Bestselling author Marissa Meyer’s first contemporary rom-com, Instant Karma, doesn’t disappoint, offering up an entertaining premise with a satisfyingly sweet romance.
Author Marissa Meyer is better known for her fantasy and sci-fi fiction, with titles such as the Renegades trilogy and Alice in Wonderland prequel Heartless under her belt. Instant Karma is her first contemporary YA rom-com and, thankfully, it’s as good as you hoped it would be.
Possibly even better in fact.
Look, in a year like 2020 you have to take your comfort food – or reads, in this instance – where you can find it. And this book is everything you probably need as the days get shorter and the nights get colder and it feels like we’re staring down the barrel of a scary pandemic winter. It’s got an enjoyably sweet premise, a charming central frenemies to something more romance, and a heroine who actually learns and grows over the course of the story. (But not in an annoying or preachy way.)
The story follows Prudence Barnett, an overachieving, perfectionist who has spent the bulk of her sophomore year struggling to bear being lab partners with school slacker Quint Erickson. When the two receive a C on their final marine biology project, Prudence is determined to find a way to earn some extra credit, even if it means working at the local animal rescue center and grinding fish smoothies for injured seals.
But when an accident happens while singing John Lennon during a local karaoke night, Prudence discovers she has a strange new ability: The power to dispense, as the song she sings calls it, Instant Karma. Suddenly, Prudence can pass judgment on those the feels are behaving selfishly or destructively, in ways both large and small. Spraying graffiti? Karmic punishment. Running a red light? Time for a little celestial payback. She even eventually discovers that she can reward good deads, like picking up litter you didn’t leave behind.
Coolest superpower ever, right? Not exactly. Because even though Prudence enjoys her ability at first, she learns over the course of the novel that good and bad can often look a lot like one another, and the differences between good and bad people are often less clear – and less binary – than she once thought. After all, how can you decide who’s in the right, if you can see good on both sides of a complex question? Is fate simply coincidence or the net positive result of everyone out there trying their best?
Generally speaking, Instant Karma is based around the most basic of romance tropes — uptight nerd girl meets free-spirited slacker boy — but Meyer somehow turns the inevitability of Prudence and Quint falling in love into a cautionary tale about judgment, justice, and the ways we treat one another. Pru’s growth throughout the story is deftly handled, presented in such a way that doesn’t condemn the girl she once was, even as it both builds and applauds the better version of herself she slowly starts becoming.
Quint, unsurprisingly, is not the lackadaisical goof-off he appears to be at first glance, and his bad habits have very human causes. Thankfully, the story doesn’t let him off the hook for them, and he’s required to grow as much as Prudence is over the course of the novel. Plus, they save a sea lion together! What more could you want?
In short: This is basically the perfect story for curling up with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate and forgetting your problems for a while – with a bonus great message on top. Though we should all certainly look forward to more of Meyer’s fantasy work, Instant Karma makes a more than convincing argument that her contemporary fiction belongs on your must-read list too.
Instant Karma is now available wherever books are sold.