I’m not completely sure how I feel about Unlimited Calling (Certain Restrictions Apply) by Jerry Sander yet. On the one hand, I have a lot of empathy for 16-year old protagonist Amy and her trouble with peers, parents, and her weight (her dad actually calls her ‘Chumkin’ in the book, which I find adorable and horrifying at the same time). On the other hand, she’s kind of infuriating. Usually I end up siding with the teenagers in these YA coming-of-age stories, but there were quite a few times I wished I was her mother just so I could slap her around for the things that came out her mouth. No, Amy dear, you don’t get to call your step-mom a bitch (out loud, anyway) because she unplugs your computer and grounds you for flunking math. If they didn’t piss you off, they wouldn’t be your parents (still love you though, mom).
Unlimited Calling is the story of Amy’s struggle to survive in her chaotic, slightly chubby world. She’s failing math and is being forced to go to tutoring every day with her lame teacher, Mr. Deckendorf. Her parents are divorced, she feels alienated and ridiculed by her classmates and – worst of all – she has to deal with the spare tires on her hips that won’t disappear no matter how much she starves herself. Her mother is slim and beautiful and looks half her age, while her step-mother is a step aerobics instructor. Besides the fact that my mother is just as squishy as I am (sorry, mom), it’s like Sander took a page straight from my diary, and that makes me sympathize with Amy from the beginning. But my tolerance for temper tantrums is extremely low, and Amy takes home the prize for the biggest brat this year so far.
The plot was also a problem. By the end of the book, there were a lot of issues that I felt went unsolved, or which weren’t explored deeply enough. Halfway through the book, Amy begins receiving calls from a strange boy she doesn’t know. Then, on the very next page, they’re dating. This makes NO sense to me. How did Simon (the strange stalker boy) get her number? How does he even know her? Do they have classes together but Amy just never noticed him pining in silence? Even the actual event of them ‘getting together’ isn’t shown – just described after the fact. This seems like too big of a plot point to just leave dangling. Even worse, Amy’s problems with her weight – the second biggest conflict in the book – are never resolved either. After the eventful climax, she and her mother eat at a vegan restaurant and she gets seconds and then dessert. I guess this is supposed to show that she’s put her unhealthy deprivation behind her. But stuffing her face isn’t the answer either, is it?
The final blow is Amy’s relationship with her math teacher, Mr. Deckendorf, which is the major catalyst in the story. It struck me as unrealistic, lacking the depth in characterization necessary to make it work. As with the other plot elements, Sander would’ve benefited from a little more meat here. Perhaps if Amy and Mr. Deckendorf had spent more time together without her snapping at him, I could buy her being concerned about him and them becoming friends. One thing I did appreciate was the fact that Amy and her dad finally reconcile in the last pages, and her dad’s letter to her was tear inducing. In general though, Unlimited Calling (Certain Restrictions Apply) would’ve been improved by fifty or so more pages of insight.
Sydnee is a freshman at Wayne State University pursuing a degree in Journalism. Her hobbies include painting and taking long afternoon naps. She is obsessed with hunky heroes, explosions, melodrama, and magic—all things that make a frequent appearance in her stories. Her blog is http://syd-dreams.blogspot.com.