Silverman, Laura. “You Asked for Perfect”, Sourcebooks Fire, 2019.
Meet Ariel Stone
Laura Silverman’s novel about highly pressured overachieving teens, “You Asked for Perfect” centers onHigh school senior Ariel Stone who is always reading “Crime and Punishment”. He keeps iton his phone and reads it while he pretends to pray during Shabbat services, or in audiobook format as he quickly moves from one class or extracurricular activity to another. Ariel feels a constant proximity to Dostoevsky’s morally intense classic that has been assigned reading for his A.P. English class because the book is the perfect symbol of his endless quest for perfection. There is no down time for Ariel; hr dedicates all of his time to the manic pursuit of excellence and to admission by Harvard. He is Jewish and bisexual ad writer Silverman explores both of these aspects of his life with sensitivity and realism. Ariel is Everyman or Everyteen, who tries to attain a goal whose very meaning has Written for young adult readers, he is a recognizable and embracable character. The novel is full of details which bring him to life. We read of the catalogue of A.P. courses and their relative difficulty as well as descriptions of his loving father, a civil rights attorney and mother, a journalist. They are completely accepting of his sexual orientation, yet at the same time, unaware of their son’s anguish every time they mention that he is applying to Harvard.
The characters in the novel are multicultural— from Ariel’s Korean-American best friend, a lesbian musician, to his love interest, Amir, the son of a Pakistani-American family that is as close as Ariel’s own. We touch upon the complexity of religious and ethnic identities with the Stone family’s Judaism not easily categorized. Like many American Jews, they pick and choose from their tradition, finding their own way without a suggestion of hypocrisy. Ariel’s family almost always spends Friday evening together with a Shabbat meal, blessing the candles and wine, and r matzo ball soup. Later, Ariel and his friends might enjoy a second meal at a Thai restaurant. There is a reference to the fact that Amir’s sister, Rasha, wears a hijab, although their mother does not and this also grounds the novel in changing religious practices across cultures.
We wonder if Ariel will indeed maintain his status as valedictorian, but gradually become aware, along with Ariel himself, that his psyche is coming apart and may not survive. We offer our empathy. Ariel is open to help from Rabbi Solomon, a perceptive and kind woman who offers him Talmudic wisdom and mandelbread when he is about to faint on Yom Kippur. Ariel is a mentsch who is trapped by “…good grades will get me into a good school. And a good school will get me a good job. And a good job will get me a good life.” I was totally into Ariel’s quest for perfection and in his awakening to his imperfect sense of self-worth.