On paper the new book from Laurie Frankel, called One Two Three, is a perfect fit for me. Triplet teenage Erin Brockoviches investigate and maybe even save their town from villainous chemical company. I love a good feminist, strong (young) women book! Trouble is that Frankel’s actual book only engaged me in the final chapters. If it hadn’t been a gift from the publisher, I might not have finished.
Frankel tells the triplets’ tale in alternating chapters, charmingly titled one, two, or three, depending on their narrator. One is Mab, born first of course. She studies vocabulary words with her bestie, so they can go to college together soon. And, like her Shakespearean namesake, she has some queenly attitude. Two is Monday, who strikes me as neuro diverse. She wears only yellow clothing, eats only yellow food. Unless it’s raining, when green is acceptable. She’s also the town librarian, despite also being in high school. Three is Mirabel, who operates from within the confines of her wheelchair. Her voice is computer generated, and most days she home schools while accompanying her mother to work.
Mom is Nora, who’s both bartender and therapist / counselor to the townspeople. Nora is also at the heart of a class action lawsuit against the aforementioned chemical company. So, the triplets have a mentor in their activism. And they definitely want to please Nora, who seems like a terrific mom in the face of triple challenges.
The town is full of colorful characters, including some more suspicious than others. Frankel adds plenty of quirks into the town structure. The town doctor is also a pastor and a yoga teacher. The donut shop has a typo in its sign, so it’s the Do Not Shop. While some of these serve a logical purpose, it also felt a bit forced sometimes.
If I was more of a YA reader, this book might have been a better fit. Frankel was enamored of teenage angst. Sure, it’s more meaningful because of environmental and chemical mishaps — but still—the angst overflows. I also think Frankel wrote the dialogue (verbal and internal) in the way adults think kids talk. It seemed inauthentic, which made it tiring to read page after page.
However, I liked the philosophical questions raised about life amid challenges. Frankel seems to ask whether you solve problems of the past by going backwards or going towards the future? Many teens think you can actually fix all the past wrongs, while most adults have the life experience to know isn’t that simple.
I did like the ending of One Two Three, so sticking it out included a narrative reward. Even so, I had to suspend my cynical disbelief a bit. Either way, perhaps your experience reading about the triplets and their town will be different.
Recommended for fiction readers who tend towards young adult books, and like plucky activist heroines. Pair with Frankel’s earlier book, This Is How It Always Is, which I loved.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Henry Holt & Company, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.