Recommended for grades 7-12
I had to reread Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell—it’s one of those books that I plan on rereading every few years. It was a book club pick at my work and I’m thrilled with just how much I enjoyed the book. I bet you’re wondering what “LIM” stands for…well, I’ll tell you later.
Here is the general gist of the book: Vassar Spore has planned life out for herself, almost as if it was a science. Some of her goals include, “Graduate valedictorian from Seattle Academy of Academic Excellence (with a minimum 5.3 GPA).”, “Publish the definitive book on (TBD) by age 37”, “Receive Pulitzer prize.” Vassar is what you would call an overachiever (and I wonder why I like the book so much). But, you come to realize she is a bit overprotected and sheltered…that is until her Grandma Gerd blackmails her parents (something to do with “The Big Secret”) into letting Vassar fly to Malaysia to trek around looking for “found art”.
The novel only gets better…Vassar’s three girlfriends won’t let her escape the summer without arranging how she can pull off being valedictorian instead of Wendy Stupacker (the resident popular girl). It is decided that Vassar will write a novel about her adventures in Southeast Asia—she has no idea just how unbelievable her novel will be!
Vassar flies half-way across the world and meets Grandma Gerd, who is aloof, a non-planner, and artsy—the opposite of Vassar. Grandma Gerd leads Vassar through several regions of Southeast Asia—Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos. If you don’t read the book for the humor (and it’s RIPE with humor), adventure, and the personal journey Vassar goes through (if I used the word “on”, I feel like it’s implied she wanted to go through it), then please, PLEASE read it for the setting—Cornwell outdoes herself, from the dirt streets with the outdoor make-shift cafes and tiny-market vendors to the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat—she definitely earns the title “travel junkie”.
Cornwell does a great job developing the main characters, as well—Vassar, who is so preposterous at points that even when her friends read about “Sarah” (the protagonist Vassar secretly pins herself as), they think she’s a “goody-goody”, which puts Vassar out a little, especially since they all LOVE Aunt Aurora (Grandma Gerd), and Wayne (Hanks)—Vassar’s guide turned love interest, who also happens to be a Chinese Malay cowboy (with chops and Godlings)! Even as I’m thinking about what else I want to write about the book, it has me smiling and chuckling…
….I suppose I can let you know what “LIM” stands for now—its Grandma Gerd’s acronym for “Live In the Moment!”
Cornwell, A. (2007). Carpe diem. New York, NY: Square Fish.