Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Year-Late Book Review

Yeah, I know. I promised that my next post would be on ISKCON. Call it Murphy's Law of Blogging: whatever post one promises to write will be the one that takes the longest to actually appear. ^__^

You see, I was walking yesterday down M. G. Road in Bangalore. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just exploring. I started at one end, and five sari emporiums and a hundred and seventy specialty shops later, I was sick of hearing young men call out "Madam, what you want?" and worn out from resisting the people shoving chess sets, trick snakes, and junk jewelry into my face. I am still, mercifully, junk-jewelry-free.

Then I saw the man with the books. His stand smelled sweet and woodsy and spicy, and I was afraid he was going to try to sell me on one of those sandalwood keychains they foist on tourists in India. But instead he tossed his too-long, shaggy brown hair out of his eyes, and smiled a half-smile, like he knew some big joke that was about to be played on me.

If you haven't yet figured out what book I found at the book stand, well...

The joke, of course, is that it's terrible. Leaving the plagiarism issue aside, it's still an awful book. (Sorry, Niranjana. I know you liked it.) And before one accuses me of not caring for or "understanding" teen chick-lit, I should warn you that I own all four copies of the Traveling Pants books. In hardcover. Purchased on the day of release.

What bothered me about this book was its absolute predictability. (Spoilers may follow, but since there's nothing to spoil about this book -- its plot is pretty much obvious after the first chapter -- I'm sure no one will mind.) Opal will lose interest in the hot alpha male in favor of the "differently cute" nice guy? Who just happens to be a closet genius? She'll quickly rise to popularity and then become publicly humiliated by her new friends -- and then learn who her "true friends" are? Due to her new attempts at popularity, she'll come dangerously close to losing her long-achieved academic standing... and then redeem herself at the last possible moment?

Forget Sloppy Firsts. I've just described the plot of Mean Girls. As well as half-a-dozen adventures of the Babysitters' Club. Viswanathan's novel reads exactly like Opal's attempt at popularity: the frantic watching of every teen movie "from back when Molly Ringwald was cute," and then the attempt to mush everything together, spitting out band and designer references and hitting every trope in the genre. Imagine Alloy Entertainment as the Mehta parents, micromanaging Viswanathan's every move to make sure it adheres to their well-constructed research on what would make a book popular. ^__^

Ironic that the internet is the tool used to bring both Opal and Kaavya down.

The most irritating part of the book, for me, was its ending. The ending was the one place where Viswanathan strayed from her tropes. Opal, when she gets her Harvard letter (and btw don't tell me she "doesn't know" what's inside; any high school student knows the difference between a thick and a thin admissions letter) is supposed to do one of two things. She should either:

A. Choose not to open it, deciding instead to embark upon a wonderful new life that she has discovered for herself.


B. Open it, realize she has been admitted, and then personally visit Dean Anderson to tell him that she is refusing admission so that she may embark upon this wonderful new life that she has discovered for herself.

She's not supposed to go. That's the way these stories end. That's supposed to be the lesson; that when you become your own person (after trying to be someone else) you learn what is truly important to you and you forge your own path.

But she went. Oh, and she also solved this scientific theorem that no one's been able to solve for 150 years because no one ever thought that it could be a single integral. BARF.

ISKCON post coming soon!

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