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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Which I Review A Great Under-the-Radar Book

Recently I’ve been falling into this trap. Think of it as the quicksand in the Fire Swamp. I’ll be browsing blogs for book recommendations and then—BAM!—I’m sucked into review after review of new releases.

Not that there’s anything wrong with reading books that just came out. I do it all the time, and mostly it’s because I’m too impatient to wait to read a book I’ve been looking forward to for months.

(Who am I kidding? I’m too impatient to wait for the oven to heat up most of the time. It’s taken all of my strength to hold off on reading Divergent until my WIP is ready for its next round of critiques. I’m pretty sure being that patient has seriously depleted my energy stores.)

So the other day I picked up a book that:

a) I had never heard of.
b) was published in 2008.
c) was not one of those big books that everyone’s read.

The book: Audrey, Wait! Here’s what Goodreads says…
When her ex writes a break-up song about her that rockets up the charts, Audrey is suddenly famous—she can’t go out without being mobbed by fans and paparazzi. Readers can take a wild ride with Audrey as she makes headlines, confronts her ex on MTV, and shows the world who she really is. It’s the song everyone’s singing. And it’s about her! But for Audrey, becoming famous overnight equals total, life-changing disaster…
The bottom line: The book was pretty great.

You know how agents and editors always talk about the elusive voice element of a book? They’ll say things like, “I look for a strong voice” or “the voice just isn’t working,” and a lot of writers scratch their heads and think, What the Hemmingway is voice? So for anyone who’s ever wondered whether voice is a magical part of books that only agents and editors can see (and only with special voice-seeing goggles), I have one suggestion: Read this book.

Seriously, Robin Benway nailed it. It’s what makes the book so incredibly funny, and it’s not just because of the words she uses; Audrey’s personality and outlook on life colors every word, every sentence. It’s one of those effortlessly funny voices that make me wish I thought of half of the things that come out of Audrey’s mouth.

I don’t want to give too much away here, so I’ll chose a quote from very early in the book. In the first chapter we learn that Audrey’s the punch line of a hit song, her actions have been twisted around by the press, and she’s writing this book to tell the world her side of the story. 
“Okay, I’ve been trying to avoid this part, but it’s not a secret anymore. It’s true. I work at an ice cream shop—excuse me, shoppe—at the mall. That in itself is not so bad, except for three things: (1) I hate the mall; (2) I hate all the customers; and (3) I’m forced to wear a bright pink hat and T-shirt that say … are you ready for this? 
Scooper Dooper. 
 If there is any justice in the world, the first major meteorite to ever strike the Earth will score a direct hit on the Scooper Dooper. I might even become an astrophysicist just so I can help move that plan along.
Another part of the book I loved? The relationship between Audrey and her best friend Victoria. Together, these girls are hilarious and often because of the completely random things they talk about. Somehow it’s so authentically teen. For instance:
“I told him that my cat was on fire and he didn’t even hear me! On fire, Victoria! And he didn’t care!” 
She paused for a minute. “Aud,” she finally said, “that is so fucking twisted that I don’t even know where to start.” 
“Okay, I know, but it had to be drastic.” 
“That’s not drastic, that’s sadistic. You’ve got your –tics mixed up.” 
“Will you please focus on the issue at hand? Evan doesn’t listen to what I’m saying!” 
I could hear her sigh loudly. “And this is news?” 
“Should I break up with him?” 
“Do you want to break up with him?” 
“I don’t know.” I did my best dramatic sigh. “Distract me from feeling miserable.” 
“Umm… ummm… I got new shoes.” 
“Wanna come over and try them on?” 
I kinda did. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
So there’s that. There’s also this giant breakup, and I had some fear that the ending to the book would be as cheesy as the conclusion of a romantic comedy (if a young Kate Hudson played Audrey to young Matthew McConaughey’s Evan The Ex, how do you think it’s all turn out?) but I really liked how it all came together. Part of that is because of Audrey’s Scooper Dooper coworker, James.

James, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: You’re uptight. You’re kind of dorky. You’re sweet and cute and a good friend to Audrey. But what I really love about the character is how his shy, somewhat OCD nature complements Audrey’s sarcasm and humor. Like this conversation they had at work:
“I already cleaned out the water wells and reorganized the overstock,” James said to me as I clocked in  and tied on my apron. He always tucks his work shirt in, which makes me a bit nuts. 
“And happy hello to you, too,” I said. 
“And I think we’re low on waffle cones, so I left a note for the manager to reorder some on Monday morning.” 
“What a relief.” 
My sarcasm wasn’t registering with him at all. “I know,” he replied. “You know how customers are about waffle cones.” 
“It’s one of the great injustices of my life that I do know, James.” Okay, I even out-bitched myself on that one. I admit it.
See? Anyway, the story’s fun, has tons of music references, and will have you smiling if not laughing throughout.

So there. That’s my under-the-radar book recommendation. Go forth and read.

Leave your suggestions for not-so-well-known books in the comments.

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