Monday, December 27, 2010

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

Title: The Boyfriend List
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: March 22nd, 2005
Pages: 229 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

Fifteen-year-old Ruby Oliver has had a rough ten days. In the past ten days she:
  • lost her boyfriend (#13 on the list)
  • lost her best friend (Kim)
  • lost all her other friends (Nora, Cricket)
  • did something suspicious with a boy (#10)
  • did something advanced with a boy (#15)
  • had an argument with a boy (#14)
  • had a panic attack (scary)
  • lost a lacrosse game (she's the goalie)
  • failed a math test (she'll make it up)
  • hurt Meghan's feelings (even though they aren't actually friends)
  • became a social outcast (no one to sit with at lunch)
  • had graffiti written about her in the girls' bathroom (who knows what was in the boys'!?!)
But don't worry--Ruby lives to tell the tale. And make more lists.

Review:

In ten days, Ruby Oliver has lost her friends, boyfriend, and social standing, then gained panic attacks and a therapist with an ugly poncho named Doctor Z. As an assignment from Doctor Z, Ruby has to make a list of all the boys that were boyfriends of any sort: almosts, wish-they-weres, rumored, and every other kind. That totals up to fifteen guys (only about four of whom she actually did anything with) and she has to tell Doctor Z the story behind each and every one of them. Meanwhile, she also has to talk about the Spring Fling and Xerox incidents that led to her current situation, her current status at school, and how her parents refuse to shut up and let her talk. Will she survive? Of course, but not without some mortification!

I was almost positive I would like this book because it sounded like mindless, hilarious fun and I'm all for that after encountering some not-so-good books. The Boyfriend List was hilarious and fun like I expected it to be, but it was anything but mindless. Maybe I'm thinking more into it than most people because I worship another book of hers that deals with a lot of big issues, but I found the book to be a fascinating, unable-to-put-down book examining the dating game, friendship, the interactions between boys and girls, and that complicated thing called love.

Despite being a fictional girl relating her guy and friend problems to a therapist, Ruby felt remarkably real and so did everyone else in the book that had at least some level of interaction with Ruby. It felt as though I could go to Seattle and see Ruby at the B&O Espresso and see her dad working on his plants on their houseboat, even though I'm completely aware that's impossible. Unless they were a minor character with maybe five lines in the entire book, everyone had another side to them. Depending on who is reading and how they view the story, Jackson could be either a guy who has no idea how to deal with girls properly and screws up just like everyone else or a mean slimebag that Ruby should never ever consider getting back with. Kim could be either a catty girl who manipulated the rules of friendship to steal her best friend's boyfriend or a deep romantic who followed the friendship rules to get the guy she thought was perfect for her from her best friend.

Ruby's voice is utterly entertaining and for once, the teens in the book sound like actual teenagers! I could see myself having conversations with my friends similar to the ones Ruby and her friends had. She could stay on-topic in the story and ramble on both importantly and unimportantly in the footnotes (oh, and this book is written with plenty of footnotes, so this is a little bit of an alternative style compared to most novels). As much as I hate to admit this, being a teenager means worrying about what other people think of you in most cases. I don't worry about that, but I know others do. Ruby's mind is always on other people; in one chapter, the guy of the chapter is literally just a footnote while she talks about how Jackson's actions made her feel insecure about herself.

Normally, I'm not one who cares that much about the romantic entanglements of the main character. So she likes this guy, but this guy likes her and she just might like him back? Okay, fine. It's her choice, not mine. If it turns out that ones of the guys is a creep and treats her badly, I start caring, but that's only every now and then. Since this book is all about Ruby's romantic entanglements, it's no wonder that I started taking sides. By the time I finished the book, I knew which guys I liked with her, which ones I wanted to toss into a fire pit before they got anywhere near her, and which ones I didn't care about one way or the other.

Perhaps the best thing this book did was that it made me question slut-shaming, where people label certain girls as sluts for stuff ling being promiscuous or dressing sexily. They get condemned for expressing their sexuality in an effort to bring them down because women just aren't supposed to be that openly sexual. This happens to both Ruby and Meghan--Ruby for the Xerox incident, Meghan for multiple reassons--and just as easily as it happens in real life, it happens in this book. We get chewed out on the Internet for it, but that doesn't happen so much in real life. Heck, even I have done some slut-shaming and I realized just how wrong it was of me to do that after reading this book. People can try to justify it, but nothing will ever make it the right thing to do. Ruby slut-shames Meghan for a while and falls victim to it herself. Once she realizes how wrong the practice is, she stops thinking of her friend that way and takes a stand for her right to be sexual. Seeing her put those fishnets back on made me beam at the book.

My only problem with The Boyfriend List was how much the timeline bounced around. First we're at an appointment with Ruby and Doctor Z, then we bounce back to when the incident with the boy on the list happened, then we're in the not-so-distant past when Jackson and Ruby were together, then we're in the present again at school, then back at an appointment with Doctor Z, where the cycle starts over again. Maybe it's because I was reading this book at one in the morning, but I had a hard time putting each piece of the timeline where it belonged in my head.

Some might read this and find a story about a cynical girl whining about her vapid guy and friend problems. Others might find a fluffy read about a girl and the many boys she has interacted with. Me? I found a social commentary on love and the dating game, how complicated the two are, and how happy endings are hard to find. I look forward to reading more about Ruby's troubles and don't have to worry about waiting--the next two books are already in my possession and I will have the fourth book in my hands in about a week. Whether or not you're looking for a trip through the mind of a teenage girl and how there is so much more to everything that happens to her, pick up this book and give it a try.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, the sequel to The Boyfriend List. I started it this morning and already got halfway through! Review by Wednesday evening.