Kirkus Reviews, "11 Debuts You Need to Pay Attention To"
HelloGiggles, "Books you don't want to miss"
Bustle, "Books you need to know"
An ambitious debut, at once timely and timeless, that captures the complexity and joys of modern womanhood. This novel is gem like—in its precision, its many facets, and its containing multitudes. Following in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Rona Jaffe, Maggie Shipstead, and Sheila Heti, Jana Casale writes with bold assurance about the female experience.
We first meet Leda in a coffee shop on an average afternoon, notable only for the fact that it’s the single occasion in her life when she will eat two scones in one day. And for the cute boy reading American Power and the New Mandarins. Leda hopes that, by engaging him, their banter will lead to romance. Their fleeting, awkward exchange stalls before flirtation blooms. But Leda’s left with one imperative thought: she decides she wants to read Noam Chomsky. So she promptly buys a book and never—ever—reads it.
As the days, years, and decades of the rest of her life unfold, we see all of the things Leda does instead, from eating leftover spaghetti in her college apartment, to fumbling through the first days home with her newborn daughter, to attempting (and nearly failing) to garden in her old age. In a collage of these small moments, we see the work—both visible and invisible—of a woman trying to carve out a life of meaning. Over the course of her experiences Leda comes to the universal revelation that the best-laid-plans are not always the path to utter fulfillment and contentment, and in reality there might be no such thing. Lively and disarmingly honest, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky is a remarkable literary feat—bracingly funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and truly feminist in its insistence that the story it tells is an essential one.
Casale's elegant, sharply drawn debut follows Leda, a girl whose myriad goals to read Noam Chomsky, to be "linear," to find love, to be a writer, to plant a garden chafe against inevitable compromise and "oppressively real" life. In short story like episodes, Casale explores the signal moments of Leda's life: a bad one-night stand; giving up grad school in Boston to move to California with her boyfriend, John; marrying and having a baby girl, Annabelle; seeing her daughter's first school play. Casale's clear-eyed examination of a woman's life is done with abundant humor a swimsuit mishap in a department store fitting room is a laugh-out-loud gem and aching melancholy: "Life could be so unreal and so vivid all at once you'd think it was a dream," Casale writes of an inconsolable Leda after the death of her mother. "She would search for her mom forever everywhere she would go." As a youngster, Leda believes the "first innate truth of her womanhood" is that one must "never be fat." The last innate truth, she finds, is that "womanhood is loneliness." In between, readers will be captivated by Leda's life.)