Self Discovery Through Lack of Effort: A Review of The Year I Stopped Trying

The Year I Stopped Trying
Katie Heaney
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
November 16, 2021
Ages 12 and up

Mary has always been a good student and never gotten into trouble. One day she forgets to do a history assignment. She prepares herself for the worst, yet, nothing happens. This leads her to reflect on the purpose of doing her assignments. Has she been doing so well in school simply because she is supposed to? What does she even want for herself in life? Intentionally, she does as badly in school as she can, skipping assignments and classes. She also begins a romantic pursuit of Mitch, hoping his bad boy reputation will aid her in her “self-deterioration project.” As she gets to know Mitch, she is unsure if she truly wants to date a boy, sensing that just like with the schoolwork, she has always thought about boys simply because that was what was expected of her. Mary’s experimentation leads her to realize how preoccupied she was with how others perceived her. She ultimately comes to terms with the fact that she is not completely sure what she wants, and that is okay.

Heaney writes in a very casual, first-person style. Mary’s narration is often humorous and blunt. While she cannot express herself well to others early in the story, her character comes through in the narration style filled with inner thoughts. The setting of a suburban high school in the Midwest allows for diversity in the supporting characters, though this is not a focal point of the storytelling. The discoveries Mary makes as she tries to find herself and her purpose are ones that have value for any young person, overachiever or not. The straightforward style makes this an easy read, making the theme of self-discovery easily accessible to readers transitioning from middle grade to young adult fiction.