Oh, how I adore this book!!! I happened to see a tweet a few weeks ago from Heather at Entangled Publishing offering folks the chance to read this book in ARC form in exchange for an honest review. I had heard about the book a while back when they did a cover reveal around the blogosphere, and I knew I wanted to read it, so I jumped at the chance. And I am so glad that I did! To be honest, I don't read a lot of contemporaries, or many humorous books, so this book was very refreshing and came at the perfect time.
At bottom, this is a book about being true to who you are, about not putting on a mask or creating a character for yourself to play that corresponds with who you think you "should" be or are expected to be. It is a great message, and I LOVE IT. I can't believe I'm about to say this, because I LOVE the movie GREASE (and GREASE 2!) and can recite pretty much every single line in the movie (and the soundtrack remains in my car permanently, because you never know when you just HAVE to hear "There Are Worse Things I Could Do"!!), BUT I'll just be honest: the message of this book is pretty much the antithesis of the message of GREASE, and that's a good thing. I know I'm dating myself, so bear with me if you're a young'un who (GASP) hasn't seen the movie... As we know, in GREASE Sandy wants a boy, Danny, so she completely changes her look and her behavior to get him; she becomes someone not really her, pouring herself into tight leather pants, strapping on high heels, and even smoking a cigarette. Finally, of course, Danny realizes he wants to be with her and oh, how nice, he'll no longer be mocked for falling in love with good girl Sandra Dee. Nice. As much as I love that movie, I've always been uncomfortable with the message that it sends, even as far back as when I was 10. This book, however, has the total opposite message - ie, that being true to yourself and who you are is really the only way to find TRUE happiness...and true love. With the unbelievable pressures kids face these days, the bullying and the anti-intellectualism and all that, I applaud Ms. Miller for embracing this message!!
Now, despite what I just said, you shouldn't think this book is sickeningly sappy, or that it's heavy-handed or preachy about how kids should act, because it's not. It is just a hilarious book with great characters and a fun plot that subtly reminds us that it's okay to be who we really are. There were times when I would bust out laughing while reading the book, several nights, in fact, causing a little friction in my marriage because my husband was trying to sleep or something :) (at those times I would reluctantly put it aside and pull out the dystopian I was also reading!). If Ms. Miller is half as funny in real life as she was writing this book, then I have no doubt I would love hanging out with her!
I would also love to hang out with one Madelyne Jean Summers, or Maddie as her friends and family call her. In fact, she reminded me a lot of myself during high school! (That seems to be a common thread running through many people's experience with the book; she's a very relatable character.) Okay, so I was definitely NOT a cheerleader, nor was I at (or anywhere near) the top of my school's popularity pyramid, but boy did I ever see myself in many of her actions and thoughts when she was geeking out in private! The major difference is that I never really tried to hide my nerdiness - it would've been near impossible anyway, what with my coke bottle glasses, my straight As, and my penchant for books with dragons or spaceships on the cover! I also had Maddie's sarcasm and snarkiness, although, like her, I wasn't mean when I was being snarky. Often it was a defense mechanism of sorts, which I felt was also the case for Maddie. I'd say that most of the passages I flagged while reading were Maddie's own words, whether in dialogue with another character or just talking to herself. She's a funny girl!
Ms. Miller did an excellent job with the actual writing in this book. It was so easy to read, but not because it's juvenile or unsophisticated writing; in fact, I felt it was quite the opposite. There are so many great quotes I pulled out from this book; I wrote down quite a few gems, in several cases making the notation "SO ME!!" next to them :) And not all of them were funny; Ms. Miller also wrote great serious scenes and dialogue, romantic scenes that will make your stomach flutter as if *you* are the one falling in love for the first time, and really fun action scenes. I've never been to Natchitoches, but it sure came alive for me through her writing, which I guess makes sense since she lives there! But it's still not something that every writer can pull off, even if they are writing about their own town. I made a note at one point that her imagery was excellent, that I could see what was happening in my head as if it were a movie. She also nailed what it's like to grow up in a small town in the South - the gossip, how everyone knows everyone else, the high school parties, all of it.
I also really appreciated the fact that parents were a significant part of the story; several characters' parents show up and are active throughout. In fact, it wasn't just parents but also siblings, and it was so much fun to get to see the main characters interacting with their families. Speaking of characters, I adored them! Each one was really a distinct personality, and they complemented one another so well, even when they were in conflict with each other. In other words, there was no character that seemed out of place or unnecessary in the book. Dan, Logan's best friend, was definitely a top contender for my affection ;) I think that there will be at least one character in the book that everyone can relate to, or that will remind you of someone you knew growing up. In my opinion, that ability to identify with the characters makes for a great reading experience. You will root for all of them, I promise!! (Well, except, perhaps, for a certain "dark fairy" and drama queen cheerleader....)
I had so many quotes I wanted to share with you in this review, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it would be best to let each reader experience these in context and enjoy discovering them for the first time on their own. I will say, however, that my favorite scene is near the beginning of the book, and finds our dear Maddie in the alley next to the comic book shop in shades, her dad's ball cap, and a sweatshirt, despite the Louisiana summer heat. I promise you, you WILL laugh at her encounter with Mr. More Money! Finally, I will close with a quote from the final issue of Maddie's favorite comic series: "Be true to yourself and others will be true to you, too." Let's all do our best to instill that message in our children - and ourselves!
Thank you to Entangled Publishing and Leah Rae Miller for letting me read an ARC of this book. I had a blast reading it, and I'll be recommending it to as many people as I can!show more