Review: Spin by Catherine McKenzie

Title Spin
Author Catherine McKenzie
Published December 29th, 2009 by HarperCollins Canada
Pages 448 Pages
Intended Target Audience Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Purchased from Chapters, Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters


Kate’s To-Do List:
1. Go to rehab
2. Befriend/spy on “It Girl”
3. Write killer expose
4. Land dream job

Piece of cake!

When Kate Sandford lands an interview at her favorite music magazine, The Line, it’s the chance of a lifetime. So Kate goes out to celebrate — and shows up still drunk to the interview the next morning. It’s no surprise that she doesn’t get the job, but her performance has convinced the editors that she’d be perfect for an undercover assignment for their gossip rag. All Kate has to do is follow “It Girl” Amber Sheppard into rehab. If she can get the inside scoop —and complete the thirty-day program— they’ll reconsider her for the position at The Line. Kate takes the assignment, but when real friendships start to develop, she has to decide if what she has to gain is worth the price she’ll have to pay.

“When I picked my jaw up off the floor, I agreed to do it.
Embarrassingly quickly.
I wish I could say the decision was a difficult one, that the thought of going to rehab undercover to dig up dirt on a young woman in the middle of self-destructing gave me pause. I wish I could say I was indignant that Bob thought I’d agree to do it, or that I could convince anyone I needed to be in rehab. But that wouldn’t be true, and the first step to recovery is admitting that I have a problem, right?”

When Kate Sandford is invited to interview for a position as a journalist at The Line, one of the foremost musical magazines after Rolling Stone, it seems as though all of her dreams have finally come true. Stuck in a state of arrested development for the past eight years, Kate has been living like a perpetual student, surrounding herself with friends ten years her junior and sponging off of them for all the necessities she can ill afford. With a new job on the horizon, however, all that promises to change. That is, until one too many celebratory drinks on the eve of her thirtieth birthday and her interview at The Line threaten to derail everything she has dreamt about ever since she was a child. After arriving at the interview hungover and ill-prepared, Kate can all but kiss the position goodbye. All seems to be lost until she receives a fateful phone call from the magazine she never expected to hear from again. Given an opportunity to redeem herself, Kate is offered a test assignment to determine whether or not she’s suitable for a permanent position. Tasked with going undercover at Cloudspin Oasis, a private, upscale rehabilitation facility, Kate must get the scoop on Amber Sheppard, a young celebrity known as “The Girl Next Door” who has recently checked in for a thirty day stay, all while pretending to be a recovering addict herself. Forced to relinquish her privacy and her identity as she knows it, fact and fiction will collide as Kate attempts to get her story, all while struggling to retain her own sanity and sense of self. As she begins to befriend her fellow patients and discovers startling, unexpected truths about herself, however, priorities and allegiances will shift and lines will blur as Kate is forced to decide what she is willing to sacrifice in order to achieve what she has always wanted most.

Does it take more alcohol to get drunk now than when you started drinking?
Yes. Of course it does. It’s called ‘tolerance’, and it takes a while to build one up. And once you have it, you have to maintain it. It’s a survival tool, really. How else do you make it past midnight at a university party?”

In my relatively short time book blogging, I’ve found that reviewing is a learning process. One of the things I’ve learnt recently is that, much to my surprise, some of the most difficult reviews to write are not for those books that I’ve felt most strongly about and either loved or hated, but rather those that have left me with rather tepid feelings. Catherine McKenzie’s Spin is one such novel. While not particularly mind-blowing or exceptional in any way, Spin is a good, solid, entertaining read that will certainly appeal to a certain type of reader. A thoroughly modern, eclectic combination of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous and James Mangold’s Girl, Interrupted, McKenzie’s debut novel is a fascinating combination of drama, humour and romance that, while I wouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to shout its praises from a rooftop, would be a novel I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to a friend looking for an intelligent, reliable read with which to while away a few hours.

“This is where it really starts, Katie. And you only get what you put in.”
Funny, that’s the same thing my trainer said when I decided to try getting into shape a few years ago. The gym membership was Rory’s Christmas present to me, and I’d been really determined. That is, until I was put through a rigorous series of crunches and lunges by a man who’d just gotten out of the Corps.
“You only get out what you put in, Katie,” he said as I was trying to do my first pull-up since the fifth grade. “Are you ready to give it your all?”
“Yes,” I managed to squeak.
“What? I can’t hear you!”

“Yes,” I yelled as I hung inches off the ground, unable to lift myself any further. My body hurt for three days, and I never went back.”

