Jessica Simpson's new memoir "Open Book" is a very candid and real reflection on a very public life, and it did not disappoint. "Open Book" was released on February 3, 2020, and I dove right in. Below is a very detailed review of "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson with discussion questions for your book club and fun lifestyle pairings for the book.
This is one book that has everyone talking! I had so many thoughts that I had to share a full blog post, but I can assure you, there is so much more to this book, and I highly recommend you read it for yourself. This is only the second time to date I created a full post on one particular book, if that's any indication as to how much of a book hangover I have from this book.
Confession: I was a 90s teen obsessed with all things pop music and celebrities. And as someone just slightly younger than Jessica Simpson, I gushed at her beauty and talent, as well as her fairy tale romance with Nick Lachey. They seemed like the most perfect and charming couple in America and I followed along with their tv journey as "Newlyweds" only wishing I could one day have a wedding as magical.
Back in this time, I had to VHS record all of their tv specials to watch back and then try to mimic too many of Jessica's outfits and makeup. One of my closest friends and I even named each other "Nick Lachey" and "Jessica Simpson" on our cell phones. (This made for an awkward moment when someone saw him calling me and said, "Umm, I think Nick Lachey is calling you?!")
When Jessica and Nick divorced, it was clear there was more to their story, but even if I knew the full story, I would have been too immature myself to understand it.
Jessica Simpson's new memoir "Open Book" allowed me to look back at Jessica's life with perspective. In anticipation of its release, I went back and re-watched Newlyweds and saw it completely differently than I had the first time around.
Instead of looking at Jessica as the silly, ditzy wife and Nick as the dutiful, serious husband, I saw Jessica as incredibly young, inexperienced and naive, and Nick as impatient, angry and someone who didn't necessarily see his marriage as an equal partnership.
I got the impression they saw each other with idealism, as the surface-level embodiment of everything they had always envisioned in a spouse. But on deeper levels, they lacked matching personalities to make them compatible life partners. I've known couples like this personally. It never ended well, but they were always happier when the relationship was over. Looking back, it was clear this marriage would fail.
In "Open Book" Jessica Simpson dives deep into her marriage and divorce to Nick Lachey, as well as so many other bombshells and topics. And she delivers. While there were times I did feel she held back, it was often when discussing a person other than herself, so I get that. She was also very self-reflective and not afraid to talk about herself.
I was hoping to walk away with a sense of growth in Jessica, and I got that, which makes me happy for her. She comes across as real, genuine, big-hearted and down to earth. In reading the book, she asks you to be a friend as you read along, and I definitely felt that sentiment. Below is my review of "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson with discussion questions and more.
Review of Open Book by Jessica Simpson
Below are nine major takeaways from "Open Book". I tried to give you the main points and thoughtful analysis while still leaving a lot to be learned if and when you read the book yourself.
Jessica was sexually abused as a child, and this greatly impacted her personality and life.
The biggest bombshell in "Open Book" is probably that Jessica experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a family friend from ages 6-12. I heard this before reading the book and was definitely shocked. I recalled how she branded herself as a virgin in her premarital years and wondered how this abuse played a role in her life.
In the memoir, she gives more details about how her parents dealt with her revelation of the abuse, the shame she felt as a Christian, how she sought closure, and how this experience shaped her personality in ways that often had negative effects on her life. For example, she developed a need to be near people physically and afraid to be alone.
Jessica experienced tremendous bullying and tragedy in her teenage years.
While it's not uncommon for celebrities to say they were bullied as children, I was shocked to hear how truly terribly Jessica was bullied in high school, in some of the most extreme ways that would cause any teenager to crumble. What's even worse is that this bullying sprang from her opening up about her sexual assault.
Another event that shaped Jessica's teenage years was the death of her teenage cousin and best friend, Sarah. Sarah's life and death had a positive impact on Jessica's life thereafter, beginning with Jessica's decision to become a lifelong journal writer. Sarah plays a major role in "Open Book."
Jessica's marriage to Nick Lachey and appearance on "Newlyweds" was not a fairy tale.
As you likely guessed, Jessica's marriage to Nick Lachey was not the fairy tale it seemed to be, and being on "Newlyweds" forced them into playing roles that caused a decline in their marriage. A review of "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson would not be complete without a lot of discussion on this topic!
