Tuesday, July 8, 2014

(Review) The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel

Title: The Break-Up Artist
Author: Philip Siegel
Published: April 29, 2014 (Harlequin TEEN)
Rating: Like a Train Wreck
Format: Review copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. (Thanks!)
Summary: Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples.
After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via Paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.
One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she'll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.
No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.
I will open with this: The reason it took me so long to review this book is that I wanted to wait a while for my rage to subside to more reasonable levels. I will do my best to keep this a review rather than a rant, but I make no guarantees.

I really was excited to read this book! I texted Racquel and Alexa when I found it on NetGalley. I thought it was going to be fun, refreshing, different. A unique change of pace. I was prepared to not take it too seriously, bringing along a grain of salt or two for the experience. Plus, I was really happy to actually be reading a YA by a male author (or anything by a male author, for that matter), because since I've slid more to the romance and YA side of things, I've read a shockingly small amount of books by male authors. I've been wanting to change that, so this would serve that purpose well.

The book delivered everything I expected - for about the first half. Sure, I was more than a little put off by just how far Becca would go to break up couples. Yes, I thought her reasons for doing so were more than a little far-fetched. Yes, most females were portrayed unfairly. But hey, I could ignore all that for the time being, right? It was funny. It was a pretty solid 3 stars. I laughed.

I really thought I loved Ezra. At first, he reminded me a lot of Jesse from Pitch Perfect with his love of movies and such. (And that alone is pretty much guaranteed to make me adore you for life, because Jesse is my imaginary boyfriend. We're gonna have aca-children. It's inevitable.) I'll also give Siegel props for tricking me into liking Ezra, because that realistic element made me believe that Becca and Val could like him, too. At least in the beginning.

So that's all I've got for positives. Moving on to the not-so-awesome elements.

First, there was the overarching theme that I found so offensive: Siegel's portrayal of girls and women.

Every single girl in Becca's girl (excepting herself) was desperate for a man. We're talking crazed, talking-only-about-boys, lying, cheating, back-stabbing, friend-abandoning, make-up-caking, slutty-wardrobe-buying, any-trick-I-can-play desperate for a boyfriend. Not even someone with whom to share a relationship. It was apparently all about status and someone to go out with and being able to start sentences with, "My boyfriend..."

Now, full disclosure: I was homeschooled throughout high school. I never attended a public high school. But I did have a youth group and a homeschool theatre group, and I also attended a public university for 4 years. So while I don't exactly have first-hand knowledge, I know enough.

To justify this incredibly demeaning portrayal of high school girls, apparently this high school had a very unbalanced ratio of males to females (I believe it was 30/70). This portrayal lasted the entire book and never really changed.

This gives guys a huge advantage. They can be fat, lazy and pimply and still get to be choosy. Finding a suitable guy to date is a study in Darwinism. Survival of the hottest.

For the next point, I didn't like any of the characters. Becca, the protagonist, was a dramatic hypocrite who didn't actually follow anything she claimed to believe in. Ezra was scum; Val (Becca's current BFF) was annoying. I could never make up my mind about Huxley (Becca's ex-BFF), because she was a completely inconsistent character. She was basically anything the author needed her to be. A snobby bitch who would dump Becca for a boy a few years back or attack her opinion in class in a really mean way? Check. A sudden bestie who would take Becca to the mall and give her great advice? Check. Up and down and all around. Then there was Diane, Becca's older sister and partner in love-hating. Diane had been dumped at the alter a few years (yes, years) earlier, and it had apparently stunted her ability to live FOREVER. She didn't have friends. She was also either unemployed or had a really sucky high-school-level job; I can't remember now. She spent all her time alone in her room in sweats.

Spoilers in this paragraph. Then there was the portion of the book where Ezra was cheating on Val with Becca. Becca had spent the entire book complaining about how Val had abandoned her for Ezra and how horrible that was and how could girls lie to each other just to get a man? AND THEN SHE DID THAT EXACT THING. With no hesitation, barely a qualm to be found. She didn't seem to really think there was anything wrong with making out and pursuing a relationship with her best friend's boyfriend.
I don’t want to hurt Val, but this is my life, too. If she’s such a proponent of love and relationships, then she will have to understand. Nobody’s perfect, even best friends.
She jumped to Ezra's defense.
[After Huxley calls Ezra a creep]
"He's a good guy."
“He’s dating your best friend and openly pursuing you. I don’t have a dictionary on hand, but I’d say that’s a creep.”
There were also just general elements of the story that made it less than impressive, such as the fact that I was pretty bored for a good chunk of time around the middle and the fact that some of the situations were just ridiculous. But I figured there would be some ridiculousness going in, so I can't really hold that against the book.

To sum up: I went into The Break-Up Artist excited. What I was not prepared for was to be so offended and outraged I spent almost an hour longer to read it because I had to keep stopping to rant and read ridiculous/offensive quotes to my best friend/roommate. Overall, I was obviously not impressed with The Break-Up Artist. It had its moments of being interesting and entertaining, but it was also by turns boring, offensive, and enraging, and the decent ending did not make up for that.

I'll leave you with this gem:
My mom stares at me in my stripper-pole tracksuit costume. I should agree with her that this outfit is a total affront to feminism, but I look so good in it, I can’t complain.
First:
Couples are made to be broken.

Favorite:
“Or maybe they just fell for each other under really cruddy circumstances.”
“But what would’ve happened when things calmed down, when Romeo didn’t have to recite sonnets and get in sword fights? What would they be like on a random Tuesday? The couples that thrive on drama flame out the quickest. I’ve seen it a million times.”

Teaser:
Love has no rules, no boundaries. It’s gone all these years unchecked. That doesn’t make it whimsical; that makes it a tyrant.

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