Author: Seth Rudetsky
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 24th 2012
Hardcover: 288 pages
Justin has two goals for sophomore year: to date Chuck, the hottest boy in school, and to become the king of Cool U, the table in the cafeteria where the “in” crowd sits.
Unfortunately, he has the wrong look (short, plump, Brillo-pad curls), he has the wrong interests (Broadway, chorus violin), and he has the wrong friends (Spencer, into Eastern religions, and Mary Ann, who doesn’t shave her armpits). And Chuck? Well, he’s not gay; he’s dating Becky, a girl in chorus with whom Justin is friendly.
But Justin is determined.
In detention one day (because he saw Chuck get it first), Justin comes up with a perfect plan: to allow Becky to continue dating Chuck, whom Becky’s dad hates. They will pretend that Becky is dating Justin, whom Becky’s dad loves. And when Becky and Justin go out on a fake date, Chuck will meet up with them for a real date with Becky. Chuck’s bound to find Justin irresistible, right? What could go wrong?
Seth Rudetsky’s first novel for young adults is endearingly human, and laugh-out-loud funny, and any kid who ever aspired to Cool U will find Justin a welcome ally in the fight for popularity
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
Why did I read this book: I was browsing NetGalley and came across this one day. It sounded liked it could be a fun book and I am always trying to read more LGBT fiction as well.
Justin Goldblatt has had enough of being the unpopular fat kid at school. He is fed up with being bullied, tired of his circle of friends and so he decides to start anew and become the New Justin. His goals are to become popular by mingling with the in-crowd and to date Chuck, the hottest guy in school. Does he care that Chuck is straight? No. Does he care that he doesn’t actually knowhow he is going to achieve these? NO! For Justin is a blindly optimistic guy.
He is also very, very lucky because the perfect opportunity arises when he decides to help popular girl Becky going around her father’s back to continue dating Chuck (whom her father abhors) by pretending to date her himself. The idea is that this plan will help him spending time with the popular kids (and therefore become popular by association) and with Chuck as well and who knows? Maybe Chuck will realise that he is actually gay and hook up with Justin.
Never mind that he will break Becky’s heart in the process; never mind that he will become a douchebag; never mind his best friend Spencer (who is also gay) won’t understand his need to be popular and will distance himself from Justin. Justin will be happy no matter what.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about this reader. I was not a happy person reading My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan (emphasis on the awful) as I took issue with the execution of the story as well as the writing.
Starting with the writing which I think, is where the book really stumbles. There is confusion and indecision about whether the book is present tense or past. Often I felt lost about which point in time Justin us. At times, he would refer to things happening in the recent past (“Ok, so this afternoon around four, Chuck and Becky arrived”) and then they would happen right now (“Oops. I have to pass a note”).
And then, there were the super awkward, artificial transitions. For instance, Justin sits down during a period break and point blank says he will remember something that happened a few weeks ago. Cue to flashback, followed by: “That’s right – it took me almost an entire period to think through what happened that afternoon”. Another time he says “But here’s the backstory quickly.” Cue to backstory. And so on and so forth.
And although I do agree that are some funny moments in the book, I did feel some of the jokes were very forced. And at least one of them was downright dismaying: when considering the lies he was telling, Justin thought about the Nazis and how people bought their lies and started believing them and he says:
Wow. I never imagined I would one day say this, but…thank you, Nazis!
Does the fact that the main character is Jewish excuse the joke? I am not sure but personally, it made me feel really uneasy.
Furthermore, the book is filled with stock characters that are never truly developed beyond “popular” or “bully”. The storyline is contrived (the book is about a plan that doesn’t even exist until someone else conveniently gives the main character the chance he needs) and despite all the thoughtless decisions he makes, in the end Justin is actually the happiest person ever without any real consequences to his actions. Everything is magically resolved very predictably by the end of the book: everything is peachy, everybody is accepting, Justin realises something really important in about 2 seconds, and even the “bully” conveniently has a change of heart just because.
I have nothing against uplifting stories. I LOVED My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger with its exuberant happiness and optimism. I obviously completely support the basic premise of acceptance and anti-bullying that the story proposes. The thing is: whilst I agree with the sentiment, I vehemently oppose the execution. I believe you can have the good message and the optimism and also have substance and good technique. It is not one OR the other. Basically, we should be able to have the cake and eat it too.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: I did like all the shoutouts to Broadway and musical theatre.
Rating: 4 – Bad but not without some merit
Reading Next: The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
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