"Rule 1: All's fair in love, war and popularity ... Kat Elliot is no social butterfly: she's spent her life rebelling against phony schmoozing - and it's led her nowhere. Just as she's ready to give up her dreams and admit defeat, in steps Lauren Anderville. One-time allies against their school bullies, Lauren and Kat had been inseparable. Then one year later Lauren returned from summer camp - blonde, bubbly and suddenly popular, and Kat was left to face the world alone. Lauren finally wants to make amends by teaching Kat the secret to her success: "The Popularity Rules". A decades-old rulebook, its secrets transformed Lauren that fateful summer. And so, tempted by Lauren's promises of glitzy parties and the job she's always dreamed of, Kat reluctantly submits to a total makeover - only to find that life with the in-crowd might have something going for it after all. But while Lauren has sacrificed everything to get ahead, is Kat really ready to accept that popularity is the only prize that counts?"
Just from reading her book descriptions, I knew immediately that Abby McDonald was an author to watch. I've been waiting and longing to read her two books for months and even though the summaries sounded fantastic and right down my alley, I was still slightly worried that I was getting too excited and that I might not like the book after all. Goodness knows it's happened before and I got my hopes up for nothing, but luckily this was not the case with Ms McDonald - I thought Life Swap was a really great read, but I'm pleased to say that I found her adult debut (many thanks to Arrow Books for kindly sending me a copy!) even better!
As you can tell from the summary and the cover, this is a chick lit novel, which I generally enjoy, but the silly heroines tend to get on my nerves sometimes. So what I particularly appreciated about this novel is that it features feminist characters, which means that instead ditzy (albeit adorable) girls you get smart, independent, ambitious and strong female characters whose lifelong mission is not to find Mr Right in order to be able to exist; instead, they focus on themselves and pursue their own dreams. Feminism is something that I personally feel very strongly about and I was immensly pleased to find educated feminist references (both positive and negative) and features in both of Abby's novels. Sadly, I find that feminism is widely misunderstood and people (note that I said people, which means not only men, but also women!!) still use it as a derogatory term without even knowing what it actually stands for. I do wish feminism was featured more often in the novels so people would subtly learn what it's really all about and drop the bad stereotypes, they're really getting old. Oh, one can only wish.
Anyway, having spit that out, I can move on to the actual review and I think I'll start with the things I loved about the book (a minor one being the tubgate reference from Life Swap, that was fun, hehe).
Firstly, I really enjoyed The Popularity Rules themselves at the beginning of each chapter. Their tone was completely different (far more bitter and ruthless and blunt) to the narration and yet the two worked really well together and everything was connected - each rule applied to some situations described in the story so I have to say the novel was well structrued. As trivial and shallow as they may be, I think they actually provide some excellent advice, and while I wouldn't be surprised if some/many people looked down on them, I think smart people will take the advice and make the best of it. Obviously, they're not to be taken too seriously, but The Rules really do help if you want to achieve something in life. If there's one thing I've learned in the past years is that "being yourself" is naive and stupid and it'll get you nowhere. It may sound bitter, but wahey. The Rules take this to the next stage and offer some advice on how to become who you want to be and achieve what you want. According to the book, it takes a lot of determination and manipulation and effort and time, but some people would think the prize is worth it. But is it really? Having recently experienced all the pros and cons of the so-called popularity, that is something that Kat has to decide on for herself.
Secondly, I really liked the characters, despite the fact that most of the side ones were quite one dimensional (Gabi, Oscar, Kat's mother, Whitney, Jessica etc.), but I didn't mind too much since I thought they all added to the story regardless. I found Lauren slightly underdeveloped as well, but I suppose that's due to the fact that she hardly ever drops her mask and is very reserved, which is clearly described in the novel. My favourite character was obviously Kat, the independent girl who's never afraid to give everyone a piece of her mind. However, being herself and flaunting it and only gotten Kat into big trouble and cost her her beloved job. Kat is a very unlikely candiadate to succumb to The Popularity Rules, but seeing how she struggled after being fired and having everything offered to her on a plate, I could understand why she decided to do it, albeit reluctantly. It is also clear to see why she eventually got very caught up in it and why she still made the final decision. Yes, Kat had her annoying moments, but on the whole I really quite warmed up to her.
There are many things I can say about this novel (obviously, since this review is slowly turning into an essay, lol), but sadly I can't say that it's very plot driven. I admit I found it a bit slow paced at times, but luckily the fun yet smart dialogue made up for it and made the novel very enjoyable. I liked how the dialogue was very real and modern and how both pop references and educated talk was all mixed together.
All in all, I have to say I *really* enjoyed this novel. I thought it was an outstanding adult debut, especially since the author is only 24 (i.e. my age - gee, thanks, Abby; way to make other supposedly successful 24-year-olds feel like complete losers and idiots. :p) I thought the book was well written and very easy to read with great characters and fantastic dialogue and some useful advice. Take it or leave it, it's up to you, but either way I strongly recommend this book if you're in the mood for some amazing escapism! But don't just take my word for it, feel free to read Chloe's review too. :) If you haven't already, check out my previous post about the book with a video (or two) and a link to the official book site, woo.
overall rating: 5/5
plot: 4/5 | writing: 5/5 | characters: 5/5 | cover: 5/5