CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012
Yvonne Collins & Sandy Rideout.
New York, NY: Hyperion, 2011.
409 pp., hardcover, $18.50.
Dating (Social customs)-Fiction.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Darleen Golke.
*** / 4
"Can they learn at their age?" Lauren asks. "I think neurons stop firing after you're thirty or something."
"There's no age limit on learning, Lauren," Dieter says. "But people have to want to change. And that applies whether you're fifteen or fifty."
"I hope my mom wants to," Kali says. "She just met the greatest guy, and if she makes the same mistakes again, I'm giving up on her."
"They're supposed to be role models," Lauren says.
"My dad's a great role model," Even says. "I've visited him in San Antonio three times, and there's always a new lady sitting at the kitchen table when I get up on Sunday morning."
"That's gross," Kali says.
"I keep telling you, parents are just human," Dieter says. "And when they're in crisis, you need to cut them some slack, just as you would your friends."
"Cutting them slack only gives them more room to obsess about their own lives and ignore our family," I say.
Dieter's eyebrows shoot up. "That's harsh."
Now even Dieter's using the H-word. "You're the one who keeps telling us to focus on changing the things we can control and getting over the things we can't."
He studies me for a long moment. "Zahra, you've gained a lot of confidence in the past two months, but you could work on becoming more tolerant, especially with your parents."
"And others," a raspy voice says. While we were talking, Syd slipped into the room and took the chair closest to the door. I was sure she'd skip group today, but here she is, hands clasping and unclasping, leashless. "Dieter, do you think it's possible that some people are so unlikeable, everyone gives up on them?" She looks from me to Kali.
Zahra Ahmed-MacDuff, Kali Exposito, and Syd Stark meet in group therapy every Thursday after school, "just a support group for teens who have 'families in transition'" with leader Dieter, a licensed therapist. Despite their dysfunctional families, each of the trio has a boyfriend who gives her support and encouragement. However, their comfort shatters when they discover the perfect boyfriend each has is actually the same guy whose pride and joy is his car, Miss Daisy, a "1986 Shelby Charger, custom painted powder-blue with while racing stripes." To Zahra, an aspiring chef, he is Rico, a food aficionado who for nine weeks has shared her interests; to Kali, a musician, he is Rick who for a month has attended concerts and music festivals with her; and to Syd, a talented artist, he is Eric, her boyfriend for more than a year from whom she asked for some space to deal with her parents' breakup. When the girls discover Eric's perfidy, each is devastated. "My sweet, considerate boyfriend managed to keep not one, but two other girlfriends without raising any flags," Zahra observes. "It turns out our Rico has three identities and no conscience."
The girls compare notes and decide on appropriate revenge, trashing Eric's car creatively using superglue, fish guts, and spray paint. By the time they finish, Miss Daisy smells horrible, wears a "sparkly unicorn leaping over a rainbow" on the hood, and is advertised at an insultingly low price on a For-Sale poster the girls strategically post around Austin. Big time slam! The success of their revenge engages the interest of fellow teens, and Love Inc. evolves from Project Payback on a case-by-case basis focussing on surveillance, Syd's talent; mediation, Zahra's evolving role; breakup; matchmaking, Kali's forte, relationship coaching; and revenge, Syd's specialty. Kali, the inveterate flirt, immediately engages with guys and offers to match Zahra and Syd with new partners while coping with her brother and her needy mom on the home front. Zahra, who blames her mother's Pakistani parents for coming to Austin and breaking up the Ahmed-MacDuff marriage, currently shares an apartment with her father. She maintains close ties with her mother and her younger sister, all the while trying to avoid her grandparents' attempts to indoctrinate her to their belief system. Syd, whose best friend and constant companion is her dog, Banksy, copes with a mother who obsesses about getting her husband back and a father who has a young, nubile girlfriend. Syd's life undergoes a major upheaval when Banksy falls ill and desperately needs a pacemaker. Because neither of her parents will ante up funds for the procedure, Kali and Zahra organize fund-raising for Banksy in addition to their remarkably successful Love Inc. business. Inevitably, their business runs afoul of the adults, and they are technically grounded, but, as Kali proposes, "Maybe we just let things slide for a while. Be on our best behavior. And once our parents are caught up in their own dramas, we start up again - only smarter." A sequel will undoubtedly explore the further exploits of the trio and Love Inc...
Toronto-based authors Collins and Rideout, who have collaborated on several novels, present an entertaining and amusing premise that should sound a warning to cheating boyfriends, not to mention girlfriends. The main focus remains on narrator Zahra and her struggles with conflicting Scots and Pakistani cultures as well as her parents' divorce, her disillusionment with boys, her food industry aspirations, and her budding career as a mediator/counselor. Nevertheless, Kali and Syd are well-defined and appealing with distinct personalities, characteristics, and struggles. The theme of friendship underpins the action as the three cope with their daily challenges and come to terms with their families and relationships. The authors design some creative scenarios among the revenge/ mediation/ surveillance/ matchmaking issues with plenty of amusing side shows and laugh-out-loud outcomes. Although the action moves along smartly, some readers might find the length somewhat troublesome and tire of the quantity of issues, teen and adult, that are raised, but not explored. Interspersed in the prose are sections of Zahra's imaginary cooking show, The Sweet Tooth, featuring celebrity chef Oliver James, a world to which she escapes when the present becomes too difficult.
While marriage breakdown and its effect on children, the complexities of relationships, teen romance, and cross-cultural conflicts join the usual teen problem issues raised in the novel, the developing relationships among the three girls remains the central focus. Well-paced prose, snappy dialogue, plenty of humorous antics, and quirky, appealing main and varied secondary characters combine to present an amusing and entertaining chic lit novel that should appeal to young adult readers.
Darleen Golke, a former teacher librarian, writes from her home in Abbotsford, BC.
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