Review: Instant Karma

Published November 3rd 2020, 400 pages

Author: Marissa Meyer

In this contemporary romance with a bit of magic, chronic overachiever Prudence Daniels is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, during a night out with her friends, she slips on a spilled drink and hits her head, only to wake up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her. Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to karaoke hecklers, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire — Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner and all-around mortal enemy. Over the course of a summer, Pru begins to uncover truths about Quint, her peers, and even herself that reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed… love and hate. 

Ecotourism is a topic that repeatedly comes up in this novel and is even the presentation topic of our main two characters. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) (follow the link to learn more) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” I feel like it’s important for readers to actually understand this concept as it not only enhances the reading experience (you know the backstory for a key ecological concept), but also just for general education.

The location of this book is Fortuna Beach, California (which either is a real location that I couldn’t locate on a map or is a made up town). Fortuna is a real place in northern California, but there is no way this was the same location as the wildlife (sea turtles especially) do not live that far north. Fortuna Beach is described as a small town with one Movie Theater and a tourism industry that drives the local economy. It sounds like a really fun place to visit, although I wonder what brings visitors each summer as there are millions of places with beaches. It was hard to understand why the surge of tourists shows up in the summer each year and then it’s quieter once fall sets in.

Our main character is Prudence Barnett, named after the Beatles song “Dear Prudence,” who is finishing up her sophomore year of high school as we open the story with her end of the year presentation in her marine biology class. Her partner, Quint Erickson, is still M.I.A. and she is coming to the realization that she might be on her own for this presentation. She presents their group project on “Ecotourism” and she misses every principle that defines it. Her ideas to build an eco-resort to cater to rich clients and provide them with boat tours and other activities to bring them closer to the animals were extremely off-base. She misses the first principles to minimize impact and to ensure direct financial benefits for conservation. As she’s presenting, Quint finally shows up and it becomes clear to the teacher that these two students did not work together as their conclusions do not match.

The two end up with a passing, but not a good enough grades in their class and Pru is determined to rectify this situation. The teacher finally agrees that any group may re-do their reports and turn them in at the end of summer in order to improve their grades. The only catch is that both people in the partnership must participate. Now Quint is the only one standing in her way and she must find a way to convince him to work together again.

I honestly have no idea how this girl pasted her sophomore marine biology class as she ended the school year not having retained one concept. She couldn’t tell the difference from a seal, sea lion, or otter. These animals look nothing alike and I’ve been in classes with people who didn’t care at all about sea creatures, just like her, and even they could do this very basic concept. Seals and sea lions down to their basic two differences are external ears (sea lions have them; seals don’t) and flippers (sea lions “walk” on their flippers while seals “hop”). Even after volunteering at the rescue center, Pru kept claiming to hear the seals “barking” which is something a true seal (harbor seals, in this case) cannot do. Unfortunately, I could rant on and on about how little this girl learned even though she’s an apparent good student who should’ve walked away, even from a class she didn’t have an interest in, with at least retaining some information. I admit that I became way more frustrated than I care to admit as it killed me that she falls into an opportunity many people would kill for and she takes it for granted.  

While at a karaoke night, Pru slips and hurts her head. When she comes to, she finds that she has the ability to instill karma on those that have done wrong. A rude driver ends up having car issues; her sister takes Pru’s banana and ends up with a banana-shaped stain along with many others instances. I loved this concept as who wouldn’t want those who deserve it to get what’s coming to them. You’d think the world would then be a better place with instant karma righting any wrongs that take place. It was really fun and entertaining to read Pru creating a type of justice in the world. The only problem she faces is that she can’t inflict instant karma negatively on those who don’t deserve it. When she tries multiple times on Quint, good things keep happening for him. Pru begins to wonder if she could’ve been wrong about Quint this whole time.

The journey of these two getting to know each other was adorable and fits well with teenagers forming a romantic relationship. On a side note, the teenagers in this novel made me feel old as no one I knew, including myself, ever cared about wearing lipstick non-stop or wearing Spanx, when we were 15-years-old. Quint is a very well-rounded character as he clearly cares about the rescue center that his mother created and is determined to do some good in the world. He may seem disorganized, but he has his priorities in order. In this case, it is the rescue center. He was a nice counterpart to Pru’s overachiever and organized personality. I loved that she had a binder/folder for every new idea as it was something I related to as I do the same thing.

I’ve read other reviews regarding character development of our main character, Prudence, and I disagree with the majority of reviewers who stated there was growth seen. I personally didn’t experience any for this character as she still was selfish and believed she was this all-star that could save it all (while it’s nice to dream, in reality, there will be times when you need to give up control for the common good and I didn’t feel like that control would ever be relinquished). Sure, she became open to listening to others as is expected in these types of stories, but the control was never fully given as she continued to run the show.

Overall, my opinions might be different if I was the age of the target audience, however, I’ve read this level of novel many times and this is the first time where I just could not get behind our main character and did not root for her from start to finish. I rooted for the rescue center and for the other characters, but I never warmed to her at all. Although this character wasn’t for me, I still enjoyed the overall story as the relationships (friendship, family, and romance) are all highlighted in a positive light and it shows the importance of having a support system along with open and honest communication. The conservation aspect was well-researched and I was extremely impressed with the dedication this author took to ensuring the details surrounding the rescue center were accurate. It was fantastic to read about a subject that I’m passionate about, although it did overshadow the core storyline in places. I would recommend this book to others as it is a heart-warming story with a great ecological background.

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