“The New Me” by Halle Butler. Penguin Books, 2019. 208 pages.
Countless think pieces have been devoted to the “millennial,” the generation born roughly between 1981-1996. These articles are often written by those from earlier generations, and have not always portrayed the millennial in the most positive light. “The New Me” by Halle Butler offers a biting satire from a member of the millennial generation.
The protagonist, Millie, is 30 years old, and working as a temporary receptionist for Lisa Hopper, a designer furniture warehouse. She puts forth a minimum effort into her job, spending most of her day on random internet searches, and failed attempts to bond with her coworkers. The only person she could call a friend is Sarah, even though their friendship seems to be built primarily on convenience and not on any sort of true bond, as Millie does not seem interested in much that Sarah has to say. Millie spends most of her time drinking, watching Forensic Files, and making plans for self-improvement that never quite materialize.
“The New Me” is not for readers who want a story with much of a plot. It is almost entirely told in Millie’s first person perspective, with a few chapters told from the perspective of her coworkers. Many readers might think that Millie is unlikable and self-pitying, as she is clearly unhappy in her life, but does little to change things. At one point, feeling optimistic about a job offer that she has convinced herself exists, Millie says “This could be my life if I let it. I could make all kinds of plans are really take care of myself. I could apologize to my mom, let her know I’ve been depressed since I lost my boyfriend and my job and all my fake friends during a time when I probably should have been medicated (but not blaming her or anything), but that I’m trying to work on it.”
What makes “The New Me” a relatable read is Millie’s keen self-awareness. She knows what she needs to do in order to have the life she wants, but for whatever reason- lack of motivation, depression, low self-esteem, or general self-loathing, every effort she makes to have the life she wants is met with fits and starts. Millie’s journey to self-improvement is likely to feel familiar to anyone who has failed a new year’s resolution year after year. It feels comforting to read a narrative where the main character does not suddenly gather all the motivation they have lacked for years, and magically ends the story with a perfect life. The ambiguous last chapter leaves readers with some hope for Millie, and perhaps by extension, themselves. While this is not a book for everyone, those who can relate to Millie’s story will feel understood, and perhaps, a little more motivated to change.
Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.