Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover (Most Popular Guy in the School #1), Robbie Michaels

          “Bill was happy. My mother was happy. And I’d seen him naked and hard – I was happy too. We were all happy…” 

                -Review by Mr Austro Hungarian

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover (Most Popular Guy in the School, # 1)
The quote above basically describes this book, pretty much in a nutshell. It was designed to make us happy – everyone in the book was happy, and I am about 99 percent sure the author was happy writing this.

It is your typical feel-good, social outcast/math nerd meets school jock that has it all, and they fall head over heels. In this particular book, the social outcast is in the form of Mark, a gay senior who has made it his life goal to emulate the turtle, to blend in and withdraw, if necessary. You see, he lives in a very small town, and has found anonymity the best way to deal with aforementioned homosexuality – don’t ask, don’t tell.

At the start of the book, he is forced to unpack school fundraising chocolate boxes from a truck, to make up for lost credit in Gym. (Because, being the quintessential nerd he is, he has an in-built ineptitude for sport.) This is when we cue in the meeting of Mark and Mr. Mary Sue Bill Cromwell, who takes his form as the god-like, chiselled and oh-so-lickable head jock.

As the story progresses through the first few chapters, we see Mark and Bill make a very fast friendship – and courtship – due to a very well-timed snowstorm and car malfunction on Bill’s part. (Well, at least the car was on Bill’s part; I do not think he can manipulate the weather, but I wouldn’t put it past him.) Then we see life unravel for these two love-struck teenagers, as they battle family abuse, STD’s (Small Town Disease) and dealing with being gay where there are, quite frankly, no gay men that don’t live in Narnia.

Now, I thought this book was okay. It wasn’t bad; quite far from it, actually. What did like about this book?

- I thought that the author who wrote these books has a nice flair for the histrionic monologues, which was part of the reason why Mark was a favourite character of mine. 

- I thought that the ideas and sentiments that were conveyed through book were sweet and lovely, albeit packed with enough saccharine to cause me to choke on said love.

- I enjoyed the way the book conveyed the way small towns work, particularly when the author used the mother as the prime vessel. Why?
   - Did she know the genealogy of everyone that had lived in that town? Check.

   - Furthermore, could she delineate the difference between who was a respected family, and who was not to be associated with? Check.
   - Did she have everyone on speed dial? Check.
   - Furthermore, did everyone on her speed dial list actually have a talking, friendship-more-than-acquaintance relationship with her? Check.
   - Did she treat guests with more vigour than her own family? Check…for about 1/3 of the book. (This should have been developed a lot more, in my opinion.)

I thought that this was pretty typical; a stereotype, perhaps? Probably. But I knew many of my friend’s mums that were exactly like this when I was growing up, and perhaps even worse.

- I also enjoyed Mark’s narration, for the most part. He did enough to keep me entertained when the dialogue perhaps wasn’t as sharp as it could have been, and for that I applaud him.

- The final thing that I enjoyed is that Mark masturbates. I know, I know, this point treads a line of controversy in regards to how much sexual activity is to be shown in the Young Adult genre, but I thought that this small touch of realism was a nice addition.

However, there were flaws within the writing too. What were the major things I didn’t like about this book?

- It reached halfway. I know, that criticism is so utterly generic. But to quote Miss Elle Woods: “I have a point, I promise!”

I was slightly disappointed, because until about the halfway mark, I was on track to giving this book – provided it went the way I thought it would – 3.5/4 stars. But then it almost seemed like the author decided to floor the brakes and turn the book into a fairy tale about how a man, his perfect boyfriend and a preachy mom and dad can conquer everything in life with immeasurable kindness and unfailing warmth. 

Is this entirely bad? Not entirely. I do like it when people are nice and kind. But this, couple with the infallible kindness of random strangers met by the boys along the way just ramped it up to the level of absurdity. 

For example, there came a point in the book where Mark and Mary Sue Bill fly on two aeroplanes; one to get to Chicago, and then the exchange aeroplane to California. 