Thirty-year-old Kate Sandford is a fascinating protagonist. A struggling writer in desperate need of direction, she’s an endearingly flawed character whose emotional maturation seems to have stagnated in her late teens. Cynical and sardonic without being unapproachable or unlikeable and with a staggering lack of self-awareness, Kate is a character who many will be able to relate to, whether they like it or not. Like many graduates with a liberal arts degree, she’s struggling to find full-time employment in her field of interest, but lacks the motivation and responsibility to pursue this in any sort of real or constructive manner. Choosing instead to pose as a doctoral student in her mid-twenties, Kate surrounds herself with people who know little about her and cocoons herself in alcohol-fueled denial and the occasional anonymous sexual encounter. Like many of us, Kate is often her own worst enemy, but lacks the insight to understand why she seems to stand in her own way much of the time when it comes to self improvement.

“Anyway…Did I decide to never finish what I start? Or was I just letting myself get easily distracted, allowing myself to fail? And has that really been my problem all along? Not making decisions? Letting life act on me instead of acting on it?
My head is spinning out questions, but I don’t have any answers. I feel like they’re floating in front of me, but they haven’t taken shape. And instead of making progress, I’m in suspended animation, waiting, hoping, for something to happen, but unable to make it so.”

If I had one complaint about Kate’s character, and it’s a relatively minor one, it would be regarding her propensity to fade into the background in comparison to some of the more interesting and colourful secondary characters. Because she spends the majority of the novel observing and reporting on the behaviour of others, Kate is immediately cast in the role of a relatively passive character. This, coupled with the fact that she’s surrounded by a plethora of nuanced characters with varied, interesting backstories means that I often found myself wishing that more attention could be devoted to them as opposed to Kate, who at times bordered on a little bland. Whether it was Mary, the method writer, Candice, the aging child star, Saundra, the canine-consumed counselor, or even Amber, “The Girl Next Door” herself, there were moments when I caught myself wondering more about the minor characters and less about Kate. I could also have done without the inner monologue portions of the novel in which Kate argues rather extensively with herself. These could drag on for an entire page, and were the one time I found myself skimming portions of Spin. They were cumbersome, dull, and added little, if anything, to the overall narrative. They also bordered on patently ridiculous, particularly when another character points out that she had to tendency to do this aloud while others are present. Let’s just say that it’s a good thing she’s already in therapy.

“So, I know what messy is, and it isn’t love. No, love is supposed to be simple. It’s supposed to be about brushing raindrops off eyelashes, and looks across a crowded room. It’s supposed to be about watching a shooting star, or the way a leaf falls and floats to the ground.
It’s supposed to be about apple peels.”

The romance, which I hesitate to discuss at length for fear of spoilers, was absolutely wonderful. The synopsis makes no mention of a romance between Kate and another character, and as such was a pleasant surprise to discover along the way. Suffice it to say that I thought it was a welcome addition to the novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching Kate’s relationship slowly develop with this character. I thought they were well-suited to one another and it was interesting to note how the context in which they met, inside a rehabilitation facility, effected their courtship and the manner in which their relationship developed. It was a gentle, under-stated romance that evolved slowly over time, and it was a pleasure to watch these two characters interact – In fact, it soon became a highlight of the novel for me! While some might argue that the conclusion of relationship was perhaps a little contrived and predictable, I didn’t mind it in the slightest, and was simply thankful these two characters were allowed their chance at a happy ending.

“Christ, I want a drink. Just one little drink to quiet the noise in my head. And I know it’s pathetic, to be thinking about, to be missing, drinking when I’ve just written out a list of the worst things about myself, a list that’s supposed to be on my road to not drinking. But the more I tell myself that, the more I want a drink.

Written in a casual, conversational style that makes this a fast-paced, accessible read, Spin is told from the first-person perspective of the protagonist, Kate Sandford. Perhaps what was most surprising about this novel was the unexpected amount of insight it provides. Marketed largely as little more than “Women’s Fiction” or “Chick Lit”, a monicker that doesn’t garner much respect in literary circles, Spin impressed me as it delved more deeply into Kate’s insecurities and neuroses as the novel progressed. Her inability to commit to anything, her reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism and the effect it has on her life soon became the focus of Kate’s mandatory therapy sessions in the rehabilitation process and offered fascinating insight into her character. I have absolutely no doubt that there will be many readers who will be able to intimately identify with Kate’s struggle to find a sense of purpose in the world, and that the conclusions McKenzie draws about the nature of life and addiction will prove for many to be as insightful and thought-provoking as I found them. Another aspect of the novel I particularly liked was the extensive and creative playlist that McKenzie included at the conclusion of the story. I’ve always found it fascinating to know what, if any, songs inspired an author as they were writing, and it was nice to be provided with an all-inclusive list of the twenty-eight songs that were mentioned over the course of the novel and that obviously played an important part in both Kate, and Catherine’s, journey.

“I wish this choice didn’t feel so elemental, like standing on a precipice. Write the story. Don’t write the story. Get everything you’ve always wanted, but lose everything you already have. Lose everything you’ve always wanted and be left with…nothing, it still seems like nothing.
I am nothing, I am nothing, I. Am. Nothing.
If I say it enough times, I can make it come true.”

