This story has very mixed reviews. The plotline has similarities to Mean Girls: brainy social outcast Bree is a failed writer, because her stories are dreary metaphor-stuffed 110,000 word opuses on suicidal thoughts. But then she is only 17, so has a lot of time to get better. She decides to have a makeover, infiltrate the mean girls perfect group, seduce the hottest girl’s hottest boyfriend, and become interesting so she has something better to write about. Along the way she starts a blog detailing her experiences, rejects her nerdy friend Holdo because her plan must remain a secret, and has an affair with her English teacher.
I enjoyed this book, a lot. The writing style is smart, sparkling with dry humour, and pacey. The story handles themes like popularity and friendship, bullying, inappropriate relationships, and self-harming, and for the most part it handles them very well. I think maybe the negativity comes from the fact that we see things through Bree’s eyes, and she is not a squeaky clean pure-hearted type: she’s quite intellectually arrogant, sacrifices poor Holdo in favour of her plan, and then betrays her new friend Jassmine quite readily, even though Jassmine has been entirely supportive about Bree’s self–harming habits. So in many ways Bree’s not a terribly sympathetic character. Plus the teacher romance is seen through her eyes, so there’s not the extreme level of disapprobation that most people would like to see heaped on this gruesome relationship: the creep basically gets away with it, and she still yearns rather pathetically after him.
But to me that isn’t a problem: real people are flawed. When you see a story through one character’s pov, you need to relate to them yes, but that doesn’t mean you need to approve of all their actions. I did relate to Bree and found her entirely believable in the context of the story.
SPOILERS FROM HERE: It kept me reading, and the resolutions were highly satisfactory: misogynistic bully boy got his come-uppance, Holdo was restored, and Bree lets parents into her life again, and recognizes that even the perfects, the mean girls, are humans with flaws and vulnerabilities.
I do have a couple of criticisms (because I am that super-picky reader: really I thoroughly enjoyed this story). Firstly, the plausibility of a nerdy outcast being able to infiltrate the mean girls group so very readily, and having the confidence and panache to do that. If it was that easy maybe all the outcasts would be doing it…? But this didn’t affect my reading pleasure, the plot device worked perfectly well in context. And I liked that Bree got her mum involved, that was refreshing and nice (cos how snooty was Bree about her mum and dad?)
And the other thing is, that maybe Holly Bourne tried to cram too many themes into one volume, which meant it was both quite long and some themes felt under-developed. For instance, the self-harming: this is huge, and while it wasn’t exactly sidelined, it seems like such a major issue would have been a more significant part of Bree’s life. I wonder if the story could have worked without it? I don’t know; but despite that this is a great read, highly entertaining but also with depth and a good heart. I would give it 4.5 stars.
What Works And Why?
We read to escape, enjoy, engage, and find out more about our world. So reading is great - but what makes a great read? A page dedicated to short analyses of how writers engage readers.