On the first flight, an air hostess asks Mark every two seconds if he was enjoying himself on the flight, just because he looked a tad scared getting on. Then she gives them coupons to exchange for food on their next flight. And then she gives them, complete strangers who she barely knows, the contact details and address of her elderly and rich mother, because they might need accommodation, and they seem like such nice boys.

On the second flight, we have a gay couple, arousing Mark from his sleep by saying that Mark and him are “the cutest couple ever”, and then they proceed to ask about where they are headed, why they are going there, and whatever else floated their boat to ask. What tops this second scenario off, however, was that they were offered a ride to the destination they were headed, by two complete strangers that they had just met, and accepted without any second thought. Now, I may have a slightly cynical nature, but this scenario was just very…off. Why would a seemingly intelligent young man, with what appears to be a very switched-on mother that should have given him stranger danger lessons, be accepting a ride that easily? 

Because they were a part of “the gay brotherhood”, apparently. Geez, that sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Please remind me of this the next time I see a random gay man in the street; I can’t drive and could always use a lift!

The other major reason this novel grated on me was:

- Bill Cromwell…

…do I even need to say it?

…he was a Mary Sue. A big one. He had intelligence, textbook beauty, good body, popularity, kindness, a way with parents, and could convince anyone of anything. (Including that time where he told the air hostess’ mother (yes, they actually went there) their whole life story – unprovoked – which made her feel all soft and fuzzy and invited these boys to stay in a luxurious flat so that she could have company. This was the point where I wanted to throw Bill Cromwell into the ocean that they could see from aforementioned apartment.)

The funny thing is that, whilst he was made to be perfect, he also had no voice as a person. At the beginning of the book, he was, quite literally, the person that would take directions on whether he was to eat that night from a magic 8 ball.

But then, after a big, life-changing event happened, Bill turned into a man that took the world by  storm, did not ever question himself, and took charge of every situation that he was faced. God, I wish that happened to me.

Now, there was a reason for this, but the change was too sudden and would never be that extreme…ever.

There were other minor flaws, including:

- Lack of character fluidity, in dialogue and in the person itself. Often, I found that my perceptions of people changed more times than I needed to inhale air, which can only mean that the people were written inconsistently throughout. I also thought that this then made the dialogue stilted; I almost sense that to keep the character’s personality relatively consistent, the dialogue needed to be repetitive and almost formulaic. (I swear, if Bill said “thank you” or “you do not need to do this for me”, and Mark’s mother and father had any more uplifting, cliché or stereotypical talks one more time…)

- Plot holes. One example being - Bill’s father “goes away” after something happens with Bill’s family. (It is also tied in with the life-changing event I was talking about with Bill). After this, it is never explained where he goes. Bill asks incessantly, and Mark’s mother and father keep repeating things along the lines of: “We haven’t buried him, if that’s what you think.”

Seriously?! Bill’s father has gone; even though he wasn’t a nice man, you could still give him a clue as to where you bloody put him...even if it was in the ground! (I personally would have enjoyed that, it would’ve given Mark’s parents a voice that wasn’t so bloody nice and kind!) If I didn’t dislike Bill so much, I would feel sorry for him not knowing. But alas, this lack of persistence and gall is another reason why I formulated:

Question: Where the hell did they put Bill’s cerebral cortex – along with the other anatomically significant parts of Bill’s brain – when they took it out for cleaning?”

Hypothesis: We didn’t bury it!

Sigh. It almost sounds like I hated the book. I really didn’t. I guess because it was a nice, feel-good story that the flaws weren’t as immediately grating as they could have been.

And I guess this sentiment is exactly how I should draw this review to a close. If you want a feel good story that will make you believe that true love knows no boundaries – including the boundaries of popularity, social prejudice and first perceptions – then give this a go. It will deliver as promised.

A copy of this book was supplied to Greedy Bug by Harmony Ink in return for an honest review. 


  1. What an entertaining review. You had me giggling before I was done reading it. The book looks to be a bit unrealistic as well as predictable (compared to what I have read recently) but you said it's a feel-good story so that's a good thing. Great review, Mr. AH. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Such an entertaining review from a young adult's perspective :)