by Andrea Portes
To be published by Harper Teen
on September 2, 2014
Source: e-ARC from the publisher for review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?My take: It's always interesting when I finish a book and then jump on Goodreads and see that some of my Goodreads friends have a very different opinion of the book. I cut and pasted some reviews and came up with this wordle:
Don't be fooled by the sweet Eleanor and Park-style pastel cover -- to me, this is a different kind of book. It has a way snarkier voice. Yes, it features some slut-shaming and homophobic remarks made by some of the characters -- more on that later. Yes, some of the characters are based in stereotype. And it features a YA trope that I'm getting pretty tired of:
But I still liked Anatomy of a Misfit. (And I'm now convinced that there is someone working in acquisitions at HarperTeen who has a huge weakness for snarky vampire stories, with bonus points for retro settings: Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Exhibit C. (And this book would be Exhibit D.))
But ... back to the book. Maybe you're put off by some of the words in the wordle. Here are the points I would like to make about this book:
Yes, Anika has a strong, snarky voice. Strong voices tend to provoke strong reader opinions, and Anika's voice may be to your liking ... or not. She's a bit of an acquired taste, but I rather liked her. As a character, Anika had a sly, subversive quality that, while it made her a somewhat atypical YA heroine, also made her an unpredictable one. Yes, she is one of the mean girls, but she also takes every opportunity to thwart them.
Like Eleanor and Park, this book is historical fiction. It took me a while to figure this out. But eventually I realized that the book had no references to cell phones or social media. That all the pop culture references were from the 70s and 80s. And that the girls spent time after school watching MTV. Ergo, I think this book is set in the mid-80s to mid-90s, which does help to explain some remarks by characters that reviewers (rightfully) called out as slut-shaming or homophobic. I'm a kid of the 80s, and if memory serves, many people at the time of this story had never heard the term "slut-shaming" and felt free to call things or people "gay" or "queer" as an insult. I'm so glad that we're now aware of and trying to combat these types of derogatory comments, but I'd also argue that, for the purposes of this book, this kind of talk was also historically accurate.
Now ... to the mean girls trope. Yes, it's getting to be a pretty tired one, especially in YA, but the book does both expected and unexpected things with it. On the positive side, like the recently published Tease, this book looks at popular girls from the point of view of one. Anika is one of the underlings to the school's Queen Bee, and doesn't feel her position is secure. All it would take is one tiny mistake -- like falling in love with the wrong boy -- to topple her off her position on the social ladder. (Actually, as the synopsis above reveals, she becomes involved with two wrong boys. Which does feel a bit triangle-y, butalso sort of works in the story.)
The one thing about the book that I felt hit a wrong note was the ending. No, not the (highlight for spoiler) tragedy at the end, which I began to expect in some form , (end spoiler) but the scene (highlight for spoiler) at the funeral, where Anika confronts Becky in front of half the town. (end spoiler) Not only did this feel completely unrealistic to me, I'd just seen a very similar scene in a movie. In this movie, that scene worked. In this book, it just didn't ring true and, for me, took away from the impact of the ending.
I think Anatomy of a Misfit will be one of those books that inspires strong reactions -- both positive and negative -- among YA readers. While it's not the kind of book I can say I absolutely loved, I did enjoy the time I spent reading it.
Have you read this, or do you have any thoughts? I'm on vacation this week, but I promise to get caught up on comments as soon as I'm back :)