After her father dies of pancreatic cancer, Julie Jacobsen's Long Island mother sends her––on scholarship––to Spirit In the Woods, a summer camp mostly populated by the artsy teen spawn of privileged Manhattanites. Julie is surprised to be adopted into a circle of kids above her sophistication level, appreciated for her acerbic wit and christened "Jules" by them.
In the self-styled "Interestings" group are sister and brother Ash and Goodman Wolf; son of a Joan Baez-ish folkie, Jonah Bay; and fellow scholarship camper and aspiring cartoonist, Ethan Figman. Ash, warm-hearted, beautiful and earnestly feminist, will become Jules's best friend. Ethan is awkward and goofy, but warmhearted and hugely talented.
All of the Interestings have ambitions; Jules expresses it as wanting to have a "big life." We follow the group from their teenage days, during the Watergate era, through to their middle age, and see what happens as they grow into their adult lives, some of which are far bigger than others––at least if you're measuring by name recognition and money. As the old saying goes, though, life is what happens while you're making other plans, and we see that play out in this story.
Anchored in its time and place, the tale spans the bad old days when Manhattan was filthy and crime-ridden, the beginning of the AIDS era, the Moonies, foodies, the rise (and fall) of the yuppie and the investment banker and 9/11. All the personal landmarks are the real story, though: career achievements and disappointments, marriage, children, friendship, loss, illness, death. Biggest of all, the slow growth of the idea that happiness, or at least satisfaction, can be found in a life that isn't so big or interesting.
Though I enjoyed the book, I found Jules the least compelling character, which is unfortunate, since she's the chief focus. I just never felt I understood her character well, and I was constantly surprised at her choices.
I also would strongly recommend against the audiobook. Jen Tullock was not a good narrator. Her voice was nasal and she often delivered character voices were in an inappropriately whiny and singsong-y style. It was grating and detracted a lot from my enjoyment of the story. During the middle of the book, there was a long period when it sounded like she had a lozenge or gum in her mouth. This was distracting and annoying.