For whatever reason, I find I’m rarely able to find novels written by Canadian authors that interest me, which made me all the more excited and grateful when I discovered this debut novel penned by the Montreal-born and bred author, Catherine McKenzie. Spin is a thoughtful, timely, intelligent examination of the nature of addiction and celebrity in an age where both are relevant issues we’re faced with on a regular basis. Even though I might not remember the intricacies of this novel a year from now, Spin provided me with precisely what I was searching for in the moment: A simple, relatively uncomplicated, entertaining read with a clever mixture of drama and comedy that I was able to finish in a matter of hours. While it wasn’t necessarily one of the best or most memorable of the novels I’ve read thus far this year, I will not hesitate to pick up another of Catherine McKenzie’s novels in the future, and am particularly looking forward to her 2011 publication, Arranged, which sounds equally delightful and engaging.

Overall Rating

Around The Web

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Michelle @ That’s What She Read wrote “In a society which glorifies alcohol, partying, and celebrity watching, Spin forces the reader to pause and reconsider these popular pastimes and the damage they are causing. It is a powerful message wrapped up in an easy-to-swallow, enjoyable package.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Lydia @ Novel Escapes wrote “Catherine McKenzie’s engaging debut novel has proven that she’s one to watch. Her voice is fresh, new and compelling. Spin is a witty, fun, laugh out loud novel, yet had a grittier subject matter and I absolutely could not put it down.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Darlene @ Peeking Between The Pages wrote “Spin by Catherine McKenzie is a fresh and fun, yet serious debut novel from this author! For me it was a perfect escape to another world with characters I loved and a storyline that grabbed me from the beginning to the end.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

8 Responses

    1. Thank you, Hafsah 🙂 As you mentioned, I think the beauty of Spin is that it would appeal to a wide variety of readers. While it’s classified as adult fiction, I have absolutely no trouble believing that those who read predominantly young adult fiction would like it as well!

      As I mentioned in my review, while it wasn’t a life-changing novel, Spin was a thoroughly enjoyable, good, solid story. I know that many people consider three stars a ‘bad’ review, but it takes quite a bit to inspire me to give a novel four or five stars and I think three is a perfectly respectable rating. I’m glad I read Spin and have high hopes for McKenzie’s other novels 😀 If you ever have the opportunity to read it, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it!
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Review: Spin by Catherine McKenzieMy Profile

  1. So, I’ll be honest. If I had just read this book’s synopsis, where it has no mention of a romance, I probably would have passed on it. I need SOME sort of romance in the contemporaries I read. But since you mentioned it does have it – now I am taking an interest in it. I wonder why they wrote the summary without it? Is it just minor? Very interesting.

    I know you recently mentioned on my blog to never reading anything by Tiffanie DeBartolo, but I think you’d enjoy How to Kill a Rock Star. The MC is a music journalist (sort of same lines here). Anyway.. the whole thing is fab, but I think you’d particularly like THAT story.
    Ginger @ GReads! recently posted…God-Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartoloMy Profile

    1. I honestly have no idea why the synopsis makes no mention of the romance as I thought it was a very important part of the novel, particularly in the latter half 🙁 I wouldn’t classify it as a minor part of the story, although it was quite subtly handled and certainly could be classified as a ‘slow-burn’ romance. Either way, I really enjoyed it, and it was easily one of my favourite aspects of Spin. While I don’t necessarily require a romantic subplot in the contemporary novels I read, it’s definitely a guarantee that I’ll enjoy them more if they do include one! 😉

      I’ve added both of How To Kill A Rock Star and God-Shaped Hole to my Goodreads’ ‘to-read’ shelf and I can’t wait to read them! It looks as though I’ll have to order them online as I already checked on their availability in the local bookstores and they don’t seem to be in stock anywhere. I don’t know which I’m looking forward to reading more as they both sound absolutely wonderful, and I’m so thankful you introduced me to DeBartolo’s work as I had never heard of her before!
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Review: Spin by Catherine McKenzieMy Profile

  2. I haven’t read anything by this author before, but I have checked out her book ARRANGED from the library. I never got a chance to read it before it was due back, and I haven’t checked it out again. I think the summary of Arranged probably appeals to me a little more, but I’m still happy to hear you liked this book because I feel more inclined to try her books. I’ll have to keep my eye out for her books at the library again!
    Hannah @ So Obsessed With recently posted…Read. Review. Rate?My Profile

    1. I’ll be looking forward to reading your thoughts on Arranged, Hannah, should you ever get the opportunity to read it 😀 It’s next on my list of Catherine McKenzie’s novels to read and given that I enjoyed Spin I have relatively high hopes for it. I know Jamie enjoyed it too, which makes me all the more excited to read it!
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Do! Judge A Book By Its Cover – Issue Nine: FantasyMy Profile

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!