Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: Jenny O'Connell, The Book of Luke

Well. It has been awhile. But I am back, for the moment. Something about the summer just makes me want to read YA novels, and something about YA novels makes me want to blog about them. Especially bad ones. I just cannot resist.

And honey child, this one was a rough peach. Where to even begin. The narrator, we are told, is a senior in high school. Yet oddly she has the voice of a middle aged mom. Occasionally, the author throws in vulgar language that is supposed to resemble the way actual teenagers talk (i.e. "What a dick move!") but the result is actually just jarring because it doesn't remotely match the other 90% of the narrator's language.

Backing up, let's discuss the premise. Emily is nearing the end of high school when her father lands a new job and decides to move the family from Chicago to Boston, a traumatic move for any kid, most especially one who is in the middle of her senior year of high school. Emily does not take it well. Unwilling to embark upon a long distance relationship, her beloved football player boyfriend dumps her the morning of the move, and she boards the plane to Boston teary eyed, preparing herself for what will inevitably be a lifetime of pain and sorrow. Fortunately, on her first day at the new school in Boston, she reunites with her former best friends, Lucy and Josie, who appear to be among the most popular girls in the school (turns out Emily actually grew up in Boston and had only left it for Chicago three years ago). Only Josie too is in a rut, having recently been dumped over email by her boyfriend, Luke, a dreamboat lacrosse player. Coming to the obvious conclusion that all guys suck and know nothing about girls, the trio decides to write a handbook, The Guy's Guide to Girls, in order to train guys on how to behave like homo sapiens instead of mutant toads. It's not long before they take it one step further and decide Emily should go undercover and seduce Luke and "train him up" using the handbook, so that Josie can then win him back once he's been reformed and live happily ever after. You can guess where it goes from there, complete with complicated emotions, betrayal, and many many tears shed.

Blegh. This book is trying to compete with books by Jennifer Echols and Simone Elkeles. And it just does not measure up. The main problem is that the characters are one dimensional, on the occasion that they possess any dimensions at all. Emily is a true bore. She's a "nice girl" who is fed up with being nice, since all it did was get her dumped, and so she decides to be mean, by seducing Luke as an experiment. Her first interaction with Luke is a disaster. She invites him to go with her to a dance and he says ok. But then he stands her up and she is humiliated in front of half the school. The next day at school, she asks him why he didn't go to the dance. He starts to blow her off, but then is stunned by her apparent cool over the whole thing. Unlike most girls who we're apparently supposed to believe are just high maintenance irrational maniacs, Emily doesn't throw a fit over Luke's rude, dismissive behavior. She tells him it's no big deal, she understands. And Luke finds it irresistible. From that moment he's hooked.

Barf barf vom. What kind of lesson is this teaching the girls of today? If your guy blows you off or fails to do something he said he was going to do, stifle your disappointment and act like it's no biggy? Otherwise he's going to think you're crazy and move on to the next bimbo and you'll wind up desperate and alone for all eternity with no companion save your own insanity? Just splendid.

The Guy's Guide to Girls is shallow and repetitive too. Each chapter begins with a little blurb from the Guide. Things like "brush your hair once in awhile," "Use an umbrella," "Let girls have a chance at the remote control," and "Don't rewatch the same sporting event a hundred times" are about as deep as it gets. There are two entries devoted to condemning dudes who play "air guitar" yet don't even know how to play a real guitar. THE HORROR. I don't know, it just struck me as pretty lame for a book based on the premise of two heart-broken girls trying to reform the opposite sex. Your earth-shattering tips are things like brush your hair? Put down the air guitar? Mehhhh.

There is zero chemistry between Luke and Emily. A few scenes where she wipes ketchup off his chin are about as sexy as it gets. Neither character has a real personality. Luke seems like he could be interesting. He was a pudgy, nondescript kid up until sophomore year, when he suddenly morphed into the hottest guy in school. There's a bit of mystery there, and while you're reading you kind of expect to uncover some dark secret about Luke that would explain why he changed so much. But nope. Nothing.

Fortunately, everything is tied up at the end in a neat bow. I will say no more. Read this one only if you've exhausted the entire cannon of Simone Elkeles and Jennifer Echols and anything else decent. It was a struggle for me to even finish.

2 stars