by Shirley Jump, contemporary (2007)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0035-8
I don't know what to say about Really Something other than it is a big disappointment because parts of it are so, so good but the author manages to botch other parts of the story so badly at the same time. Sometimes Ms Jump shows a keen sense of awareness of the situation that her characters are in, but she just as often applies bizarre psychology to her characters in ways that don't make any sense.
Allie Dean is actually Allison Gray from Tempest, the small and dying town in Indiana known as the "Litter Box Capital of the World" for reasons best left unsaid. Back in her teens, she weighed three hundred pounds. Needless to say, her life was a nightmare back then as she was constantly being humiliated to the point that she had to take her lunch on her own away from the caféteria to avoid being heckled and bullied. And let's not start with the prom where she found out that the cute guy asking her out apparently just wanted to play a prank on her and the graduation ceremony which saw her fleeing the scene in tears.
Allie has no reason to willingly return to Tempest, but she's back, nonetheless. Now slimmed down and gorgeous, she is an associate producer currently looking for a perfect location for the filming of an upcoming B-grade movie. She suggests Tempest because she hopes that she will subsequently get to play a big role (handling the casting of extras and all) behind the scenes of this movie and use that experience as a stepping stone become a serious associate producer. In Tempest, going by Allie Dean, she gets to go around without anyone recognizing her. When she meets up with Duncan Henry again, the guy who promised to take her to the prom but didn't, she decides that perhaps a little heartbreak is what the man deserves as payback. Unfortunately, she will fall for him - not that she has ever stopped having a crush on him, sigh - and trust me when I say that towards the end of the story Duncan will happily use this weakness on her part to hurt her really, really badly.
You see, Duncan is an asshole. I don't know what Ms Jump is thinking but Duncan is that obnoxious fratboy in a drunk college party that would not accept no for an answer. From the moment he sees Allie, he's already hitting on her most obnoxiously to get her to sleep with him. Maybe Ms Jump thinks that Duncan is some kind of charming womanizer here but he comes off like a complete creep instead who deserves a hard kick in his nuts, with the sharp end of the high heel right at where it hurts the most. He's nearly tolerable in the middle portions of the story, although he still won't stop hitting on her in his smarmy manner, but towards the end he is a complete ass.
You see, Allie never tells him who she really is. He discovers who she is all by himself. But by this time, Allie has befriended his wheelchair-bound sister (whom he has lots of guilt over, not that he actually succeeds in doing anything other than feeling guilty) and helps dear Katie come out of her shell of self-pity. She has brought a movie to town that may give this dying town a boost in tourism trade. Allie has done nothing remotely negative at this point, mind you, with her revenge plot staying mostly inside her head.
But when Duncan realizes that Allie was the same fat girl cruelly tormented by her peers in high school, he flies off the handle and tells everyone who Allie is. Some of these people predictably enough turn on Allie and lash out because they were the same bullies that ill-treated Allie back in those days. Duncan rationalizes his actions as just because Allie has lied to him. Allie has betrayed his trust. Katie must stop befriending Allie because she is a liar.
For Duncan, it's all about him. It is at that point that I'm afraid I get rather irrational in that I really, really loathe that fellow so much when he's just a fictitious character. Ms Jump fortunately enough is aware that Duncan is being a complete ass, a hypocritical one to boot. But unfortunately, instead of having Duncan do the right thing and grovel for mercy at Allie's feet before jumping off a cliff to end his pathetic existence, Ms Jump instead has Duncan explaining reams after reams of convoluted and increasingly ridiculous justifications for his behavior, as if being sad in the past is an excuse to be an ass in the present. Wait until you hear him explain why he didn't take Allie to the prom. I actually laugh, and not in a good way, when I get to that point because it's so, so, so ridiculous.
Also, despite the author agreeing with me that Duncan is ass, Ms Jump bewilderingly puts Allie in the wrong nonetheless. She keeps apologizing to Duncan about her allegedly terrible betrayal of his trust that I feel quite nauseous by the end of this book. That part about Duncan telling her having to come back and live in Tempest after her movie in LA gets wrapped up so that he can play at being a newscaster is the last straw. Please die, Duncan. Slowly and painfully, if you please.
The hero who behaves as if the world revolves around him and only him, coupled with the ridiculously simplistic and often obnoxious "he had a hard time back then, so aww, let's be understanding and give that ass some mercy/healing shag!" psychology are all enough to make this book a complete recycle bin material for me. However, at the same time, the friendship between Katie and Allie are very nicely portrayed. That is easily the best and most touching aspect of this story. I like how Katie towards the end, when confronted by Duncan about Allie's horrendous sins, is pretty much, "Oh please. So what if she lied? We all lie now and then!" Likewise, throughout the middle parts of the story - the calm before Duncan's brain-damaged storm, if you will - the author's portrayal of Allie as the woman who is still rather insecure all this time about meeting her old demons and confronting her terrible past is very nicely done. In fact, I won't be so hopping mad over Duncan if Allie is a poorly developed character. Allie feels like a very real character to me. Her complicated love-hate relationship with her parents is another really strong point in this story.
Really Something is a bag of contradictions. Allie is a well-developed character. Her relationships with her mother and Katie are the best things about this story because these feel real. Duncan is the embodiment of a poorly developed character with a zillion issues in his past as a cheap and easy way on the author's past to ask the reader to overlook the hero's asshole behavior to see him as some kind of tormented fellow in need of love. Ms Jump seems to understand very well what Allie is going through. Ms Jump nonetheless has Allie apologizing and going on the defensive on the whole. She seems to think that Allie has no right to lie like that even if it should be understandable that a woman with such a past will not want her former tormentors to know who she is. There is a beautiful dressing-down on Allie's part of the ringleader of Allie's tormentors, but even that is a hollow victory because Duncan sneers at her afterwards, saying that the "real" Allie wouldn't have said such thing. At that point, I have to go, "Oh really? And I suppose you know who the real Allie is, you whiny crybaby emo crock?" and imagine myself as O-Ren Ishii decapitating this loser's head.
I don't know. There are some really, really good things about this book, just as there are many really, really horrible things about it. Like I've said, this book is a mess of contradictions. If I have known earlier that this book will turn out the way it does, I'd have set aside some aspirins before I begin reading. Anyway, I don't regret reading the good parts, but I wish Ms Jump has somehow spared me the terrible parts. If only Duncan was slowly crushed to death under a steamroller by page 30, this book would have been a keeper where I am concerned.
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