Allison's Book Bag

How to Lose Everything by Philipp Mattheis

Posted on: January 9, 2015

After I finished reading How to Lose Everything by Phillip Mattheis, my husband and I had a long discussion about this mostly true story. Our chat revolved around two questions: Does a book need an uplifting moral or theme to have merit? When is the entertainment value of a book sufficient on its own?

There’s a line in an old song by Cyndi Lauper that says, “Money changes everything.” This pretty much describes the theme of How to Lose Everything. The summer of 1994, four teenage boys find a fortune inside an abandoned house. Initially, they feel such thrill about their find that they keep wanting to feel the money. Because this money isn’t rightfully theirs but belongs to whoever owned the house, the boys don’t feel comfortable telling their parents about the money. Or maybe the boys would have kept their discovery secret anyway, because therein they remained in control of the money. In any event, they also start out feeling content enough to spend the money on incidentals like candy, smokes, pizza, and drugs.

But money changes everything. After a time, the boys become protective of their find. They don’t feel that anyone else would know how to handle the money or even deserves it. They also become less content with what they have. The latter leads to three negative decisions. First, they start buying bigger stuff like fancy clothes and gifts, which begins to draw attention from gangs. Second, they eventually return to the house and damage property to find more cash. When a long search finally shows up more cash, they argue about who should have the money. Third, and this is what I found most interesting, they began to lose the thrill of buying stuff. Now that everything was within their reach, it actually became more exciting to see how much they could steal instead of properly purchase.

The back flap of How to Lose Everything contains this description: “Eighteen years later, Jonathan returns to that life-changing summer to tally up the cost of that discovery, exploring how broken dreams can lead to a new sense of purpose.” If the memoir had lived up to this summary, I think I might have felt more satisfied. As it is, the four friends don’t seem to dramatically change. They start out feeling bored with life. Money initially adds excitement to their life. But in the end, they seem as apathetic as ever, except now they are facing the repercussions of their descent into drugs, parties, sex. To say more would result in spoilers, but without the counterbalance of reflection, the book for me came close to feeling like another raunchy teen movie.

Having decided that for me How to Lose Everything didn’t have a strong enough message, I began to ponder instead its entertainment value. Obviously, it’s unusual for anyone to stumble across a fortune. Therein lies one potential intrigue. Just as big of one for me are the notes that Jonathan finds in envelopes along with money. The notes talk about threats, dangers, and fear. His friends seem dismissive of them, not wanting to investigate any source which might lead back to the owners. But Jonathan is curious and even worried. Each time any of them return to the house, he takes more notes and tries to decipher them. This creates a sense of mystery.

Because of its unique plot lines, How to Lose Everything makes for an interesting one-time read memoir. Despite the fact that I know that drugs and sex can be a huge part of teen life, I also felt however that Mattheis remained too casual about all of his bad choices for me to want to read it again.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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