Friday 23 June 2017

The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting, Holly Bourne

I need to be interesting, Logan, I need to be someone
Bree is a loser, a wannabe author who hides behind words. Most of the time she hates her life, her school, her never-there parents. So she writes.

But when she’s told she needs to start living a life worth writing about, The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting is born. Six steps on how to be interesting. Six steps that will see her infiltrate the popular set, fall in love with someone forbidden and make the biggest mistake of her life.

1 / 5 

My secondary school years a couple of years behind me now, but looking back I feel like I had a fairly typical experience: a small group of close friends, studied hard, mostly enjoyed myself. The worst age was probably fourteen to about sixteen where I was gangly and socially awkward. A couple of boys were mean to me, but I wouldn't say I was bullied. In Sixth Form, aged sixteen to eighteen, I had an amazing time. Not so for Bree.

Bree sighed, bored of this evening, bored of her life. Tired of it always feeling like sludge to wade through. 

Queen's Hall school is the most cliche of high schools. I'm not really sure such a thing actually exists in reality. I sat down and thought pretty hard and I couldn't name a "popular clique" from my school; yeah, there were dickwad boys and pretty girls and social circles, but no Queen Bee terrorising the school. Perhaps I was just lucky that there was no Jassmine (with two s's), Gemma, Jessica, or Emily running around spreading evil gossip and naked photos of other girls. 

Bree is a failed seventeen year old writer who is instantly dislikable. There's little gems like "Another reason why Bree was much smarter than most people" sprinkled everywhere. Bree and her bestfriend Holdo are social rejects and Bree doesn't care until she realises that her writing sucks and that her life is boring. So she gets a makeover, runs a blog, and decides to infiltrate the popular group and steal Jassmine's boyfriend for an experiment, to give her writing material. The thing is, it could have worked. I read and enjoyed another of Bourne's YA novels, Am I Normal Yet?, about teen girls and she has a really good writing style. Unfortunately, I absolutely hated this book. 

Forgive me Virginia Woolf, Bree thought to herself, for I have sinned

No one is likeable. Bree is pitiable and misguided at best, incredibly self-absorbed, naive, and arrogant at worst. Her best friend "Holdo" is a walking cliche: loves the Godfather, names himself after a Catcher in the Rye character, insists on proper grammar, and has a massive pornography stash. I think he's supposed to be likeable and a yardstick to measure Bree by, instead he just reminds me of every sleazy "devil's advocate" boy I've ever met. The mean girl possy is, of course, mean by definition, and I think every single other boy in this book is horny, sleazy, and entirely sex-obsessed. Even Bree's parents are distant and only show a glimmer of promise towards the end. 

It's such a doorstopper of a novel. 450 pages is excessive for a YA novel, but it can work. Just not in this case. It doesn't help that the plot is so meandering, wandering from Bree's reflections on her rise to popularity, the "revelation" that mean girls are, gasp, actual human beings with thoughts and feelings, Bree's writing projects (which don't feature nearly enough), her relationships with boys and her parents, and self-harm. I had the same problem with Bourne's other book in that Bourne tries to tackle too much, but I enjoyed Am I Normal Yet? a heck of a lot more than this one. 

She'd expected a wealth of knee-jerking discoveries about these girls. A glimpse into the hidden brilliant-ness of what made them so powerful. But they just seemed like normal, average girls

What absolutely cinched this as a one star book, for me, was the presence of a student-teacher relationship. I wouldn't have touched this if I had known it would feature one so heavily. It made me feel ill to read about it, about Bree's married English teacher who kissed her when she was sixteen. Frankly, I thought it was disgusting and Bourne did not do anywhere near enough to condemn it. It's not that I think Bourne approves of student-teacher relationships, it's just that the book is so heavily from Bree's perspective that all you get, all you experience is Bree's utter adoration and fascination with this man who, objectively, is not only disgusting but also sad, shallow, and pathetic. 

Overall, I recommend people skip this book and try some of Bourne's The Spinster Club books, which I found to be much more enjoyable. 

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