Sunday, 5 September 2010

Review - A Field Guide to Heartbreakers / Kristen Tracy

Best friends Dessy and Veronica arrive in Europe with wildly different plans. Dessy hopes to heal her newly broken heart by diving into the creative writing workshop that brought the girls to Prague. Veronica’s plan, meanwhile, is to conquer as many hot-dudes as possible in one month—and help Dessy recycle her heart in the process. Her method:
· Dress like you are the party.
· Explore the terrain. (Moderate stalking is totally allowed.)
· Be adventurous. And that means being prepared to hide in your suitcase.
· Ask questions that make your hot-dude feel smart.
· Gloss early, gloss often, and bring gum. Because a kiss can happen when you least expect it!

At first, Veronica’s plan is working so well that Dessy thinks she might be a love genius. But soon it’s clear that Operation Maneater has a few holes. Like its failure to anticipate crazy mixed signals—and worse, its mysterious tendency to plague a friendship with secrets and lies.

Well, no one ever said breaking hearts was a simple craft. Goodreads.

Review - The book gods taught me a lesson for being shallow on this one.  One shouldn't judge a book by its cover and boy did I take something away from this experience.  A Field Guide to Heartbreakers was the single most frustrating reading experience I have had since being made to read The Mayor of Casterbridge in the eleventh grade.  But at least I could see the literary merit in Hardy's work even I was ruing the day he was born.  This...the bright side is that it is pretty.

In attempting to be hysterically quirky with her non-stop, possible deranged character creation, Veronica, Tracy has constructed one of the most frustratingly annoying supporting characters in YA of recent times.  In contrast, the benign (and horribly monikered) Dessy Gherkin is our protagonist.  You wouldn't really know it as the best friend, Veronica, swamps the book with so much heinousness that you begin to resent Dessy for having this headcase in her life in the first place.  Dessy has moments of meta-like awareness that build the audience's resentment of her passiveness even more.  Having a friend that is as manipulative, deceitful, selfish and horrid makes Dessy less and less relatable as the basis of her friendship and loyalty to the basket case is never clearly established.

At no moment is there a character beat or scenario that engaged me - entertaining or emotionally - and ultimately the book was a hollow read.  Dessy's heartbreak over the bird fixated Hamilton didn't particularly ring true, neither did the horrific way in which he chose to break up with her.  There was very little emotional follow through as we were pushed from Veronica multiple boy crushes, Prague sights and then a vastly underwhelming and frankly ridiculous homicidal dorm mate.  At most points I was hoping said manic would be successful by putting both the audience and Dessy out of our respective miseries by killing Veronica.

While moaning about Veronica is a joyless but easy task, all of the characters lack a much needed dimension and emotional centre.  Even when characters had interesting backstories they were dismissed as a conveniently placed 'learning moment' for our protagonist.  The plotting is by the book, a cliched mess, with wackiness abounding in a less than polished attempt to create a lightness and quirkiness to the story.  In the end it felt both clumsy and manipulative.  The conclusion, particularly the way in which the Dessy/Veronica relationship is written showed that the protagonist has made very little growth throughout the narrative except for a segment of ten pages where she became full formed and then backtracked into two dimensional hell again.

What is most frustrating is that Tracy can write.  But this story wasn't one that needed to be told and to be very harsh, I didn't feel that she cared that much about the characters or plot either.  There was a significant emotional disconnect that was camouflaged by the rapid fire, nonsensical dialogue that succeeded in give me a headache and getting me in touch with my inner Dexter.   If plotting took place here then it was a series of stops in Prague interspersed with annoying Veronica incidents.  There is also a subplot about the writing workshop, for which the girls are in Prague in the first place, and it felt self-indulgent and unsuccessful.  It was a therapy group masquerading as a (apparently gifted, not really evidenced) writing group.  The group is overseen by Veronica's mother, an unnecessary plot device that only managed to make Veronica more loathsome.

Tracy doesn't seem to know what she wants this story to be.  There are a zillion story lines, none of which make much of an impact, that are told in a stop start manner that takes the reader out of the book.  The flow is non-existent as we jump from Veronica's careless dates to Dessy's crush on Waller to Corky's blog to Mrs Knox's weird marriage.  The story lack direction and wants to be many things at once resulting in a chaotic mess of half-formed characters and empty dialogue.  The conclusion is rushed, formulaic and makes you wonder why you bothered in the first place.

The setting is a dorm slap bang in the middle of Prague.  A Prague that we see intermittently in terms of some sightseeing but it failed to put me in Prague, to make me feel that I was with Dessy in a strange new land with a foreign language and interesting architecture.  There were glimpses of this when Dessy was off on her own, seeing the city sans Veronica, and I responded to those scenes that established the foreign beauty of the place.

A failed attempted at fun and frothy.

Published: 1 June, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Source: purchased
Origin: USA


Kate Wilson said...

Ouch! That's gotta hurt.

Carla said...

What a thoughtful and honest review. Seriously, thats why I love this blog so much, because you are never afraid to stand up for what you believe in. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and i love to read yours every time!

The main selling point of this book for me would be the fact that it was set in Prague. there is something so delicious about reading about characters in a completely different environment. And to know that it falls flat?! FAIL! i would want to be in Prague, I would want to feel like i'd visited their myself. Thats what hooks you about books like this! If they can't get the setting right that god help the characters.

I wasn't going to read this one anyway, so can I just say? the characters sound like complete *bleeps*. I want to see development and drive and motiviation. I think this is happening more and more often in YA and its infuriating. i had the same experience with Shadow Hills. I hated the characters to the point where I wanted to physically kick their ass's. That seems to be the case here. And what is up with the whole, lets make lots and lots of plot threads and then tangle them up so nobody really knows what the story is supposed to be about? Happening too much I say.

Maybe i'm just getting more picky and more narcissistic in my approach to books, but what happened to good old character driven stories. I want more of them thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I loved reading your review! I'm just a bit confused about the name of Dessy's friend, though - Veronica or Vanessa? Not that it matters. The book wasn't on my tbr list and won't be now.

Thanks for keeping it real.


Adele said...

Oops...I had combined Veronica and Dessy's name to make a new one. Thanks for the catch!

Thanks Brenda.

Anonymous said...

Great honest review (and not too snarky). You had totally valid reasons for your dislike of the book. Thanks for saving me from reading this one.

Caroline said...

What an amazing review, it lists all the reasons why I won't bother to read this book.
I agree with Carla, the blurb had some potential being set in Prague but the depth of Veronica's personality came through the summary when she wants to conquer "as many hot-dudes as possible in one month", how fascinating!
Thanks for this honest review!

April (BooksandWine) said...

Yeah, Veronica was a lot to take. I totally would not have minded if Corky got her. ALSO, omfg, how does your mother not believe you about a murderous roommate. Are you kidding me?

Sigh. I really have to giveaway my copy of this to make room for good books on my shelf.

John The Bookworm said...

Hm, I am conflicted. After I first finished this ages ago, I genuinely liked it. I thought it was intelligent, and Tracy likes to experiment with the passive protagonist. didn't age well. I just looked at it on my shelf this morning, leafed through the pages, and kind of got a 'why was this more than a 3' vibe. ::shudder:: Tracy is a good author with good ideas, but this was not the best exposition of those ideas. I'm hoping her next book is better. It sounds funnier, and when her humor works, it works well.

Bridget R. Wilson said...

Finally, someone who agrees with me. I agree completely with your review.

Jesse Owen (Reading to Life) said...

And it looked so promising as well, I think I'll give this one a miss. Thanks for a great review :)