nice to know that there are still stories about relationships as simple as someone and their ex meeting at a bar on a Friday night. The script, while wonderful for actual performances, is not nearly as accessible as this novel is to the general public. I would give it four out of five stars, only withholding the last star for repeating plot points. I definitely recommend getting a copy, either through your local library or bookstore, when March 31st rolls around.
If you are looking for more books like Almost Maine, try reading:
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
Unclaimed Baggage, Jen Doll
You In Five Acts, Una LaMarche
What did you think of the book and/or my review? Leave a comment down below!
Until next time,