Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: The Blonde of the Joke by Bennett Madison

Title: The Blonde of the Joke
Author: Bennett Madison
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Harper Teen
Date Published: August 25th, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Library

"There are three and only three rules for shoplifting," Francie instructed me. From the very first day Val meets the outrageously blond Francie, she realizes that Francie has the gutsy courage and determination Val has always envied. But Francie sees something in Val too--something that Val's never noticed. "You've got that sneaky thing about you," she says. "I bet you have a dark past."And just like that, the blonde and the brunette become partners in crime.Thanks to Francie, Val is suddenly taking risks, taking charge, and taking what she deserves. But as the stakes get higher, Francie and Val find themselves more and more tangled in a thrilling web of love, lies, and shoplifting. Soon it becomes clear that the darkest secrets have yet to be discovered. . . .

My Review:
I was a tad confused by this book. The premise and the title makes me think something hilarious and sweet , but definitely fluffy and probably not something entirely intellectual.  Yet the book actually read a lot smarter than it sounds. I wouldn't be surprised to see it used in a classroom somewhere. However, because it wasn't what I was expecting, it took me a while to get into it and then to actually make myself finish it. What I thought was going to be a quick one-seater turned into a week long process, and at the end I came away with a bit of a headache. Let's get into the meat of the book and I'll try and show you what I mean.

Val is one of those average girls. You know the kind. They populate the majority of classes in high school never really standing out in a good or bad way. Chances are, YOU are one of those girls. Never part of the golden inner circle of popularity, but far from being the butt of people's jokes or objects of humiliation that the popular kids like to pick on. Then all the sudden, Francie steps out in all her blond glory and sweeps Val up in a whirlwind of personality. Through the bonds of mallhood and shop-lifting, both girls experience the complications of friendship and love, mixed with even deeper problems buried within their own psyches.

Oddly enough...I really identified with Val. One scene in particular where her physics teacher doesn't remember her name reminds me of this professor I had. I come into class prepared and ready, always read the materials, always have at least some smart things to say for discussion, and write papers that are usually 2-3 pages longer than they have to be...yet she does not seem to understand that my name is not Erica, or Andrea, or even one time Rachel...makes me feel a tad invisible and I can see where Val comes from by wanting to stand out, even if it's in a way that attracts negative wearing tight clothes, dying her hair, and acting like she doesn't give a S**t about anyone.

Like I said at the beginning, this book is not the fluffy cute piece of puff-ball reading that you expect it to be. There's tons of illegal activity from gregarious amounts of shoplifting, to verbal and mental abuse. Both Francie and Val have horrible family lives that I would be terrified of being trapped in when I was a teenager.  Alcoholism, death of family members, neglect, smoking and under aged drinking are staples, and the language is crude and full of VERY vulgar imagery. Overall it's just...not a nice kind of feel sick and dirty after reading it, but at the same time it provokes some interesting questions and really makes you think. I almost want to say that this book kind of ends up being two parts. The first part is the fun, interesting, funny part about two girls growing up and becoming friends over the bond of shoplifting. The second half is much darker and revolves around the strange and psychotic. I felt like the majority of questions were left unanswered and undeveloped and I was kind of lost right up until the end where I was given much food for thought...but ended up getting my thoughts in a jumble because I couldn't figure out what the author was trying to say.

One of the biggest issues that I found within the book was a kind of weird, but blatant, homophobia. Francie and Val even kiss at one point, but nothing is said about it. There's just this weird kind of moment where the character is thinking " I love her, but not in a lesbo way." I was really confused by the kiss itself because it seemed to come out of nowhere, and then I was even more confused by this just...constant homophobic presence. It's like all the homoerotic characters are the ones who end up getting killed or having tragedies happen to them, not to mention the constant usage of words like fag and faggot.  In this day and age, that kind of horrible homophobia should not be encouraged in teen books, especially because it wasn't dealt with. There was no resolution, no protestation from Val defending her gay was just...accepted that gay was bad.

I had a hard time rating this book. It's one of those books that really make you think, or stand up and take notice of a particular theme or event. But it just wasn't that enjoyable. For literary merit, it might rank a 4 or 5 Keys, but for pure enjoyment's sake I would say it's about a 3. There was a lot of times in the book where I would be put off by a certain thought or remark from the character's and I was often reminded that a male author was the one who wrote this book. Part of me questions how much a man can know about the inner workings of a teenage girl's mind, but then you can't argue that some authors can alter sex flawlessly in a believable way. Think J.K. Rowling. But for some reason I just kept thinking "THAT'S not how a girl would act" or "I've never heard a girl think something like that". I guess it's a matter of opinion, but I think it might have benefited the story had either Francie or Val be a boy so they could play the role that Madison obviously spelled out for them. 


  1. Wow yeah the cover and synopsis read humor and fluff to me and after reading your review this one is so not for me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've never heard of this book before today. The cover looks interesting. People need to stop with the hate towards the gay community. It's not cool to act like an ignorant fool.