The Boy Book (A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them) by E. Lockhart; sequel to The Boyfriend List. Reviewed from ARC; publication date is September 2006.
The Plot: Ruby Oliver from The Boyfriend List returns for her Junior Year. While Ruby is not friends with her ex-friends, they are no longer her enemies. Still, she has to navigate life with one friend (Meghan), no boyfriend, and a lot of questions about life.
The Good: Ruby remains likeable and sympathetic as she struggles with issues such as friendship, boys, lust, and love.
"The Boy Book" refers to the book written by Ruby and her ex-friends: Kim, Cricket, and Nora. It includes sections on "Rules for Dating in a Small School," "What to Wear When You Might be Fooling Around," and "Levels of Boyfriends." Levels go from "Friend-Boy" to "Hopeless Crush" to "Boyfriend" to "Serious Boyfriend." Excerpts from the Boy Book start each chapter. In addition to being funny, they give insight into the person Ruby used to be and the friendships that she lost. It's also interesting to think that these girls have created a world of rules; and according to these rules, Ruby did indeed betray her friends.
As with any good unreliable narrator, the reader sees things that Ruby doesn't; or at least, that Ruby isn't read to admit. For example, when Rudy relates her interactions with Angelo, she tries to paint herself as passive, not active; reacting, not acting. She "has" to sit next to him. At another point, she doesn't admit that she has dressed up to be attractive (she argues that she is following the rules of What to Wear When You Might Be Fooling Around, by creating a non-fooling around outfit. That just so happens to be very cute and attractive.)
As TBB progresses, Ruby slowly realizes that she as been active; she has been acting; labeling it as passive or reacting was the way that she could avoid responsibility for things that happened. It's a great moment when she finally decides not to have something "just happen" and to take control of her life and her emotions and her actions. I'm not saying that Ruby is passive aggressive or deliberately manipulative; rather, she's a teen who isn't in touch with her own motivations and doesn't know herself.
TBB is daring because Ruby isn't a cool, hip, self-assured chick; she's a searcher. She's someone who thought she was cool, but really, before this it was her friends and her friendships that guided her. She created a rule book because she needed rules. TBB is the best kind of sequel; it's not just seeing Ruby's life for another year, it's getter a deeper understanding of why she went into panic attacks when she lost her friends and her rules. At first, it seems like she is searching for new rules; but she is really searching for who she is. And it's a search that she was forced to make; Ruby, I think, would have been just as happy being the old-Ruby, at least for a little while longer.
Ruby remains likeable; you root for her; even if sometimes, viewed objectively, you can see why her friends dumped her. This is a look at girl friendships and friendship dynamics that avoids the easy labels of "Queen B" and mean girl, even tho at times it looks like some of that is what is going on. I'm not sure if another book is planned; but while Ruby has grown more by the end of this book, she does has further to go and I look forward to visiting with her again and seeing how it all works out for her. I also love the way Ruby talks and how she looks at things. I want another book just to hear more of Ruby's observations.
Quotes I loved:
Someone asks Ruby, "What do you like to do? That's what I'm asking. What activity do you like to do?". Ruby answers, "I like to swim. And read. And watch movies. But can you imagine a catalog description for that? 'Exploring the Shallow Life: Students will enjoy a double feature of Love, Actually and Bridget Jones's Diary, wallowing in the hotness of Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, followed by thrift-store shopping, intensive reading of mystery novels, and a dip in the pool. Evenings will be spent consuming Popsicles and experimenting with cosmetics." I would so sign up for that course! Except for the whole swimming thing.
"Boy Speak: Introduction to a Foreign Language.
What he says: I'm so messed up.
What is understood: He needs my support and help.
What he means: I want you to leave me alone."
"Because on some level, even though it never turns out to be true, and even though I should know better, I still expect life to be like the movies."
Links: E. Lockhart's blog; an excerpt from this book.