manicpixiedreamgirl by Tom Leveen
on April 23, 2013
Buzzwords: male friendships, drama club, unattainable girl, manic pixie dream girl
Summary (from Goodreads:) Seventeen-year-old Tyler Darcy's dream of being a writer is starting to feel very real now that he's sold his first short story to a literary journal. He should be celebrating its publication with his two best friends who've always had his back, but on this night, a steady stream of texts from his girlfriend Sydney keep intruding. So do the memories of his dream girl, Becky, who's been on his mind a little too much since the first day of high school. Before the night is over, Ty might just find the nerve to stop all the obsessing and finally take action.This will be a review but also a discussion of Manic Pixie Dream Girls in general. If you just want the review, skip down...
The term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" was reportedly coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in his 2007 review of Elizabethtown. The MPDG, as described by Rabin,
exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.
Well, slot me into category #2. I mean, I don't wish to commit grievous bodily harm on any MDPG (except maybe Phoebe from Friends) but I do think that most fictional MPDGs range in their appeal from monotonous to irritating.
I love people (and characters) who aren't afraid to be different. But the problem with most MPDGs is that they are just pointlessly and superficially quirky. Quirk is not character. That kind of quirk is usually, if not always, a defense mechanism. A persona. A mask.
Have you seen Bein' Quirky with Zooey Deschanel on Saturday Night Live? It kind of sums up my annoyance with Pointless Random Quirkiness. There's another episode with Drew Barrymore -- Kristen Wiig's impersonation of her is spot-on hilarious.
Then my friend Samantha told me about Manic Pixie Prostitute, a short video directed by Adam Sacks and written by Leila Cohan-Miccio. It's about a guy who hires a hooker to "turn my life upside down with your whimsical joie de vivre." Funny stuff.
Okay, so back to the book. Karen from FWIW Reviews tweeted that it was one of her favorites of the year. I trust Karen, so I got the book. And I liked it. What Manicpixiedreamgirl does well is that it delves beneath the exterior of an unattainable girl to find the real person underneath.
Manicpixiedream girl is a short (241 page), self-contained, character-driven story about a boy who drifts into a relationship he's not that into because he can't bring himself to reach out to the girl he's really interested in.
The book switches between the past and the present, between the aftermath of Tyler's short story being published and his prior encounters with Becky. Tyler is a writer --- an observer -- and he watches Becky obsessively. The flashback sections do start in a different typeface, but once or twice I did get a little confused about what time I was in. And at times, I wondered if the whole conceit of the short story was even necessary-- why not just write a book about a guy who's in a relationship with one girl and in love with another. But by the end of the book, I'd decided thatTyler's story shows Becky how he sees her, which offers a sense of poignancy and hope as the story resolves.
The characters -- and especially the female ones -- in Manicpixiedream girl are drawn with both subtly and precision. There's Tyler's girlfriend Sydney, the efficient, go-getter who is often superficially written in YA books and movies as the high-achieving student council type. But I got the feeling that, deep-down, Sydney is just as bewildered about her relationship with Tyler as he is. That Sydney decided to make Tyler her boyfriend for the same reason that she gets good grades and participates in debate: because that's what she thinks she's supposed to do.
For much of the book, Becky is a bit of an enigma. In fact I really wouldn't call her a true MPDG at all. She's a talented actress, quiet and kind of a loner. As Tyler gets to know her, he finds out some things about her that would be off-putting to a lot of guys. But he doesn't give up on her. He needs to know why. What he finds out is heartbreaking, and mostly so because it's told with matter-of-factness, not melodrama.
Thanks, Karen. I really enjoyed this one. And I think you will too if you love contemporary YA and/or character-driven stories.
Tell me in comments: can you see the appeal of MPDGs? If so, who are your favorites? And if you're interested in this, be sure to keep tabs on Freebie Friday -- it will be offered up in the next few weeks!