author: Tom Leveen
buy it: Amazon Goodreads B&N
rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 6/10 [all books I’ve ever read].
recommended for: Fans of 500 Days of Summer, Garden State, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Zooey Deschanel movies, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and romance that will challenge you.
My Ratings Explained
Sometimes the most dramatic scenes in a high school theater club are the ones that happen between the actors and crew off stage.
Seventeen-year-old Tyler Darcy's dream of being a writer is starting to feel very real now that he's sold his first short story to a literary journal. He should be celebrating its publication with his two best friends who've always had his back, but on this night, a steady stream of texts from his girlfriend Sidney keep intruding. So do the memories of his dream girl, Becky, who's been on his mind a little too much since the first day of high school. Before the night is over, Ty might just find the nerve to stop all the obsessing and finally take action.
the basicsYou know the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's Natalie Portman in Garden State. She's Summer in 500 Days of Summer, for a while. Ramona in Scott Pilgrim. Eccentric, adorably quirky savior of the brooding bad boy. She's the girl (or guy) you watched from afar in high school, invented daydreams about, held on a pedestal. Leveen plays with this most common of experiences in an authentic and clever way, creating the brooding boy Tyler and the dream girl, Becky, perfect and magical and unattainable. Only unlike the typical MPDG, Becky is more shattered than the guy who wants her to save him. It makes for a bittersweet tale of high school love and the problems with idealizing real people. Tyler's journey is often frustrating, often nervewrecking, and even the ending shows just how enmeshed people can be in their ideals. To the point of losing what's real and good. My occasionally extreme animosity towards Tyler knocked down my enjoyment of this a bit, but it was still a beautifully done book that feels so genuinely high school romance. It made a lasting impression, and left me curious about more of Leveen's work.
plot . 4/5Alternating between the events of one night and the backstory of several years can get a little jarring. It took me a few segments before I had a good handle of the story. That said, Leveen does a good job of referring back to things and building the plot slowly with little dangled teasers, so you're always kept wanting more. Even though there was a lot of telling in the backstory pieces, Tyler's voice and descriptions were descriptive enough to make me feel like I was there. Imagine a friend of yours talking about something that happened to them at school the other day, only they're a really good storyteller. It stayed compelling to the end. Which made me angry, because I felt that there was such a great opportunity for Tyler to realize all the stupid, hurtful things he'd done. To be fair, it was a realistic ending and I did see some change in Tyler. It just leaves you wanting to slap him a little bit. But given the timeline, it's also probably more realistic than the big epiphany I secretly wanted.
concept . 5/5The MPDG is not new. The fall of the MPDG makes this fresh. I watched wringing my hands as Tyler built up this fantasy image of Becky, creating a perfect dream girl that never could be. And watched as he missed hint after hint that the dream and the reality didn't mix. It says a lot about high school romance and the persistence of romantic delusions--how powerful infatuation can be. It's also something I've experienced before to a much lesser degree. That high school crush you idolize, only to discover later that they're a twit. Very relatable and well presented.
characters . 4/5Tyler was endearing, partly because he was a dorky writer and partly because he just has no impulse control. You feel a little bad for him, living in his head like he does. You also want to strangle him for being such a jerk half the time and ignoring the totally awesome, way-too-forgiving girl in front of him. But deep down he's a good guy. He just annoyed me for the way he'd realize he was a jerk and still fall into the same bad traps. But even though I didn't always like him, I still found his story very compelling and, as a high school boy, he was extremely realistic. The supporting cast is also great. Sydney is way-too-patient and shockingly honest. I respected her for it, and also felt a lot for her, chasing someone she knew was just using her as a substitute and vainly hoping he'd get the picture. Then there was Robby, who was hysterical and just a delightful human being. Becky, I kind of hated. I felt bad for her, but I also felt like she was too tragic. Also she just rubbed me the wrong way for reasons I can't articulate. But again, you don't have to like the character to like the book, and I thought she fit well in her role.
style . 5/5Leveen's style reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis for young adults. Nihilistic, snarky, with hints of idealism that you just know are going to get shattered. Tyler sees the world as a writer, and so offers up a lot of very uniquely stated descriptions. I made a lot of highlights because there were so many ideas, common ideas, stated in such an unusual way that they felt completely new. And like I said, he's a fantastic storyteller. I hung off every word. The style did a lot to make up for my frustration with Tyler. It's an impressive command of language not often seen in young adult romance.
mechanics . 4/5Like I said, the switch between past and present is a little jarring. I lost track of the story sometimes and got a little confused. However, it became easier to follow as I went along, and so I didn't find that it dampened my reading experience very much. Just made it challenging at the beginning.
take home messageA clever high school romance that takes old stereotypes and turns them around, ending up with something fresh and gritty and authentic.
Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.