CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 18. . . .January 14, 2011.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2010.
309 pp., pbk., $17.95.
Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.
Review by Joan Marshall.
“Yup, I’m starting tomorrow,” Apple said, grabbing Lyon’s hand so he would be reassured – not that he needed reassuring. But Apple wanted to make him feel comfortable.
“You must be so excited! I hear you’re getting your own advice column,” Zen said.
“I’m a little nervous, to tell you the truth,” Apple said. “They’re starting a television show to go along with the magazine and I have to be on television too.”
“You never told me that,” said Lyon, looking at her strangely, dropping her hand from his. Apple was surprised at this but pretended not to notice.
“I was going to. I just never got the chance! I don’t want to admit it, but I am nervous. I want to do well there. I don’t want to screw up,” said Apple. “I can barely bring myself to think about it.”
“Well, don’t be nervous. I know you’re going to do great,” Lyon said supportively.
“We’ll see,” Apple said. “What’s the worst that can happen? Well, I guess I could get fired.”
Apple and her friends listened as another cork popped in the kitchen and Aunt Hazel screamed in total drunken delight. For a moment, Apple was jealous. She wished she could be as happy and carefree as her aunt, who didn’t seem to have a worry in the world at this moment. Apple hadn’t even started her new job and already she was imagining telling everyone she knew how she screwed up and why she got fired, ruining her future in magazines and television forever.
Fifteen-year-old Apple Berg is taken on as an intern to glamorous teen magazine Angst on the strength of her impromptu appearance on her mother’s live television show in which she apologized to her best friend Happy for meddling in Happy’s love life. There, she works with another intern, the beautiful and driven Emme (pronounced “M”). Taken in by the glamour, the chance to meet celebrities, and the stunning clothes, Apple finds her life spiralling out of control as she is not used to working hard to a deadline. Apple tries to be the best girlfriend she can be with Lyon, but Zen has caught her heart, and Lyon begins to seem boring. She gradually loses touch with her past high school friends, including boyfriend Lyon and heartthrob Zen (who takes on Emme as a foolie, a friend with benefits). As she starts to drink, club and party with Emme and celebrity Sloan Starr, Apple even neglects her favourite aunt, Aunt Hazel, for whom she has agreed to be a bridesmaid, and she begins to skip classes, tests and exams. Because Apple’s aunt is about to marry Apple’s math teacher, Apple’s mother finds out about her behaviour through him, and Apple’s boss, Fancy Nancy, calls her in to fire her because of her very public flouting of Angst’s expectations and her neglect of her own advice column. Apple’s mother is furious with her, but Apple writes an apology to Fancy Nancy, sees through Zen’s superficial behaviour, breaks up amicably with Lyon, and gains her friends’ good graces by apologizing to them, too. As the book ends, Apple and her friends decide to start a matchmaking business.
Apple is a privileged, self-absorbed, thoughtless, well-meaning teenager whose life revolves around her relationships with her two friends, Happy and Brooklyn, and luscious boys Lyon and Zen. She is irritated by her mother’s intrusive behaviour but happy to accept the perks that come with her mother’s fame. Naïve beyond belief, Apple never suspects Emme’s motives and plotting until it’s too late. Apple also falls unsuspectingly and willingly into the fickle arms of celebrity Sloan Starr. She struggles with what it means to be faithful in a relationship, cheating on Lyon with Zen and neglecting them both as celebrity stardom flashes in front of her eyes.
Secondary characters barely rise above caricatures. Happy is the stunningly beautiful girl who studies hard but aims for the celebrity life that Apple seems to have attained. Brooklyn is the hippie, yoga focussed, wheatgrass consuming environmentalist whose calm demeanour and total disregard for school and marks belie her anxiety of not having an attentive boyfriend and her future plans to save the world after high school. Dr. Berg, Apple’s successful mother, plays both the prima donna and the old-fashioned, strict parent role. Her gay assistant, Guy, speaks in the third person (“Guy is so happy for you.”). Neither Zen nor Lyon has an interesting thought between them, representing simply the yummy boyfriend over whom the girls can drool. Sloan Starr is the self-centred, partying playboy, and Emme is the cunning, sneaky beauty determined to overcome her background. Aunt Hazel’s out-of-control, screechy behaviour, her need to be married and her demands on Apple and Dr. Berg are simply silly and immature. Fancy Nancy, Michael (who manages the interns at Angst) and Morgan the Angst receptionist, realistically represent the discipline, the rush and the commitment necessary to the production of a weekly magazine.
The dialogue is up-to-date and, except for two understandable instances, free of swearing. The sex is limited to passionate kissing. The technology is current (texting, Facebook). Unfortunately, Eckler has a tendency to tell the reader how the characters are feeling rather than letting events or dialogue reveal character. This drags down the pace of the book which the intended readership may find long as a result.
The setting could be any urban high school and magazine office in North America. In real life, the likelihood of a 15-year-old being offered an internship in any business is zero. However, this dream will appeal to those teens whose life plans centre on stardom achieved through luck and influence. The treacly drama of high school relationships represented here will reinforce the experience of high school girls everywhere for whom their friends are their life and a heartfelt apology can solve all problems.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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