The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo

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The Story

In Jason Van Otterloo’s neighborhood, the Fourth of July fireworks are provided by his drunken parents brawling in the driveway. One moment they’re not speaking to each other, the next they’re on the couch like teenage lovers. He’s not sure which is worse. He’s been waiting for them to grow up for nearly 16 years, and it doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.

Desperate to escape, Jason takes on any job that comes his way with the dream of saving enough money to get his own place. When the border patrol snuffs out his landscaping career, he talks his best friend Drew into enlisting with him as a caddy at the local country club. His income might not be sufficient to move out on, but it’s plenty to cover his first date with Gina—if she’s willing to overlook the minor detail about having to take the bus to the movies. Life would be so much easier if Jason were old enough to drive.

Gina proves a nice distraction from the circus at home, at least until Jason realizes he has competition for her attention. “I want to come right out and say something,” he tells Drew, “but at the same time I don't want to know for sure.” At coffeehouse poetry slams or via late-night email exchanges, his fellow intellectual Drew is always there to provide perspective. But the one topic he can’t help Jason make sense of is Rob and Janice Van Otterloo’s rocky relationship. “Maybe they'll learn how to become boring and safe like my parents,” Drew suggests, when they finally seek marriage counseling. “I don't want them to be like your parents,” Jason replies. “It wouldn't be authentic.”

Nor would it be as entertaining. Told entirely through emails between Jason, Drew, and others, The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo will appeal to fans of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and readers who best enjoy their teen angst cushioned in humor.


Jason’s optimistic and amusing — which is says a lot about him. The whole book is told with a light touch –it’s not overly comic, but you grin as Jason recounts his latest embarrassment with Gina, or Rob’s most recent humiliating escapades — or even as he and Drew talk about their mutual astonishment when another friend has some romantic success. Things are bad, but they’re not bleak. They’re even kind of fun.
I don’t know what a YA reader would think of this — I imagine they’d find Jason relatable and likeable, but I’m not sure. But for those of us with enough distance from their YA days, it’s something that can be read with an air of “I remember when life was like that.” Even if it’s set over a decade later than my own teen years, I know people like Jason, I had friends who had a Gina in their life, and I dreamed of a girl like Sian. I’m probably not alone in this. This is a comfort-food kind of read — it’s entertaining and makes you feel good. I get kind of a Thomas Rockwell or 80’s version of Todd Strasser feel from this, very much a Lad Lit starter kit kind of thing, now that I think about it — which is good. Young Adults need something that’s not dystopian. There’s a sequel coming out in a week or two, and I’m really looking forward to it. -- The Irresponsible Reader

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