Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: The Other Girl

The Other Girl is the second in a series of YA novels that began with Inside The Mind of Gideon Rayburn, and it's on the shelves today.

I will start this review out with the acknowledgment to all of you that I never read that first book. So maybe I would have felt differently if I had.

But the truth is I just couldn't like The Other Girl.

First, the premise is creepy. There's just no other word.

When I explained to my boys that the book was about Molly, a girl who could see everything this boy, Gideon, could see, that she was basically inside his head, and that she used that knowledge to become his girlfriend and make him fall in love with her by manipulating every circumstance so that she looked like the perfect girlfriend, that's the exact word they used:


Now, the book goes on from there, but as I say the whole idea that Molly is inside people's heads and manipulating them bothered me.

But that's not all I have against this book.

I don't like most of the characters.

That's a huge drawback when you are trying to engage an audience, right there. Gideon is okay, but his friends are immature and grating. I really couldn't find any endearing qualities in these guys at all.

The prep school the kids attend (which we first see when Gideon and Molly get caught about to have sex in the chapel) is not at all an environment I can relate to, either.

Rich, shallow, entitled kids, and corrupt, know-nothing teachers populate Midvale Academy. I found it stereotypical, two-dimensional, and, again, not designed to endear me to the characters.

So, as I say, I am not a big fan of this book. There's only one remotely sympathetic teacher, who naturally knows more than she's telling, and then there's Edie, Molly's roommate, who seems smart and has potential. But Edie is not as close to Molly ever since Molly and Gideon started having sex because (and this really bothered me, too) Molly and Gideon kick her out of her own room and she has to sleep in a broom closet every time he comes over.

I did have some hope when an overweight character was introduced. He's even a smart guy. But although Edie is attracted to him (again, as I said, she's the most likeable character), he is always described as 'oily' or 'disgusting' (!) even while strangely appealing--as if the author herself can't really imagine why anyone would be attracted to an overweight person and just feels she should have someone in the book who isn't plastic and perfect.

Now, I mentioned that The Other Girl starts with Gideon and Molly about to have sex. That's another problem I have with this book.

Teenagers have sex. I'm not shocked by that, and I'm not prudish in my attitudes.

But in The Other Girl, sex is dealt with extremely casually. Though Molly and Gideon are 'in love', for Molly sex is all about trying to please Gideon, by buying sexy panties and reading his fantasies and making sure she lives up to them and just being this living doll.

Not at all a great message for teenage girls.

To be fair, the book veers away from this pretty quickly, but in a way that I find very unrealistic (this is just one example of poor writing in this book):

After decrying her love for Gideon in practically every paragraph, Molly breaks up with him--soon after the first time he officially says "I love you"--because he fantasizes about another girl when they are trying to make love. For the third time in a night.

Yeah, after all she had done to slavishly fit herself into this mold to be the perfect girlfriend, that just didn't fit for me.

Molly was all about pleasing Gideon, doing whatever it took to get him, including dishonestly manipulating him into falling for her in the first place.

He told her he loved her. They had sex. They had sex again. He thinks of another girl and WHAM! she breaks up with him. Without talking to him or giving him a chance.

It's as if the writer has decided to follow the Twilight lead and is muttering to herself, "Okay, book two, they have to break up."

It just didn't fit.

But, okay, now they are broken up. The author can cross that off her checklist. Enter The Other Girl.

The Other Girl is the spectacularly beautiful Pilar, who Molly has always envied, and who she worries the most about, because of course Gideon notices how attractive Pilar is.

And, for some reason, Molly suddenly begins to see inside Pilar's head instead of Gideon's.

And, wow, after being inside Pilar's head, Molly realizes that Pilar may be beautiful, but she actually has problems of her own!

And that's basically the message behind the book, which is so subtle (yes, I am being sarcastic) that no teen girl reading The Other Girl will ever realize she is being preached to about tolerance.

Which gets us back, again, to the quality of the writing itself.

In addition to shallow characterization and little errors like using "worse" when she means "worst," there's this strange analogy where a character falls for something like, the author suggests, Lance Armstrong falls for steroids.

Which anyone who follows cycling knows is so far from Armstrong's attitude--the man is the poster boy for clean cyclists and fought testicular cancer for heaven's sake--that I actually had to put the book down in disgust.

And The Other Girl is just laced with profanity, most of it sexual in nature. For example, one of the teachers is brilliantly nicknamed "Cockweed."

Again, I know kids swear, especially teens. We have always taught our own kids, though, that swearing just to swear just makes it easier for others not to listen to what you have to say. We try to model that kind of behavior.

In other words, I'm not into gratuitous use of profanity. And The Other Girl is really over the top when it comes to this.

So, summing it up: lots of sex, lots of profanity, shallow characters, preachiness and bad writing.

Viv's take: Unless you like insulting and demeaning stereotypes, gratuitous profanity, casual teen sexuality and sub-par writing, give The Other Girl a pass.

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