NOTE: The following books deal with sexual themes, and are more appropriate for mature readers.
Antony John’s Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player and Siobhan Vivian’s Not That Kind Of Girl deal with very similar themes of gender relations and sexuality, and it was interesting to see those themes explored from both a male and female point of view.
The two main questions posed by the books are:
- What does feminism really mean? and
- What makes a meaningful sexual relationship?
Both stories have a positive message about respectful relationships. However, I felt that Not That Kind Of Girl did a better job of portraying the ambiguities of feminism – how people can have different (and equally valid) definitions of what it means to be a strong, respect-worthy woman. Vivian’s book also portrayed more rounded, realistic characters overall, and contained a more solid, dynamic plot, whereas Busted tried so hard to follow its (fairly predictable) storyline that it cut corners and left some substantial plot holes and contradictions.
This post will focus on Busted, while the next will focus on NTKOG.
NOTE: The following review contains minor plot spoilers.
Plot: It’s the typical Main-Character-Finds-a-Way-to-be-Popular-but-Hurts -the-People-He/She-Cares-About-in-the-Process story. Think movies like Sky High and Mean Girls. You could also call it the Main-Character-Learns-That-True-Beauty-Is-Inside story.
Kevin Mopsely joins a group of senior guys planning the yearly “Graduation Rituals,” the most important of which is updating the Book of Busts – a book that lists all the senior girls’ breast, waist, and hip measurements. But when the school introduces a women’s studies class, the senior girls—including Kevin’s best friend, Abby—start questioning the offensive Rituals.
Most of the major characters—Kevin; his mom; his best friend, Abby; and the English teacher, Ms. Kowalski—are pretty well-rounded and interesting. Kevin and Abby, for instance, play in a not-very-popular pop quartet, and Kevin is so passionate about the flute that he plans to go to college on an instrumental scholarship.
The idea of the Book of Busts is also interesting, and the overall message is good: women shouldn’t be seen as just sex objects. In turn, meaningful sex is portrayed as an emotional connection—something for which breast, waist, and hip measurements shouldn’t matter.
- Characters: Although characters like Kevin and Abby are fairly well rounded, others are pushed into cookie-cutter high-school “types”: the shallow blonde cheerleader, the dumb blonde cheerleader, the most-popular-hunk-who-all-the girls-fawn-over and the most-popular-person’s mindless groupies…
Then there is Kevin’s father, a two-dimensional alcoholic jerk who thinks feminism is stupid and drunk driving is perfectly acceptable. These are such obvious examples of the-wrong-way-of-thinking that you can’t take them seriously.
When an author resorts to such cookie-cutter or over-the-top characters, he’s making the overall message too simplistic. Yes, it’s wrong to focus on physical features to judge a person’s worth. Yes, fashion magazines raise unhealthy and unattainable standards for beauty. Yes, true beauty is on the inside. Haven’t I heard that from a few dozen teen movies?
- Plot: Although Kevin is one of the more intelligent members of his class (he is explicitly described as such by other characters) even he can be remarkably airheaded at times—which is apparently convenient for the plot.
Early in the story, Kevin hears some girls talking about the Book of Busts. Chapters later, he acts as though that never happened. As though his mind was wiped clean while he wasn’t looking. It’s definitely not an intentional character flaw—it’s as if the author himself forgot that Kevin had overheard that conversation.
Besides Kevin’s amnesia, there are other cases of sloppy plot development. For instance (and I swear this isn’t a spoiler—the fact that it’s such a minor incident is, in fact, the problem): during one date, a girl suddenly gets a text that her little sister was kidnapped, and runs off nearly in tears. Kevin feels a moment of concern, quickly followed by relief because he accidentally scheduled two dates on the same night, and now he can make it on time to his second date. These are his exact thoughts: “I make a mental note to thank Kayla’s sister if she’s found alive.”
And the kidnapping is never mentioned again.
- One more thing: I realize that YA authors want to portray accurate teen dialogue—to make their characters talk the way real teens talk—and that’s great, but I hate seeing the word “fag” thrown in so casually.
It only happens once in Busted, but it’s portrayed as just another slang term, and that’s a problem. No one would write the n-word into a story as if it was just a cool slang term with no awful history, but there was absolutely no comment on how derogatory the word “fag” is. Which seems odd in a book that promotes more respectful gender relations. Kevin reacts when someone uses the word “bitch,” but he has no reaction to a homophobic slur.
Busted is like a predictable teen movie. Sure, the specific circumstances are interesting, and waiting to see how they fit into a familiar plot can be comforting, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. The story is enjoyable enough if you ignore the plot holes and flat characterizations. At least the story’s heart—its message—is in the right place.
NEXT POST: Not That Kind Of Girl