Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

Spoilers ahoy! I could not write this review properly without doing some spoiling, so be warned.

Title: The Treasure Map of Boys
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date:July 23, 2009
Pages: 241 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift.

It's the second term of junior year, and Ruby is back at Tate Prep. It's also her thirty-seventh week in the state of Noboyfriend. Her panic attacks are bad, her love life is even worse, and what's more:

Noel is writing her notes,
Jackson is giving her frogs,
Gideon is helping her cook,
And Finn is making her brownies.

Rumors are flying, and Ruby's already sucky reputation is heading downhill.

Not only that, she's also:

Running a bake sale,
Encountering some seriously smelly feet,
Defending the rights of pygmy goats,
And bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.

In this third Ruby Oliver novel, the companion to The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, and Real Live Boyfriends, Ruby struggles to secure some sort of mental health, to understands what constitutes a real friendship and--if such a thing exists--to find true love.

Review:

Ruby Oliver is back for the second half of her junior year and dealing with more drama than ever. She has finally realized that she has feelings for Noel, but can't do anything about them because Nora voiced hers first and. All she wants is to be a good friend and a good person; she doesn't want a repeat of the alienation that ensued after the Spring Fling incident. Around her, her life starts to implode on itself: she gets fired from her job, her feelings for Jackson return with full force, her therapy is going nowhere fast, and her panic attacks are happening more and more often. All the pressure of being a good person, running a bake sale, and finding a new job is pushing on her and Ruby is headed straight for a breakdown.

If you're looking for a book where the character does everything right and everything goes the way she wants it to, this is not the book you want to read. Ruby has literally no luck in this book--from getting fired from one job to getting two of her closest friends pissed off at her again, Ruby isn't getting anything right. She is screwing up every possible way she can screw up and is suffering from some sort of bad luck curse. Honestly, the number of screw-ups Ruby has in this novel is beyond excessive even for her. All of the misfortune does serve an important purpose, which keeps it from being misfortune written for the sake of it, but most readers may not realize this until the last twenty pages of the novel and despite the purpose, that does not stop all of the screw-ups from making this book borderline-depressing.

Sometimes around page one hundred fifty or even two hundred, for readers like me, it becomes obvious that Ruby is having a mental breakdown. All of the negative in her life is tearing her apart, bringing her down, and in connection bringing down the novel a little bit. What made me realize this? Someone is trying to take over the bake sale she put together with hard work because it isn't "cute enough" for the people coming there and Roo stands up for herself when the conqueror-wannabe brings our heroine's not-so-lovely reputation into the equation when it has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Roo successfully retains her hold on the bake sale, but then ends the fight by throwing food at the other girl. That was the moment her breakdown really popped out at me.

From that point on, the book is an emotional grabber and will refuse to let you go. The nineteenth chapter of this book, in which Ruby has a great revelation about the treasure in her life, will forever stick with me as one of the emotional pieces I have ever read. It is so, so emotionally charged and perfectly written that I, someone who does not often get brought to tears when reading, felt her eyes water within the first two pages of the nineteenth chapter and then had that become a normal reaction until the end of the book. I had to put it down once and have a good cry before I could pick it up again. This is definitely the most emotionally involving Ruby Oliver book yet.

For me, the main difference between these books and other prep-school-drama books is that the Ruby Oliver novels have substance. They don't feel like novels written just to entertain the brain; they're trying to get a message across to the reader through Ruby's troubles and usually succeed. It took me a long time to cue in on the issue of the novel: thinking about the good in life instead of the bad. In the past two novels, I picked up on it immediately and enjoyed seeing how the issue was covered and played out. This time? Not so much. At points, I had the legitimate worry that these great novels were becoming just as melodramatic and drama-centric as novel series such as the Gossip Girl books.

For a lot of this novel, Ruby let me down in the boy department. She's still the same girl she was at the end of The Boy Book with all growth intact except for one teensy little thing: despite how the end of The Boy Book showed that she was finally over Jackson, it turns out that she's not over him after all. Once she learns that he broke up with Kim, she's lovestruck over him again. It is perfectly fine for her to have a relapse in her feelings because people do that and she's not perfect, but as I said, I was disappointed she couldn't just stay over him. This might stem from my own dislike of Jackson.

She does realize late in the novel that she does not want him and will never want him again, no matter how much her fantasies of being back with him seem lovely, and that was perfect. Absolutely perfect. She was smart enough to separate what she wanted to have happen and what she knew would happen and saved herself more heartache. A thousand times yes. Where is all the media that gives this important message to girls? We need more bestsellers that give girls this message instead of bestsellers that tell girls to let their boyfriend control their life or that girls are lesser beings than boys or that his unwanted sexual harassment is fine as long as you fall in love in the end. Not all girls do this, but some girls model their dream relationship after what they read when they're young and in their more impressionable stages in life. This book is the kind of book they should be reading then, not Twilight and Hush, Hush.

(This had no bearing at all on the rating, but I still felt the need to mention it: this book needed a better editor. One should not be finding typo gems such as "And I wanted to her to be happy" in a published novel. Just a useless gripe, my friends; pay it little mind.)
Despite how it did the difficult and brought me to tears, Ruby's excessive misfortune, the difficulty in perceiving the message, and her relapse in feelings for Jackson when it seemed that she was finally done with him kept The Treasure Map of Boys form being on the same level as its predecessors. You may have noticed how many times I discussed good point in the novel and mentioned it being at the end and that is one big flaw. A book should be good from start to finish, not mediocre to bad at the start and then heart-breakingly beautiful and awesome at the end. Touching both sides of the spectrum in one novel is not fun. I am still looking forward to the final book in this quartet, Real Live Boyfriends, and also dread reading it because that means the end of Ruby's story.

4 stars!


What am I reading next?: Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves