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Book Review: You’ll Be Fine

YOU'LL BE FINE by Jen Michalski is a gay dramedy that analyzes one family’s vast and varied approaches to all that life can be. Check out what Alexandra Barbush of IBR has to say about this NineStar Press novel.

Book Review: You’ll Be Fine

Reviewed by Alexandra Barbush

A gay dramedy that analyzes one family’s vast and varied approaches to all that life can be

You’ll be Fine starts with a traumatic flashback of Alex and Owen’s life as children with their single mom Adeline. Their story follows a familiar arc, an emotionally and verbally abusive single creative-type mother doing the best she can (maybe), while trying to raise two children who were abandoned by their father and fighting her own mental health issues. 

Almost immediately, the news comes from Alex’s 35-year-old, failed-to-launch brother, Owen: their mom is dead. 

Overdosed, accidentally or not, on one of the several pills and booze combinations she was famous for, Adeline is dead and Alex has to decide whether she wants to revisit the haunts of the rural town she escaped after college and post-college city life. Having just went through her most significant breakup with her girlfriend, Kate, Alex isn’t sure if she’s ready to return home yet. 

Spurred on by the love of her brother and the one family member who has ever cared about them or their mom, Aunt Johanna, Alex decides to make the trip home for a week. Ever the work-addict, she turns the trip into an opportunity to interview the hottest chef in her hometown for her magazine job, who, coincidentally, is also her first love from high school.   

Owen, Alex, and Aunt Johanna come together to go through Adeline’s things and provide each other some solace. Even in this moment, the question remains, where is their father, and why, even now, hasn’t Jeffrey stepped forward to claim his kids or offer comfort? Through all this, Alex does her best to self-soothe, taking some of her mother’s pills and booze, going on dates with a local news editor, and once again becoming entranced in a hopeless love with a former high school girlfriend. 

Unfortunately, these self-medications won’t be enough for Alex to avoid the one thing she’ll be forced to face: herself. 

Through familial love, fighting, and a physical altercation, the reader begins to understand the deeply embedded trauma of Adeline and Alex’s relationship and why Alex can’t forgive her, even now. While happy endings seem unlikely for this family, so mired in the pain of their individual identities, each member will be forced to look at themselves squarely and admit to the others who and what their motives really are. With a big reveal from Aunt Johanna that sends them all reevaluating what they thought they knew, a fresh start emerges as possible for all of them.  

You’ll be Fine, the title itself echoing the placation that Adeline always fed Alex, is a quick and immersive dive into one family’s dysfunction. Each character has their individual faults and hangups, with loner-brother Owen being probably the least damaged and damaging. Alex is a self-professed know-it-all, who uses her “magnanimity” and work ethic as a shield for her feelings. 

All Michalski’s characters are believable, stark and real.  The reader will recognize these archetypes, but Michalski’s edge is that while they fit molds–bitchy lesbian, loser brother, transgender Aunt–they’re are all uniquely themselves, full and surprising. The returning-home-after-a-death sequence plays out how the reader hopes, with self-discovery and hope for a new, happier beginning.

Alex’s various love affairs are messy and wide-reaching, making the reader wonder if she’s the most desirable lesbian in the metro area, as most gay women who encounter her are quickly interested. However, they play out in real time and reflect how real love, especially between women, can get messy quickly. Michalski does a good job of subtly and accurately describing big feelings.  

I’d recommend You’ll be Fine  to anyone interested in an LGBTQ+ family drama with hints of comedy. Overall, it’s amusing and heartwarming, and while the characters might be on-the-nose failures, their redeeming qualities shine bright and loud. The reader leaves the novel loving them all and genuinely wishing the best for them. 

Michalski does a good job of allowing the reader to choose, on their own, to root for her characters. Some of the reveals are not always surprising, but there’s enough drama to keep the reader engaged in the long term of the full narrative.  Sweet and sensitive, the story leaves the reader hopeful for everyone’s redemption. 

Publisher: NineStar Press

Genre: Literary & General Fiction / LGBTQ+ / Humor

Print Length: 343 pages

ISBN: 978-1648903106

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