Today, I'm reviewing Something Real by Heather Demetrios, the one contemporary from 2014 that you absolutely must read.
It's out next month, but hopefully my (longish) review will tide you over in the meantime. - J
Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: February 4th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Format reviewed: E-ARC via NetGalley
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show’s cancellation and the scandal surrounding it, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart…because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.
I love all genres, but I’ve always believed that YA contemporary books are where writers can really shine. The ability to make a person’s ordinary, day-to-day life seem compelling, relatable and even believable, is not an easy feat.
This is why I’ve been dying to read Heather Demetrios’ Something Real, since hearing about the book when it was first announced in Publisher’s Weekly. Fortunately for me, Macmillan kindly granted me access to an E-ARC!
Things that worked:
Bonnie Baker is one of the most real characters I’ve seen in contemporary fiction in some time.
She’s smart, but has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She wants to step outside of the persona that the show has defined for her since birth, but has neuroses and hang-ups that most normal people wouldn’t have.
She’s also completely (rightly) scared of normal things that people typically take for granted, like being able to go to a shopping mall, because of the constant threat of paparazzi stalking her.
Yet despite of all of this, Bonnie perseveres. She embraces her hang-ups, she allows herself to freak out – even though she doesn’t want to, and would far prefer to be normal – and makes the best of her new normal. I think that readers will absolutely fall in love with her, but most importantly, also see a little bit of themselves in her.
As for the secondary characters, Demetrios has definitely created a cast to be remembered. Tess and Mer are the type of friends that any girl would want, while Benton, and the rest of their friends are supportive, in a way that most people will absolutely love, and wish they were a part of.
Though Bonnie’s family is definitely dysfunctional, they’re real in their dysfunctional behavior in a way that I think anyone can relate to. Demetrios beautifully captures Bonnie’s struggles with loving her family, but recognizing that not everything they do deserves a pass.
* The writing
This book definitely doesn’t read like the work of a debut author. The descriptions of the setting and Bonnie’s world is beautiful and rich, and the dialogue is crisp and realistic.
There were times when Bonnie would say or think something, and I’d find myself thinking that would be exactly what I would say in her situation.
Bottom line: this book flows beautifully.
* The plotting
In many ways, the book is like a reality tv-show, in that a lot of the smaller moments in life – e.g. going on a date; asking a boy out; are what drives the book forward. Heather utilizes all of life’s moments to move the plot forward, and pull the reader through the book.
* The world-building
The book is unique, in that because of the reality show format, the book actually shows us snippets from before the period when the book is set, and Demetrios utilizes that format well. Through one or two page sketches, she’s able to build upon what she’s already given us, and this really pulls the reader into the world of the Bakers.
* The relationship
I love all of the relationships I’ve seen in YA recently – they’re all supportive, smart and loving within their own ways.
However, I fell head-over-feet for Patrick while reading, in a way that I’ve never experienced with other YA boyfriends. He’s basically the perfect boyfriend, but in a way that’s rich and not clichéd.
He’s willing to take on the craziness that is Bonnie’s life with humor and understanding, but he’s also willing to stand up for himself when he feels like he’s getting the raw end of the deal.
At the risk of sounding very, very old, I kind of want to get this book for all of the teenaged women in my life, and wave it at them going, “LOOK! THIS is the type of guy you should be dating! Not sparkle vampires!”
* The ending
Without giving any spoilers away, the ending’s perfect. It’s just so true to Chloe, and the girl she’s become over the course of the novel.
(Plus, it opens the door for a sequel!)
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
I think that Demetrio has built such a complex and layered world and there’s so much of the story left to tell – for not only Bonnie, but for Lexie and the rest of the family as well.
I can only hope that Heather picks up her pen again, and continues to let readers peek into the lives of the Baker family.
I strongly recommend this book for all fans of YA contemporary and contemporary fiction, and also for people who are looking for strong, heartwarming stories about family, self-determination, and growth.