Friday, January 10, 2014

Manicpixiedreamgirl, by Tom Leveen

Ever since ninth grade, Tyler has had a massive crush on Rebecca Webb, but he's never been able to find the will to tell her.  Instead, he's told his friend Sydney in honors English.  She even offered to hook them up, but Tyler couldn't imagine doing it.  Instead, he started dating Syd instead.  And so a weird triangle developed:  Sydney likes Tyler and Tyler is OK with hanging out with Syd, but both of them know that Tyler dreams of Becky.  Meanwhile, Becky doesn't know how Tyler feels about her at all.  At least, not until tonight, when Tyler's thinly-veiled story about Becky has just been published.

And what has Tyler written?  He's created a short story all about the wonderful way he feels about Becky.  About how perfect she is and how he is not worthy of her.  The problem is that Becky (big surprise!) is hardly the perfect creature than Tyler imagines.  She's hardly the straight-A perfect student of Tyler's dreams.  In fact, as everyone at school (including Tyler) knows, she's pretty screwed up.  Becky, to put it mildly, has self-esteem issues and a reputation for hooking up with any boy who asks, which Tyler would know if he ever asked her.  Doing that, however, would destroy the dream world that Tyler has created.  He would rather imagine rescuing her.

An amazingly intense story of how human beings (and perhaps adolescents a bit more strongly) create fantasies to avoid awkward truths.  It's an unpleasant story -- there are no true heroes here -- and Leveen makes no attempt to sweeten any of the protagonists.  Whether it's Tyler's obsession for Becky, or Syd's hopeless desire to stay with Tyler, or Becky's complete self-destructive behavior, these are messed up kids with very believable issues.  If you've never been in one of these roles, consider yourself lucky -- the rest of us have the t-shirt to show for it in our closet!

I especially like the fact that this is a book written by a man about a boy.  I take no small amount of flak for reading "girl" books all the time.  I do so because it usually takes a woman author writing about a girl to tell a story with this much emotional honesty.  Male authors don't have the patience to tell this story and everyone assumes that only boys will read about a boy (and that boys won't read something like this with so little action in it).  The result is that it is very rare to find a novel like this.  Leveen truly is an outstanding YA writer who has the insight and the skills to create strong and realistic young men and women, and tell a story with brutal honesty.

This may well be the best book I read in 2014.  What a way to start the year!

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