Young Adult, Contemporary
January 1st, 2014
My local library
Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?
Anatomy of a Misfit is Mean Girls meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Anika’s hilariously deadpan delivery will appeal to readers for its honesty and depth. The so-sad-it’s-funny high school setting will pull readers in, but when the story’s dark foreboding gradually takes over, the devastating penultimate tragedy hits like a punch to the gut. Readers will ride the highs and lows alongside funny, flawed Anika — from laughter to tears, and everything in between.
This book had such an interesting, at times frustrating, contrast: the voice felt authentically teenaged (self-centered, overreacting and over-exagerating, ignorant/naive, thinking she’s a bad person when she’s actually pretty sympathetic, etc.) but the language felt almost anachronistically mature (“she’s a good egg”, and word choices nobody uses in conversation, let alone teens). In some ways, Anika was unbelievable as the lone-man-out (her grasp on racism felt way too mature for a teenager, especially considering her sheltered, if unconventional, upbringing) and yet I was charmed by her flawed appearance, her “half-Romanian-but-blonde-and-blue-eyed” dichotomy, and her “spider stew” self references. There are a few phrases that Portes was too keen on (using them three times, fine. Eight times? Now you’re just pissing me off): stone-cold fox or silence, spider stew, etc.
The Mean Girls thing I bought, even though I think modern high schools (and certainly mine, in the late nineties) are too diverse and modern for that these days. Of course, I didn’t go to school in Nebraska, so I’m willing to believe things run like a John Hughes movie there, sure. I’m not sure when this story takes place, as nobody in the narrative mentioned cell phones or the internet, nor did anyone use modern teen language (though some of the slurs and swears were dead on), although the bantering teasing about sex felt true-to-life. As did the adult/teen relationships, both good and horrendously broken, and the sibling relationships.
Anika’s mom was probably my favorite character- balancing humor and sympathy adroitly. There is a lot of humor in here, mostly the kind that makes me smirk and nod. And while I didn’t relate to the characters, I did get caught up in Anika’s life (even though I did want to shake her at times). And then, of course, the ending was bittersweet. It was also unexpected- a love triangle forms and for a moment it looked like Portes was going to demonize one suitor in order to force Anika to choose the other (and again: none of the above IS a valid choice, authors!), but she steered the plot in a different direction.
Overall, it was a quick and engaging read, good but not great.