When Jessica started experiencing great success from the show and Nick's career remained stagnant, he became angry and resentful, some of which we saw on the show. I was able to recognize this myself, watching "Newlyweds" back in the present.
It seemed that Nick liked being the smarter and more successful older man to Jessica, the innocent newcomer and that he had a hard time accepting her coming into her own. They were also both quite young and incapable of handling both marriage and fame.
One thing that surprised me was that they were barely even speaking for the final episodes of "Newlyweds" and the crew was scrambling to get footage of them even in the same room.
Jessica dives deep on the divorce in "Open Book" and there's a lot for the reader to learn about how it all went down. Jessica puts Nick on blast a bit for behaviors she deems hypocritical and not genuine. Of course, this is just one side of the story, but she definitely shares a lot of private information on this topic, and you really feel like you are walking day by day through the divorce with her.
Jessica is a smart businesswoman.
Jessica knows what works for her. She may be ditzy, but she's not dumb. She knows where her sweet spot is, and she isn't afraid to be the girl who speaks before she thinks.
At the same time, she repeatedly discusses the classics: Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Romeo & Juliet, the works of Lord Byron in "Open Book." Gasp!
And she is really proud of how successful her clothing line has been, thanks in part to her commitment to making it accessible and real for regular women.
Jessica has very pervasive body image and anxiety issues.
Body image and anxiety issues are a theme throughout "Open Book." It all started when Jessica was told by her record label, when she was already a very thin teenager, to lose fifteen more pounds.
The whole "mom jeans" shaming she experienced years later, when again, she was very thin (she tells you exactly what she weighed and the size she was wearing), also affected her body image greatly.
It seemed she has always struggled with accepting her body as it is, including after childbirth, but I'll let that story speak for itself for the reader. It was kind of surprising what lengths she went to in order to get her pre-baby body back.
Jessica also repeatedly discusses anxiety. She doesn't really coin it as "anxiety" per se, but she paints a picture of herself as an extremely fearful and nervous person, always waiting to mess something up or have people judge her harshly.
In all honestly, I got the impression both of these issues were exaggerated by the fact that her parents were involved in her management and businesses. It seemed the lines often became blurred between business advice and personal advice to an impressionable young woman.
Some of the other men in Jessica's life were Johnny Knoxville, John Mayer & Tony Romo.
Another major bombshell in "Open Book" is that Jessica admits to having an emotional relationship with Johnny Knoxville while married to Nick Lachey. She shares details of their conversations and emails, some exchanged in the presence of an unknowing Nick, and how she was feeling at the time.
John Mayer was then the ultimate bad boy in her life after her life, continually coming in and out of her life and manipulating her into not letting go of him. Those stories also speak for themselves in the book, and they do not paint a pleasant picture of John Mayer.
Lastly, she discusses her relationship with Tony Romo. While I learned some interesting details about their relationship, I was surprised she considered marrying him, as it didn't seem there was anything about their relationship that was particularly "meant to be."
She references "other" guys she dated in Hollywood, but they remain unnamed and so, we will just have to keep guessing.
Jessica has had her share of family drama.
I love books that contain family drama, and Jessica had a very hard time handling her parents' divorce and, even though she dealt with it as an adult, the way she speaks about it in "Open Book" makes it seem it affected her more deeply, in a way you may expect it to affect a child or teen.
This issue was also complicated by the fact that her father seemed to always incite family drama at a challenging or very eventful time in her life. For one example, her father was trying to convince her to call off her wedding to Nick Lachey even as he was walking her down the aisle. But, it's clear she loves her parents deeply, so I don't mean to disparage her parents in any way in writing this review.
There has also been speculation as to her father's sexuality in the press for several years, and she touches on that issue very vaguely, without giving a definitive answer.
Jessica battled alcohol and pill addiction issues.
Jessica's battle with alcohol and pill addictions has been talked about greatly in the press for "Open Book" and she is very candid with her struggles. They started as a teen when she was told to lose weight by her record label and began taking diet pills.
Later in life, alcohol and anti-anxiety medication became a coping mechanism for her in all kinds of situations, particularly when she was nervous, emotional or scrutinized in the media.
I'm so happy that she is now in recovery and being present for herself and her family, and that she finally sought therapy to deal with the many issues she has faced, including young stardom and sexual abuse.
Jessica is at peace with Eric Johnson and the family they created.
