Thursday, August 22, 2013

review: you look different in real life

You Look Different in Real Life was definitely one of my most anticipated books this year. I had high hopes, high expectations for this incredibly interesting story of a girl (along with four of her classmates) whose life has been, every five years, the subject of a documentary along the lines of the British Up docu-series. (As a side note, I love this series and highly recommend it; many of the films are on Netflix and well worth watching.)

Justine, who has always been the viewers' favorite, is sixteen and facing the third film (Five at Sixteen), but this time she's dreading the camera's intrusion in her life. She's not who she thought she'd be by now, and although she professes to hate the movies and cameras, she also doesn't want to disappoint. This idea of not being who she wanted to be by sixteen is oner that I wish had been explored more in-depth, instead of given only a few lines of space, because it's a really interesting idea to me. Who we are and who we want to be. And, when the whole thing is captured on film for the world to see, how much harder is it? I wanted more of that, which ended up being my big problem with the book; it's full of so much stuff that the really interesting bits ended up buried with the more dramatic plots were what took center stage.

Despite the fact that Justine is the narrator and main character, there are four other important characters in this book, and each of them has their own stories and journeys that the book follows. Unfortunately, many of these stories seemed superflous and not every character shone the way I think they were probably supposed to. Kiera especially seems to be the fifth wheel here; although the big thrust of the main plot comes from her actions, her character is never clearly defined and her storyline seems both too dramatic and too convenient to really have an impact. A few of the events and storylines felt a bit shoehorned in to me: Kiera's story, Felix's (incredibly obvious) twist, Justine's sudden need to film everything when just pages ago she'd hated the cameras. Like I said, there was a lot here, and much of it didn't seem to work.

Which isn't to say the book as a whole didn't work, or that I didn't like it. Because I did. Despite how convenient many of the plot points felt to me, the characters' commitment to each other, even though they didn't all get along day-to-day and even though there had been some pretty big rifts in their friendships, shone through. From the moment the camera crew is back in their lives there's a sort of under-the-surface solidarity between the five docu-stars, almost an us versus them attitude that went far in establishing these characters' lives and relationships. It's Rory (Justine's ex-best friend, who has been diagnosed with Autism since the last film) in particular that brings this unity to the forefront; she sticks with the other four even when it would be so much easier, for so many reasons, to just not. Her matter-of-fact way of stating things is incredibly refreshing in a story where there's so much that goes unsaid.

This is a solid contemporary YA, though not without its faults. To be perfectly honest I think that my issues with it may stem from the fact that it was just a bit more plot-driven than I wanted or was expecting, which is probably going to work for a lot of readers.

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