Book Review: Carpe Diem, by Autumn Cornwell

carpediem_coverAfter a careful search in the library, I rediscovered a book I read a few summers ago.  Carpe Diem revolves around sixteen-year-old Vassar Spore, an academic overachiever. Her life goals include graduating high school with a 5.3 GPA, (“the new 4.0”), attending the prestigious Vassar women’s college (which she was named after), marrying a PhD graduate, and receiving a Pulitzer Prize. To reach all of these goals her next two summers have been completely planned out with Advanced Placement courses and extracurricular activities.

Suddenly, all of her meticulous planning is flipped upside-down when her eccentric, bohemian Grandma Gerd demands that Vassar spend the summer backpacking through Southeast Asia with her. Her usually-conventional parents agree to let her go after being blackmailed by Grandma Gerd, who threatens to tell Vassar about “The Big Secret.” Vassar is abruptly thrust into a completely different world filled with dirt, pests, and people from all walks of life. While traveling, she learns about LIMing (Living in the Moment, as coined by Grandma Gerd), and meets a Malaysian cowboy/bodyguard, named Hanks. And as stated in the book’s summary, “Vassar Spore can plan on one thing: She’ll never be the same again.”

I really, really enjoyed reading Carpe Diem. At first, the plot seemed predictable: a serious student learns there is a lot more to life than just books. Cornwell, however, exceeded my expectations and developed Vassar into a much deeper character. Vassar prepares meticulously for challenges. She changes into someone willing to live in the moment, taking things in life as they come. I sense that Cornwall draws on her love for Southeast Asia and her own experiences traveling abroad to describe Vassar’s misadventures.

This story offered me a valuable lesson. I am also a hardworking student in high school and go to great lengths to focus on school, grades, and getting into college. Rereading this book made me step back for a while and think about my real priorities. Once in awhile, I want to drop everything and “just LIM it!”

Rereading this book triggered my own memories of traveling abroad and domestically, experiencing new and novel things, taking in new cultures and mindsets, and expanding my perception of things. This book was also a valuable read because it broadened my interest and knowledge about Southeast Asian culture and travel.

I recommend Carpe Diem for readers who enjoy stories of adventure, exotic cultures, and travel, seasoned with lots of laughs. This book was enjoyable all the way through, with a balance of humor and seriousness to satisfy any reader. Based on the reading level, I would recommend this book for readers aged ten and up, though the content is acceptable for precocious readers who are under ten years old.

-Sophia U., 10th grade

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