The Assistants by Camille Perri

In brief: Tina works for one of the richest men in the world. So when she accidentally receives a cheque that will clear her university debt, she takes it. Now she can eat – but now others want in on her scheme.

The good: The last third was great – punchy, fun and energetic.

The not-so-good: Got a bit boring in the middle as Tina and Emily do the same thing over and over and Tina repeats her guilt a thousand times.

Why I chose it: Read about it and thought it looked interesting.

Year: 2016

Pages: 281

Publisher: Transworld (Penguin Random House)

Setting: New York City

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

The premise of The Assistants has intrigued me since I first heard about it – assistants to powerful boss types stick it to the patriarchy to help struggling young people find financial security. A Robin Hood tale for the new millennium perhaps? Unfortunately the book doesn’t quite live up to the promise of this great plot line – the main character is quite dull and the plot flatlines before coming to life in the final third of the book.

Tina is the main character who tells us her tale in retrospect from the first person. From the very first chapter, we know that something big has happened and the world is talking about it. Then we go back to how it all happened without any reflective moments. Tina’s an assistant to a powerful Rupert Murdoch type, Robert. Her main role is to do what he wants, stat. One day his credit card doesn’t work, so Tina pays personally for the flight. Robert gets a refund, but Tina bags the reimbursement. What’s peanuts to Robert is enough to pay off her student loan. After a lot of ‘will I/won’t I’, Tina cashes the cheque and is debt free.

But she’s caught by one of the other assistants, Emily. Emily decides not to dob in Tina if she will help pay off Emily’s student loan. More guilt from Tina, but she does it. And then Emily’s boss wants in. And another. And another. The only point of difference is IT expert Wendi, who doesn’t want a piece of the pie, but to stick it to rich. So the whole thing gets more technical to the point where the group officially launch their scheme as a non-profit.

This is the point where it got interesting for me as there was less of Tina’s repeated guilt and the stakes were much, much higher. Several of the assistants also came into their own from being rather similar and plain to more fleshed out. Emily became more of a money chasing brat and showed that underneath it all, there might be a real person underneath.

While the degree of debt of student loans is huge and an issue facing many people, I felt many of the characters were whinging and undeserving of their debt being cleared. Don’t like your job? Get another one or an additional one. Yet despite being in crippling debt, there’s always money for alcohol and a good time. I felt many of these characters needed to suck it up and grow up! I think that this book will date terribly because of the continual pop culture references.

The writing is good and the plot idea is fresh, but I felt the characters needed a more to make me feel something for them. It’s a very light, quick read but unfortunately not quite enough substance for me.

One thought on “The Assistants by Camille Perri

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  1. I tend to agree with your comment that despite many students having a large HECS ( University) debt, they still manage to find large amounts of money for alcohol etc.

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