Publication Date: February 16, 2012
Type: Paperback, received as gift
Pretty in Pink meets Anna and the French Kiss in this charming romantic comedy
Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that's just fine by her. She's got her friends - the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She's got her art - and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it's hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they're dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?
A lot of good and a lot of bad.
This book has a fair amount going for it. The writing is good; intelligent and cute and clear. The premise is intriguing and adorable. Both the concept and the execution of the Truth or Dare games were fantastic--it added a really wonderful dynamic to the trio's friendship, and to the story as a whole. And as for the trio itself, I was very pleasantly surprised by our protagonists's best friends. When they were first introduced, I cringed quite a bit; they seemed destined to be nothing but flat, irritating stereotypes. However, as the novel progressed, the two became shockingly three-dimensional, likable characters--more likable than the protagonist herself. Also, I really enjoyed the strong presence of family in this novel, even if Ella's relatives occasionally bordered on stereotypical.
And, since this is a romance at heart, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the love interest himself. I expected Alex Bainbridge to be the typical rich, hot jackass, so I was again pleasantly surprised when he turned into quite the likable character. While at times his behavior really irritated me, he was funny and sweet and even a bit nerdy, and I grew quite fond of him.
Sadly, that's where the positives stop. And sadly, my very first and biggest negative is the protagonist herself.
I did not like Ella. I did not connect with Ella. I did not sympathize with Ella. And that made this novel significantly harder to enjoy. There were a few occasions where she acted admirably, or said something witty, and I would smile and nod and think, perhaps there is some hope! But then she'd go back to being shy and self-deprecating and creepy, and the positive feelings would all bleed away.
Ella brings nothing new to the table, not even her disturbing obsession with a dead guy named Edward--it's all been done before! She's quiet, awkward, self-conscious, constantly belittling herself, constantly wondering oh-why-oh-why could someone like him ever want someone like me. And worst of all, she's obsessed with an artist that died over a century before. When I say obsessed, I don't mean she really loves his artwork and is fascinated by his life story. I mean she imagines that she holds conversations with him, and even thinks of him in a romantic light.
I think that was supposed to be cool and quirky, but it just creeped me the fuck out.
And that sort of leads into my other major problem with this novel: we were supposed to think she was the absolute coolest. We were supposed to think that /quirky/ Ella and her friends are just the absolute best and all these hot, bitchy, completely one-dimensional popular kids are the worst thing to ever grace this earth. I mean, G-d forbid you actually give the popular people . . . personality. Or . . . complexity. What kind of book would that be? Clearly, popular people are only popular because of their money and sense of fashion. Clearly, the /artsy/ and /intelligent/ and /wonderful/ people are a million times better than those who dare to care about their appearance!
Ella didn't outright think these things--because of reasons called low self-confidence! this is something I've never seen a YA novel before!--but it was the attitude of the entire novel, that we were supposed to find Ella and her friends so superior to these poorly-characterized, stereotypical popular ilk.
My dislike for Ella and this attitude as a whole made it difficult to truly feel the romance, much as I may have liked the love interest. It's hard to root for a couple when you hate half of it, and since the romance was a rather large part of the plot, my failure to feel warm and tingly feelings put a bit of a damper on my reading experience.
Also, while this is a much more minor complaint, I think the use of French could've been handled far more skillfully; I wasn't too lost, considering that's the language I'm currently taking, but those less familiar with French might be left a wee bit confused.
Overall? It's not a horrible book. It entertained me, and even made me laugh aloud. It simply had too many distasteful aspects for me to properly enjoy it. However, I would recommend this to those looking for a fun, mindless read.