by Amy Spalding
To be published by Entangled Teen
on Feb 5, 2012
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
My summary: Devan's father dies unexpectedly, and she's sent to California to live with her mother, Reese Malcolm, a woman she's never met. Everyone knows who Reese Malcolm is -- a famous, New York Times bestselling author. And also a woman of mystery. Devan wants to know everything about her mother, so she starts writing .... the Reece Malcolm list.
My take: Doesn't every teenager secretly wish that their annoying, embarrassing parents aren't their real parents, and that one day some fabulous person will show up and say, "Hey, I'm your mom. Let's get out of here so I can buy you a closetful of new clothes and a car."
The Reese Malcolm List is an interesting book. On the surface it's pure teen wish fulfillment. Devan's dad dies, and a lawyer shows up to take her to California to live with her biological mother. (Her family situation is pretty complicated. More on that later.) From then on, life becomes a dream. Devan, a talented singer, is accepted into a top performing arts school, where she sings with the show choir and gets cast in the school musical. Guys fall in love with her. She's wildly talented, but super modest. She's Rachel Berry from Glee without the ginormous ego.
For that reason, Glee and Fame and Smash fans will adore this book. The author, an actor, clearly knows her stuff. A lot of the book deals with try-outs and callbacks and tech rehearsals and Sondheim. If all that makes your heart beat faster, stop reading and pre-order this book. Another large part of the book deals with Devan's love life -- a love pentagon between her, a guy named Dai, another guy named Elijah, and two girls, Nicole and Lissa. But don't let that put you off, this love geometry isn't just stuck in there for drama. It felt pretty realistic.
Then there's one more aspect of the book, one that I wish had been explored in greater detail: the unusual family relationships. Devan already knew that when her father was in college, he cheated on his girlfriend with Reece and got her pregnant. Then -- here's the kind-of-remarkable part -- Devan was raised by her dad and his girlfriend, the one who got cheated on. I was floored by that and wanted to know more. But all Devan says is that she wasn't that close to her father and that her stepmother yelled at her a lot. Yes, but that stepmother is also a woman who got cheated on, raised her boyfriend's love child for sixteen years and then couldn't have kids of her own. Then, after all those years, someone takes that child away? Wow. I mean, I sort of wanted to hear more about that.
But The Reece Malcolm List is about Devan and Reese, and that was also the part of the story that I liked best. Devan's life becomes so perfect -- her incredible talent, guys falling for her, all the shopping sprees -- that if Reece Malcolm had been the most amazing mother ever, that would have been too saccharine for me. I loved the fact that Reece Malcolm was not the ideal mom. She's prickly. Secretive. Anti-social. Emotionally closed-off. Which is why Devan has to write the list. Finally, by the end, there's some progress in their relationship, but it's not this sappy lovefest. Their relationship felt realistic for one between a mother and a daughter who haven't seen each other for sixteen years. Awkward. Sometimes difficult. Which is often the way mother and teen daughter relationships are anyway.
Though this book wasn't exactly what I expected -- I thought I'd be getting more family drama and less drama of the musical theater sort -- I enjoyed The Reece Malcolm List very much. Devan is an appealing character and the story is told in a breezy, easy-to-read style. I'd recommend The Reece Malcolm List to theater geeks and fans of contemporary YA.