This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I picked up this book because I saw what it was about and wanted to read about a heroine who struggles with her appearance, her self-esteem, handling bullying and experiencing her first romance. These are all common themes in the teen years, but not so common in YA fiction. I was prepared for the drama knowing what the themes were and that the story is told entirely from the young girl, Brittany’s perspective. For the most part, I got what I expected and it pleased me. There was also something more in this one as well as something less which both pleasantly surprised me and also disappointed a bit. More on that later.
The story is told about Brittany, a sophomore in a small town high school. She is on the husky, big-boned side with a fuller figure which makes her normal, but due to mean-spirited constant bullying at school, she has a skewed imagine of herself and no self worth. At the beginning of this story, Brittany’s mom informs her that due to her failing grades in geometry (I can totally relate to this girl at this point since math hated me too) she will be attending after school tutoring.
Brittany heads off to school only to get violently shoved out of the way and hurt by words and hitting a wall near the entrance. Everyone arriving either joins in making fun or ignores her except the most popular guy in school, senior and starting quarterback, Matt Taylor. He checks that she is alright. Her day gets worse when mean girl and Matt’s ex-girlfriend Kendra Moses and her posse make fun of Brittney’s new coat. Brittany loved the coat and her mom saved for four months to get it for her. Now she only feels self-conscious and fat when wearing it. Later she becomes the target of a kid’s anger when he gets detention and in trouble with the principal when he calls her names. And to cap off her stellar day, she discovers that her tutor is Matt Taylor.
Matt is kind and gets upset when she puts herself down. He helps her with her geometry so that she actually understands it. He also starts her dreaming of the impossible- at least impossible to her. Brittany fixates on Matt and even experiences jealousy when she has no reason for it. She now is determined that she will drop a lot of weight quickly so she stands a chance with Matt and can end the hard insults. Her methods are unhealthy which involve both starving herself and throwing up when she binged in the night. Brittney knows about eating disorders, but is confident that she doesn’t have that trouble.
Kendra continues to torture, Matt continues to be kind though sometimes absent-minded and Brittany dreams of being with him at the Valentine’s dance because he asked her for one dance even if he is technically going with Kendra because they had tickets together before they broke up.
Kendra isn’t done with Matt and goes on campaign behind his back to make this clear to Brittany. Her methods are underhanded and Brittany is left wondering if it is best to bow out while she still has some dignity in tact and hasn’t lost Matt’s respect before Kendra’s lies.
Alright, well this one was typical in ways of most YAs in the sense that it is staged mostly against the high school backdrop. There are typical factions in this school and Brittany is at the bottom of the food chain. She is miserable and I felt so sorry for her because I know the way she was treated by the jerks and even just the oblivious kids who stayed out of it cut deeply. I was above my fighting weight all my life, but never bullied about it other than a few digs. I know how hard it is to even come close to ideal weight and I remember having friends who didn’t struggle who had the notions that us ‘husky’ gals over-indulged and were lazy. So all that to say, I was not put off by the running monologue in her head that was such a downer. She does have a very warped sense and assumes that everyone is disgusted by her looks and is out to harass her that is why she both desperately wants to believe Matt’s kindness is real and why she easily believes Kendra’s lies about Matt and lets Kendra’s threats get to her.
Now as to the plot itself. This does have romance in it and the romance has a fairytale quality about it, but romance is not the main plot theme. It touched on some hard stuff that teens deal with such as self-hate, bullying and eating disorders. It was good to see a book hit this stuff in a healthy appropriate way. A part of me really wanted karma to really stick it to the bullies and they did get a slight comeuppance, but they were so mean that I wanted more. Brittany’s character growth and development are the forefront and not the romance though that is what is big on her mind next to the dieting. She is told that she has to love herself first before others can lover her and she is told that she is always down on herself. Matt is the one who confronts her for the most part.
That leads me to Matt. He is a bit of an enigma. He felt more like supportive friend than love interest even though Brittany is crushing on him. I liked that he could see past appearance. He dumped his girlfriend because though she was Barbie perfect, she was a jerk and he gained interest in Brittany because she was sweet. I confess that I was confused by his insistence on going to that dance with Kendra after they broke up. I don’t know why it was an honor issue because in my book future date commitments are null the second you break up. The enigma part is probably on purpose because it heightened the suspense of what his motives were. While I liked the ‘is he or isn’t he’ feeling, I also felt like he wasn’t a very developed character mostly because for a romance hero he didn’t get as much page time.
Their romance wasn’t developed as much as I would like. To be fair, they didn’t throw around the love word, but it was based on only a handful of tutoring sessions and brief meet-ups in the hall. I would have liked to see them get a few more scenes where they could talk and know each other though I suppose that came later since this ended on a happy for now. I liked that it was a HFN which was more realistic.
I should probably mention that religious thematic elements are mentioned. For example, when Brittany and Matt pray for a lady who had hip surgery. It didn’t feel pushy and fit into the story alright. Naturally this means that the book is a sweet romance that would be appropriate for any level of teen to read.
So all in all, it was a good story with a light fairytale-ish romance and a strong message about other serious themes that teens encounter.