I’m Fine and Neither are You (Lake Union Publishing)—the title alone is so rife with conflict that it could be a writing prompt, and we’d all end up novelists. I wonder, though, how many of us could come up with as impactful a story as Camille Pagán’s newest, which is currently sitting at the top of the Amazon bestseller charts.
Many women will look up to her main character, Penelope Ruiz-Kar. Penny has figured out a way to have a job that she’s good at, a husband who’s happy to stay home with the kids, and a sense of humor that will see her through rough patches. So what if, lately, she and Sanjay feel more like poorly suited roommates than lovers. As the product of a broken home, Penny knows to be grateful to be “part of a nuclear family and own a home in a good school district in one of the least generic parts of the Midwest.” There is value to leading a peaceful home life, and sometimes that means sweeping the trash under the carpet.
Penny shares her frustrations with only one person—her best friend Jenny, whose life she covets. But when tragedy reveals that Jenny’s life is chock full of hidden strife, Penny takes a harder look at the mask of calm she’s been reinforcing in her own life. Beneath it lies a woman who is concerned about the fact that she alone is shouldering the family’s financial needs. Beneath that lies an exhausted mother who can’t just turn off the biological fact that she is still her children’s first responder. And beneath that lies a woman who had one day wanted to write children’s books—a dream near forgotten, buried so many layers thick.
As her disappointments add up, Penny recalls what may have been her friend’s truest words: “If you’re not happy, make a change.”
When Sanjay agrees they should work on their marriage, Penny suggests that they trade lists of what they want to change in each other. Anyone who’s watched Oprah knows that won’t end well. But one thing Sanjay asks, that perhaps should be the easiest to knock off the list, has Penny stumped. He wants to have more sex—but only if she’s into it. How they resurrect libidos that had also been swept under that carpet is inspiring.
Don’t let this quick read fool you—it packs a powerful punch. Speaking your personal truth is a risky business that takes courage many of us don’t have. Watching Penny and Sanjay try to find their way back to each other shows that the cost of staying quiet may be higher.
Pagán’s story dared this reader to peel back her own masks to find the part of her that is begging to be seen.
May it do the same for you.
I’m Fine and Neither are You is now available for purchase.
About Camille Pagán
Camille Pagán is the bestselling author of five novels: I’m Fine and Neither Are You, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties, Forever is the Worst Long Time, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences (optioned for film by Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films); and The Art of Forgetting. A journalist and editor specializing in health, Pagán has written for Forbes; O, The Oprah Magazine; Parade; Real Simple; Time; WebMD; and many other publications and websites. She lives with her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan.