Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks

Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 8:38 AM

Rating: 3/5 stars

How do you create a character who's often irritatingly self-righteous, yet also funny, smart, interesting, and deep down kind? And then tell a story from her point of view, showing how she's not totally oblivious to her faults but just blind enough to get into huge trouble? Meet Carly.

Carly's coming back from a hippie-esque summer camp in the mountains, an experience that has provided her with a skinny new figure, some interesting fashion aesthetics, and a whole new attitude towards the superficial, money-obsessed culture of her high school -- that is, complete and utter rejection. Carly is out to be real, and if that means ruffling some hometown feathers by not shaving her legs or by listening to 60's music or even by wearing eye-searing tie-die outfits....well, tough. She's not afraid to be different; she refuses to follow the herd.

Her old friends, of course, don't understand Carly's change of heart, and neither really does her sister, Anna. Little ducky Anna, who is just starting high school and suddenly isn't so little anymore -- especially in the bosom department. Carly doesn't know how to deal with Anna's unexpected transformation into teen isn't exactly nice to be jealous of your little sister's huge (*ahem*) assets, not to mention the way the boys are all drooling after her. To be fair, Anna herself is struggling with all the not-entirely-welcome attention that her new shape is causing, and navigating high school is obviously proving more difficult than she expected. But when is Big Sister Carly supposed to rush to the rescue -- and when should be let her little sister try to paddle along on her own?

Besides, Carly has her own preoccupations - like Cole, the smoldering new boy who happens to play acoustic guitar and has soulful eyes and totally gets all of Carly's 60's band references. It's a match made in Heaven...except Cole oddly persists in not asking Carly out and hanging out with these trashy Barbie girls instead. The only person who seems to appreciate Carly is Roger, her Danish friend, with his wry sense of humor and calm, steady demeanor -- except that Roger has been seeming a little too appreciative recently, especially since Carly doesn't like him back in that way. Does she?

A quality teen novel not only for the character challenge mentioned above, this story also manages to cover most of the 'high school experience' territory while dodging the worst cliches -- or at least smoothing them over with enough genuine interest and emotion. Case in point: 'The Boy Who Is Totally Wrong For Her' theme does unfortunately dominate the novel, but there's enough humor and genuine confusion on Carly's part to give it a pass (especially since the wonderful Roger also exists on the scene. Oh, Roger, you Giant Danish Love Boodle). The body issues also fly fast and furious, with some really cringe-worthy episodes involving diet/fashion obsessed parents absently demolishing their daughters' self-esteem with a few offhand comments. Not to mention the rampant hypocrisy and ignorance of the wealthy high school crowd, absorbed in vacuous and endless debates about hair treatments and vacation plans. A few supporting characters with an actual pulse -- Vonzelle most especially -- provide some relief from this oppressive teen atmosphere, and also give Carly a much-needed kick in the pants about her own self-absorbed and self-righteous tendencies.

Entertaining and substantial enough for a YA high school production, with a heroine who's often a bit frustrating but at least avoids dullness/total cliche. Even if you do want to throttle her sometimes. ;)

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