Randal Greene's Reviews > The Extra Key

The Extra Key by Kevin Polman
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it was amazing
bookshelves: reviewed

The book blurb pretty much tells you the plot—pretty much. What it doesn’t tell you is that this isn’t a book of fiction. This is a self-help book. It doesn’t tell you this because it isn’t actually a self-help book. It’s a work of fiction. It is, in fact, both at once.

It took me a while to get into the book because I didn’t realize exactly what this thing Kevin Polman created was at first. Eventually, I figured out that it’s a self-help book told through the medium of a novel.

I believe those who like self-help books will enjoy this. But people like me who wouldn’t normally pick up a self-help title will most certainly find this book is just right for them.

This book succeeds because (with maybe only one minor exception) the author avoids the proverbial soapbox. It doesn’t ever feel like advice is being given outside the context of the story.

The story itself is a little sweet, a little sad. I found I genuinely cared about the protagonist and felt for his woes and cheered for his victories. We see Corey’s journey through a rotating series of letters, visits with his uncle, journal entries, chats with an advice-expounding hound, artistic explorations, and social outings.

What I find intriguing is how Polman is able to dispense just enough relevant advice for about every situation without writing a book the length of War and Peace. Death of a loved one, bad bosses, toxic work environment, anxiety, depression, weight loss, emotional healing, maintaining social connections, agoraphobia, healthy grieving, addressing unwanted sexual advances—this book has it all.

Some of the advice is very specific, such as eating mustard as a natural anti-depression because of the turmeric used to color it (I actually cook with turmeric at least once a week because of its other health benefits. So, good advice, Mr. Polman). Some of the advice is more general. For example:

“Every single day, just after waking, before you do anything else, decide to do something that makes you truly happy, even if the happiness just lasts for a short while. Then, make sure that thing happens.”

Who wouldn’t want to take that kind of advice to heart?
What Polman has given us is a book that tells a true story. Fictional—certainly, but it speaks to the human condition. He doesn’t just want to entertain us, hold us in suspense, make us curious and questioning (though he does do these things). I think the fictional Corey best summed it up in his journal entry:

“I don’t see engineering as my platform for making the world around me a better place. I do see how I could do that with art, creating pieces and projects that educate and that bring peace and beauty to the world, and perhaps at some point, teaching others how to do the same.”

If this is Kevin Polman speaking through his protagonist, then his book succeeds 100%. Which is why this book is getting 5 stars. It does do exactly what it sets out to do: bring beauty and peace while educating.

Almost every human on the planet will find themselves grieving the loss of a loved one at some point, in a toxic work environment at least once in their life, in a situation or period of their life with an exceptional amount of anxiety or depression. And a good majority of us will end up struggling with our weight. While The Extra Key doesn’t promise the key to happiness (it makes no promises at all—it’s fiction) what it does do is tell a good story which has some excellent advice that you may take or leave. Though, if you read it, I think it’s safe to say, you’re going to be taking away far more than you leave.

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Reading Progress

October 19, 2016 – Started Reading
October 19, 2016 – Shelved
October 26, 2016 – Finished Reading
November 25, 2016 – Shelved as: reviewed

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