Title: Falling in Love with English Boys
Author: Melissa Jensen
Category: young adult
Publisher: Speak, 2011
Page count: 293
Source: purchased by me
Star rating: 3 out of 5
I gave this book three stars, but let’s call it a low three or a high two. It has some saving graces, which kept it from my infrequently-given two stars of fail.
Cat is a teenager in London for the summer with her mother, who’s researching a woman from the Regency period. Cat is the stereotypical (read: boring) teenager in young adult fiction: she’s sullen, rude, cranky, selfish, and entirely unlikeable. She calls her mother “the (s)mother,” even though there’s not a whit of evidence in the book that her mother is at all smothering. Of course, also stereotypically, her parents are divorced, and her father is a jerk. Cat only cares about a few things, including clothes, cute boys, and her friends. She apparently makes very good grades and is book-smart, but seems so totally fixated on herself that her common sense is lacking. Oh, how I long for young adult authors to write modern characters who are kind, funny, loving, quirky, interesting, with normal parents who actually love each other… The stereotype is so tired. I simply refuse to believe that today’s living, breathing teenagers are so wholly unlikeable and one-dimensional.
I blame the author entirely for this lazy stereotyping. And I know she can do better, because she has also written Katherine.
The book is told in two ways: one is through Cat’s blog, which she is writing for her friends as a way to keep in touch while she’s away. The other is through Katherine’s diary. Katherine is the daughter of the Regency period woman “the (s)mother” is researching, and became the focal point of the story for me (in fact, I quickly skimmed most of Cat’s pages so I could slowly savor Katherine’s). Katherine is totally alive through her diary pages, finding her way in the world; learning who she is and who she loves; dealing with he own boorish father in a way that matures her quickly. She, like the modern Cat, is smart with a need for more common sense. She also does her fair share of pining over boys and talking about fashion. And she pours out her heart through the privacy of her diary. Jensen cleverly wrote both characters as a mirror of each other, but that’s where the similarities end.
Maybe I’m just too much of a fan of Regency history and literature and all things English, but I would much rather spend my time with a girl like Katherine than a girl like Cat. I doubt it was the author’s intention, but her book shines a spotlight on how stupid we’ve become, how worldly, how coarse and bitter. Give me more old-fashioned values, please. Less Cat, more Katherine.