Book Review: Findependence Day

by Mr. Cheap

The Canadian financial press has been very kind to Four Pillars, so I was excited when Power Publishers offered us a review copy of Jonathan Chevreau’s new book “Findependence Day”.

Most Canadians interested in personal finance already know Jonathan Chevreau from his column in the Financial Post.  While Mr. Chevreau has written previous books on finances, with this one his goal was to present information in “classic fiction structure”.  By this, he means that it is first and foremost a story.  As he mentions in his interview with himself, and a number of the review blurbs on the book, he seems to be trying to create his own version of “The Wealthy Barber”.

Unfortunately, while “The Wealthy Barber” successfully used characters and a narrative to reinforce the financial concepts being presented, in this book the financial concepts and the story seemed to struggle against each other, with neither being particularly successful.

The story takes a predictable path from a young couple appearing on a “debt reduction” style TV show along their way to eventual financial independence.  The man, Jamie, gets talking to the financial planner that appears on the show with him and sets a “Findependence day” for himself:  A point in time where he’ll have enough money that he will no longer need to work unless he wants to.  The term “Findependence Day” is used throughout the book with a desperation to coin a new term that reminded me of Gretchen trying to introduce the new slang term “fetch” in the movie “Mean Girls”.

Gretchen: That is so fetch!
Regina: Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen! It’s not going to happen!

In terms of a story, the characters are flat and undergo very little development.  Jonathan Chevreau feels that you need to exaggerate human traits to make characters come alive, but his characters ended up coming across as caricatures.  The dramatic tension he tries to create doesn’t work.

Often conversations between the characters would jump between financial topics and plot development.  Rather than clarifying the ideas being presented, which “The Wealthy Barber” successfully did, these two directions undermined each other.

Similarly, he tried to offer both information for Canadians and for Americans (one of his fictional couple is a Canadian, the other is American).  Again, by trying to go too broad, he ends up not covering either topic well.

For some reason he felt vinyl music and classic rock were very important themes in this work, going so far as to title each chapter after a classic rock song.  I can’t even guess how this is supposed to relate to the work as a whole.

When I started reading this book I first thought it would be interesting for someone who was interested in learning about personal finance.  I figured the structure might help them get through the boring bits on finances and sneak a few of the core concepts into their head.  Instead, I think it would be tough for a novice investor to dig out these ideas.  In the end I felt that I was able to understand what he was getting at because I’d been previously exposed to the ideas presented, but for a rookie trying to get a handle on their finances, I think this book would a poor choice.

Later I thought maybe it would be interesting for people with a good understanding of finance to have a narrative incorporating some familiar ideas, but as mentioned previously the story wasn’t particularly interesting or well executed.

As much as I wanted to enjoy and recommend this book, in the end I really can’t think of anyone who would enjoy it or learn from it, so instead I’d just recommend giving it a pass.  Here are some suggestions for best personal finance books.

Preet was optimistic about this book when he posted about it, the Canadian Capitalist also reviewed it and the reviews on Chapter’s website have been glowing.  An exerpt can be read here.  We will be giving away our copy of this book at some point if someone wants to read it in spite of my review (hey, who are you going to trust, the reviewers at Chapter’s or me?).

[add]After this went live, I came across another review at “Blessed by the Potato” which was fairly balanced (and the author himself commented).[add]

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

This post is so fetch! Lol.

Funny thing about the various “glowing” reviews on the Chapters page is that they are all by reviewers who have only reviewed this book. An odd coincidence I thinks…. 🙂

2 guinness416

I wonder if the best approach with this type of book is to get someone who’s a really damn good fiction writer together with someone who’s a good money writer. Like a lot of people I have a fair bit of affection for Wealthy Barber a lot (despite some of the “haha feminists!” one liners) so it’s hard to top it.

3 nobleea

I can’t believe you watched Mean Girls.

4 WhereDoesAllMyMoneyGo.com

I can’t believe you watched Mean Girls *and remembered the script!*.

Clearly you love Tina Fey… 😛

5 Jonathan Chevreau

Appreciate your taking the time to read the book and publish your impressions, even if they are disappointing from my perspective. If you look at the video interview I did with David Chilton — who thought the book was “excellent” — you’ll see a part where we talked about the tradeoffs of fiction vs. financial dumps. The more of one is at the expense of less of the other and it’s a difficult tradeoff that inevitably means you can’t please everyone. Evidently you’re in that category but thanks again for taking the time to look at it.

6 Potato

The law of internet invocation strikes again!

Thanks for the link 🙂

7 Marianne O

Your review is bang-on. Yes, there is some solid financial info in the book, but it’s buried in a morass of poor characterization and dialogue that’s just stupefyingly dull. I enjoy reading Jon’s columns, but a novel seems to be beyond him.

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