I'm happy to end my review of "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson by talking about her current marriage and children. I didn't know much about Jessica's husband, Eric Johnson, before I read "Open Book," and I was really hoping to feel that he was truly "the one." I definitely got that feeling.
Jessica speaks about him with a peaceful tone that is different than any of the other relationships she discusses. The relationship also seems more real and mature, without any game playing or passive-aggressiveness. She seems thrilled to be a mother and share her children with Eric, especially since an earlier surgery made it difficult for her to get pregnant.
Audio Book Review of Open Book by Jessica Simpson
In my review of "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson I must add that I listened to the audiobook version, and it was fantastic. You can feel Jessica's emotions, and hear her tears as she reads her words.
The audiobook also contains six new songs, which I really enjoyed! I listened to them several times, and I especially loved the song "Your Fool" which she sang with her dear friend Willie Nelson.
Discussion Questions for Open Book by Jessica Simpson
I wrote some really deep and analytical discussion questions below for your book clubs. Many require you to judge a real person's actions. However, please know that they are meant to foster discussion that makes us all better people, and they are not meant to be discussed in the presence of the real people mentioned in "Open Book," nor are they meant to attack anyone's character. These questions are simply meant to get you thinking about the major life issues discussed in the book:
How did you view Jessica the same and/or different than you did before reading "Open Book"?
A recurring theme is Jessica's fears. She states, "fear can walk us to something better." Do you agree?
In one of her new songs in the audiobook, Jessica sings, "You grow fast when you're a mother, you stand strong when you're a wife." Do you agree?
Could you ever write a memoir that is truly an "open book"?
Were there any times when you felt Jessica wasn't being an "open book" in the memoir?
Do you believe Jessica was fair in how she discussed her own mistakes and weaknesses or did you believe she could have been more self-critical?
What revelations shocked you the most?
How, if at all, do you think Jessica's sexual abuse impacted her life thereafter?
What is your take on how Jessica and her family dealt with her sexual abuse? What can we take away from their experiences?
Have you read any of the classic books Jessica mentioned and, if so, have they had any effect on your own life?
Have you had a mentor or friendship with someone the way Jessica had with Willie Nelson? What do you think Jessica gets from this friendship?
In reading the book, did you see growth in Jessica since her "Newlyweds" days?
What do you believe has contributed to the enormous success of Jessica's lifestyle line versus her singing career, in which she admittedly had ups and downs?
How do you think the people Jessica discusses in the book will react to her stories about them? How do you think her cousin Sarah would have reacted?
Do you believe Jessica's marriage to Nick would have survived if not for "Newlyweds"?
How is bullying the same or different now than when Jessica experienced it? How can we prevent it?
Do you believe Jessica is now in a place where she accepts her body?
Do you believe Jessica was emotionally unfaithful to Nick or do you empathize with her friendship with Johnny Knoxville?
Have you ever experienced a relationship with a bad boy or a man who plays cat and mouse the way John Mayer did with Jessica?
It seemed that pills and alcohol were coping mechanisms for Jessica. What do you think caused her addictions? Do you recommend any healthy alternative coping mechanisms?
How do you think Jessica's life may have been different, for better or worse, if her parents were not involved in the business side of her life?
Faith is a major theme in the book. In what ways did Jessica's faith shape her worldview and her life?
Did you find Jessica's relationship with her husband Eric to be different than her other relationships? What, do you believe, has made this relationship successful?
Based on what you read about Jessica's past, what do you see in her future?
For more book club questions:
Pairings for "Open Book"
For more like Open Book:
- Re-watch Newlyweds. It's truly eye-opening to look back on it with perspective, and you will see it differently than you did when it first aired.
- Watch Dukes of Hazzard.
- Listen to you your favorite Jessica Simpson song (I love "With You").
- Shop the immensely popular and successful Jessica Simpson collection.
- Check out my related post 3 Books to Read After Watching the #FreeBritney Documentary.
In summary, I highly recommend "Open Book," particularly the audiobook version. I rate it as 4.5/5 stars and named it as one of my Best Books of 2020. I thought it was about as good as a celebrity memoir can be, but for me, it lacked a very slight bit of extra depth and I didn't experience as many emotions as I did reading a few other memoirs (celebrity and non-celebrity).
I hope you enjoyed this review of "Open Book" by Jessica Simpson!