Confessions of a Hater

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by Caprice Crane

Published 2013 (The copy I read is an ARC sent to me from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.  Ha.  They lose again.)

So, truly, I only apply to receive ARCs that I think that I will enjoy, or at least will find interesting.  Confessions of a Hater is a YA debut novel for Crane.  I have never read any of her adult works, but this one sounded interesting.  It’s about a teenage girl, Hailey, who moves (with her parents) the summer between her freshman and sophomore years of high school.  At her old school, Hailey has her group of friends, but she’s never been popular or had a boyfriend.  While packing for the move, she comes across a diary that belonged to her older sister (who is away at college) when she was in high school.  Titled “How to Be a Hater,” Noel’s diary is full of practical tips on just that–how to dress, act, talk, walk–you name it.  Hailey decides that this book is her ticket to a new life at her new high school.  Her first day there, implementing the diary’s techniques, Hailey is accepted into the selective clique of Skylar, the most stereotypical popular cheerleader girl you could ever imagine.  After a few days of keeping up appearances, Hailey abandons the popular girls and makes friends with some outcasts.  Together, they form their own clique, and call themselves the Invisibles.  The rest of the book is the Invisibles’ attempts to bring down the Populars, Skylar in particular.

My hope for this book was that it would have some depth.  Instead, it was full of cliches and stereotypes.  The Invisibles are comprised of a girl who got pregnant as a freshman, a shoplifter, a super-intelligent genius girl who’s addicted to drugs, a fat girl, a girl who’s super good with computers, etc.  The girl who was pregnant, Anya, is the only one whose story actually adds to the overall plot (she ends up being Hailey’s best friend).  The other stereotypes are superfluous.  I was especially distressed by the shoplifter and the drug addict.  Both of these are treated as minor problems, and sort of shrugged off and swept under the rug.  The shoplifting is basically treated as completely normal and acceptable behavior, while the drug addict is given a little more time–towards the end, she overdoses and goes to the hospital, and then everyone is like, Cool now she’ll be okay.  Say what?!

Meanwhile, Hailey starts dating a super nice guy.  While she isn’t willing to go “all the way,” there is a completely unnecessary scene where she first of all asks Anya for advice (which Anya gives, by telling her to practice on a frozen banana?!?!!?) and then proceeds to perform a sexual act for her boyfriend, all described in pointless detail, mostly her feelings about how weird this is and wondering if he likes it, blah blah blah–again, NOTHING to do with the overall plot of the story.

Hailey’s parents were a bright spot for me at the beginning of the book.  Finally, I thought, a book about a teenager who just has normal parents who have stayed married.  Spoiler alert: don’t get too attached to that detail.  Guess what other stereotype we’re going to fill in??

The main plot of the book, wherein the Invisibles and the Populars prank each other, escalates to a completely unhealthy and unrealistic level.  I find it hard to believe that someone like Hailey, who claims to have been mistreated by similar populars at her old school, could possibly not see that what she is doing is cruel, stupid, and immature.  Hailey’s method of apology, which involves committing a pretty major crime, is ridiculous as well, especially since she receives basically no punishment whatsoever, and is, in fact, rewarded for her crime–her friends accept her apology and the guidance counselor is convinced that he can land her a special internship at a prestigious art school.  So glad that this is the message we’re sending to our young people.

Finally, while Hailey’s narrative can be funny and snarky, it is also crude, full of profanity, and littered with references to brand names and pop culture.  Honestly, I only finished this book because I felt an obligation to do so.

Crane had an opportunity to tell a story that actually meant something.  A story about a girl who truly experiences what it is like to be invisible, and who honestly realizes the importance of looking beyond stereotypes and embracing our unique and individual selves.  A story about the strength of forgiveness and the power of helping others.  Instead, she wrote a story that emphasized stereotypes, embraced cliches, and makes extra-marital sex, profanity, shoplifting, underage drinking, and vandalism (to name a few) sound like completely normal and acceptable activities for high schoolers.

If you’re a parent of a young adult, don’t let them touch this book with a ten-foot pole.  If you want to teach them about breaking through stereotypes, have them watch High School Musical.

1/5.

Carney’s House Party

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by Maud Hart Lovelace

Published 1949

Besides the Betsy-Tacy books, Lovelace published three other stories that took place in Deep Valley, Minnesota.  Carney’s House Party, time-line wise, takes place in the four-year gap between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World.  And actually, it would have been nice to read this book in its place, as it helps fill a bit of the gap there.

As always with Lovelace’s works, I really enjoyed this story, which follows a summer in Carney’s life, between her sophomore and junior years of college.  Home for the season, several of Carney’s friends come to stay, leading to a summer full of fun and frolics, with a bit of romance thrown in.

While the story is happy and it’s great fun to see old friends again, the story’s beginning and end take place at Carney’s college.  These chapters seem a bit out of place, since the author takes a decent amount of time to describe the college and its main buildings and people Carney knows there–people and places that are completely irrelevant to the rest of the story.

This book doesn’t flow quite as naturally as the Betsy books, but this is understandable as Betsy is based on Lovelace herself, while Carney’s story is that of a real-life friend of Lovelace’s…  perhaps it was a bit more awkward to write about the thoughts and feelings of someone else who is a real someone else!

Still, overall another delightful book, and one that I would definitely recommend reading in that gap after Betsy and Joe.

Black Hearts in Battersea

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by Joan Aiken

Published 1964

For some reason, even though I have dearly loved Wolves of Willoughby Chase since I was a little girl, I never read any of the rest of the Wolves Chronicles.  It seems as though I may have picked one up when I was quite younger and was confused by it, expecting it to have the same characters as the first book.  At any rate, I have decided to give them a whirl.  

I would call Black Hearts in Battersea a sort of indirect sequel.  The main character, Simon, was a secondary character in Wolves of Willoughby Chase, (albeit the one that I had a crush on).  In this story, Simon travels to London to study art with a friend.  But when he arrives, not only is his friend no where to be found, everyone acts as though he never even existed.  In Aiken’s England, James III from Scotland is on the throne, creating an intriguing alternate universe of Victorian times with Queen Victoria.  In this story, Simon makes new friends and meets up with old ones.  I was slightly confused because in Willoughby Chase one of the main characters is Sylvia; in this book, Simon almost immediately sees a girl named Sophie, whom he apparently knows from the past, even though we (as the readers) have never met  her.  Actually, you have a bit of a feeling of trying to catch up during the whole beginning of this book, as Aiken doesn’t really tell us much of what is going on, leaving us to follow the trail as best we can.

Even though Aiken writes for children, she is unafraid of drastic plot twists, including the deaths of characters.  While Black Hearts is not as light-hearted as Willoughby, it is still an excellent story with a fun mystery and delightful characters.  4/5.