CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 23. . . .February 18, 2011
Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood.
New York, NY: Simon Pulse (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2011.
261 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.99 (pbk.), $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4424-0976-7 (pbk), ISBN 978-1-4424-7433-8 (hc.).
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Jan Sahibzada.
I was going back to Lincoln High, but not as Helen Worthington. I was going to be remade into the destined-to-be-popular Claire Dantes.
I was named Helen after my mom's great aunt. Ever notice you don't meet a lot of Helens these days? That's because it's an old lady name. Thankfully, my middle name is Claire. My mom's maiden name was Dantes, and since I would be living with my grandma it made some sense to borrow it. My mom was ticked that I wanted to register for school under a different name. She said she didn't feel it was necessary for me to hide myself like I was spending my senior year in the witness protection program, but I could tell she was just hurt that I didn't want to use the name she had given me.
In the end my mom backed down. Either my grandmother talked her into it or, more likely, the guilt of abandoning me kicked in. No matter the reason—I didn't care—Helen Worthington ceased to exist. Claire Dantes officially registered at Lincoln High. Step one of the plan was in place.
Helen Worthington (aka Claire Dantes) never thought she'd return to Lincoln High. After all, she was labelled the school snitch and outcast by her fellow students in the final weeks of eighth grade. All thanks to her best friend, Lauren Wood, who, in order to gain popularity, spread lies involving Helen, making her the most hated student at school. Those lies made Helen's life so hard that she was more then relieved when her dad was offered a job in New York and she moved half way across the country leaving Lincoln High and Lauren Wood behind. Fate though has intervened. Now a senior, with a new look and new confidence, Helen has the opportunity to go back and right the wrong that was done to her. She can go back and, instead of just dreaming about revenge, she can actually enact revenge on her ex-best friend Lauren Wood.
Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood is a well-balanced and entertaining read. While the premise of the novel is somewhat predictable, the strengths of the novel are the characters who immediately draw the reader in. As both the narrator and main character, Helen is easy to relate to and to sympathize with. She is likeable, sincere and honest, and readers will feel for what she has been through and want to see her come out a stronger person in the end. Throughout the novel, Helen struggles with her need for revenge with the need to just be herself and be happy.
Helen isn't the only character that readers will be drawn in by. Both Brenda, Helen's nerdy assigned school buddy, and Christopher, the cute film student, are well developed and important in Helen's development. Brenda and Helen's relationship is authentic, as is the romance between Helen and Christopher. Cook does a good job of making sure that the cliché of Brenda as the nerdy girl, or Christopher, the mysterious boy, aren't too over the top. There are some characters, like Bailey and Kyla, who are somewhat static as the typical popular girls, and so it's nice that the other characters are so well developed.
Another of the book's strengths is that it isn't too preachy, something which readers, especially teens, will appreciate. It would be easy to have the book focus too much on the lessons that Helen learns, but Cook establishes a good balance and keeps the focus on Helen's growth. Flashbacks to childhood times between Lauren and Helen are well done, too, and are not overly sappy. At the end, Helen is vindicated, but it isn't forced. There is no big happy reunion with Lauren. Lauren is what she is portrayed as, selfish and self-centered, and that doesn't change. The open ending of novel is important; while readers don't find out about the consequences Helen faces because of her actions, they are left with the knowledge that Helen has realized what is important and is ready to face those consequences with confidence and dignity. And that's enough to make the novel feel like a complete and rewarding read.
It is worth noting that there is some alcohol and drug use mentioned as well as some discussion of sex that makes the book more suitable for an older teen audience.
Jan Sahibzada is a Community Outreach Librarian for Calgary Public Library's Forest Lawn branch.
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