Monday, August 1, 2011
Harcourt Children's Books, 2011
Source: Received a free e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I'll admit that I didn't have the highest hopes for this book given that I had zero interest in being popular in high school (do popular kids get to sit and read at lunch? No; they have to socialize. Do popular kids get to stay at home and laugh hysterically with their family and read on the weekends? No; they have to go shopping at the mall and go to crazy parties. I mean, I had friends (who also loved to read) so I wasn't lonely but I was by no means popular). According to the vocabulary of this book, I think I would be a "Happy Hopeless," so far below the social ladder and without any aspirations to climb it ever...but I'd be happy as our introduction to that group comes from Robert Schwarner, a Star Wars nerd who I adored. But he only makes brief appearances because our main character is Cara Leonard.
Cara has just transferred to a new school in time for junior year with the intention of climbing the social ladder (as outlined and described by her best friend Claudia) because no one has any preconceptions about her. She will start dating a boy with a lower status and eventually work her way up through relationships. That first boy is Archer and the plan almost goes off the rails as Cara falls hard for him. After an embarrassing encounter though, she is back on track and quickly rises before her inevitable fall.
I really liked Cara's friendship with Claudia which is heavily spotlighted in the beginning but falters as Cara draws away in favor of hanging out with the Populazzi. There friendship had real depth and differed from some of the other popularity books I've read because Claudia was involved in Cara's rise to the top. The other characters were pretty funny including one ex-boyfriend who writes a HILARIOUS song about Cara and the popular girls who did not seem as vapid as in other books.
Besides the popularity plot, there were a lot of issues dealt with in this book: in no particular order, with some receiving more attention, bulimia, sexual pressure, drugs, drinking, irresponsibility, homophobia, and most startlingly for me was Cara's family situation.
Cara lives with her mother and stepfather Karl with her father and his new wife the Bar Wench living about twenty minutes away but estranged. Karl has very high expectations for Cara; perfect grades leading to acceptance to Northwestern, his alma mater. But he also has a very loose grasp on his temper as demonstrated in several instances. I would classify his behavior as bordering on abusive. He *disowns* Cara and gives her the silent treatment after she messes up. He says that he washes his hands clean of her and says that it is now all up to her mother. In turn, the mother is afraid to leave because she doesn't work and is afraid she'll never be able to find someone else. The way to get back into Karl's good graces is to do everything he says and cater to his every need when he's home. I'm not sure I know enough but I was very uneasy about the home situation and I thought it needed more treatment.
Overall: A very well-written amusing take on the themes of popularity and cliques in high school.
Cover: Cara does have wild, curly hair and the yellow fits with her generally sunny disposition; however the cover doesn't really grab me.
Read for YA Debut and ebook challenges.