Monday, April 20, 2009

At Face Value (book) by Emily Franklin

In this book, Franklin borrows a few things from the play Cyrano de Bergerac, sets everything in a modern day high school, and omits the tragic ending.

Seventeen-year-old Cyrie Bergerac can't wait for the day she turns 18, so that she can finally get the rhinoplasty she's wanted for years. Her nose is enormous, so enormous that she can't drink comfortably from a bottle of soda without a straw. Over the years, Cyrie has learned to use her wit and sharp tongue to combat any hurtful comments - unfortunately, her words can be so cutting that, by defending herself this way, she tends to turn others against her.

Although Cyrie's outward confidence and her role as editor of the school newspaper have gained her access to the "popular crowd," she stands apart from everyone and really has only three people she could name as her friends. Linus is one of those people - however, Cyrie is beginning to worry that Linus may want to be more than friends. Leyla is another one of those people. Leyla is pretty and gets along well with the popular students, but she lacks confidence, isn't good with words, and is a bit shy. Finally, there's Eddie Roxanninoff, whom everyone but Cyrie calls "Rox." Eddie is good-looking and kind, and Cyrie is secretly in love with him.

Just when Cyrie begins to think that Eddie might possibly like her in return, she discovers that Eddie actually like Leyla and Leyla likes Eddie. It's a terrible emotional blow, but not entirely unexpected, so Cyrie swallows her feelings and reluctantly agrees to help Leyla out when Leyla asks for Cyrie's editorial help with her love letters. They set up an email account that allows Leyla to write drafts, which Cyrie can then edit before Leyla sends them out. Cyrie is supposed to just edit Leyla's spelling and grammar, but it isn't long before she begins embellishing Leyla's words with her own thoughts and feelings, supposedly to make Leyla sound better. Although Eddie and Leyla end up together, how long can a relationship built on Leyla's looks and Cyrie's brain last? Will Cyrie and Leyla's friendship survive the revelation that Cyrie loved Eddie all along? Will Eddie ever find out the truth and, if he does, can he return Cyrie's feelings despite her nose?

Well, considering that I already mentioned that Franklin's ending is not tragic, it's probably not too hard to guess how things end.

Anyway, I got this book through ILL after reading about it on the publisher's website (At Face Value and Lament are published by the same publisher). The cover art caught my eye, and I like "ugly duckling" romance, so this sounded like a potential winner. Overall, it was a nice, light read, but not as good as I was hoping it would be.

One of my problems with this book is that there were too many things that felt forced. For instance, Leyla's tremendous lack of ability with words. I can see grammatical errors and spelling mistakes - lots of people have those problems, and goodness knows my own writing could use help. However, Leyla's also got a conveniently bad vocabulary ("I mean the brain thing on the inside" instead of "Maybe I'm not intellectual enough" or even "Maybe I'm not smart enough"). Their school newspaper is the second-best in the state and has high standards - Leyla is a member of the school newspaper's staff, so how can she bet this bad?? True, she doesn't write anything for the paper (I think she just takes notes during events and works on the paper's layout), but I would've thought she'd pick up something. Another thing that felt forced was people's reactions to Cyrie's putdowns. I don't think anyone ever jumped to Cyrie's defense whenever someone started to make a crack about her nose, and yet when Cyrie would verbally fight back, even her own friends expressed their disapproval. Yes, she'd have been on higher moral ground if she'd just "turned the other cheek," but I could understand why she said the things she said. If Cyrie was in the wrong, then so were those who made fun of her, so why was Cyrie the only one being frozen out?

My other problem with this book was the fantastic hugeness of Cyrie's nose. Had her nose just been large, I think I would've been ok with it - after all, Cyrie herself says that everyone has something they don't like about themselves, and plenty of people are very self-conscious about that something or plastic surgeons wouldn't be able to stay in business. Had her nose just been large, it would have been easy to applaud when both Cyrie's parents and her future pastic surgeon all told Cyrie that she should try to be happy and comfortable with herself as she is. However, Cyrie's nose isn't just large, it is apparently so big that it can get in the way of everyday activities. This made it a little harder not to be on Cyrie side when she started talking rhinoplasty. Cyrie does eventually see things her parents' way, but it takes Eddie telling her he likes her for this to happen. Would she have come to feel the same way even if things hadn't worked out between her and Eddie? I don't know.

Even though they didn't always interact with each other and do things in ways that felt realistic to me, I still liked most of the characters and liked reading about them. For once, the popular girls weren't all just cardboard cutouts - one in particular was pretty interesting. The story was ok, although I felt like screaming "No, that is NOT a good idea!" when Leyla outlined her plan to have Cyrie edit her love letters. It wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't a great one.

Read-alikes:
  • Geek Magnet (book) by Kieran Scott - KJ is thrilled to be the stage manager for her high school's production of Grease, but she's less thrilled with the way things are going in her social life. For some reason, she attracts the attention of creepy geeks (like the guy who's more attracted to her breasts than any other part of her), but a cute jock like Cameron doesn't even notice her. KJ finds she has a lot to deal with when her alcoholic father begins drinking even more and she is befriended by popular Tama. Tama can bring her even closer to Cameron, but is this really what KJ wants? Those who'd like another young adult romance in which a less-than-popular girl with body image problems nurses a crush on a popular guy might want to try this.
  • How Not to be Popular (book) by Jennifer Ziegler - Maggie's hippie parents don't like living in one place for long, so Maggie is constantly being uprooted. Maggie's tired of making friends only to lose them during yet another move, so she hatches a plan to become a social pariah at her newest school. She'll be so unpopular that no one will want to be friends with her, making her inevitable next move less painful. Of course, things don't work out the way Maggie intends them to. Those who'd like another light teen romance with a female main character who doesn't fit in with the popular crowd (in this case, on purpose) might want to try this.
  • Bloom (book) by Elizabeth Scott - Lauren, a not-so-popular high school junior, is dating Dave, the secretly celibate most popular guy in school. She tells herself that dating a popular guy is all she ever wanted, but when Evan, the loner son of her father's former live-in girlfriend, returns to town, she finds herself making up excuses so that she can avoid her boyfriend and spend more time with Evan. Those who'd like another young adult romance in which the main character is conflicted about relationships and must deal with the consequences of lying might want to try this.

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