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Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self
Laura Martocci

Review: Adorkable by Sarra Manning

Adorkable - Sarra Manning
Welcome to the dorkside. It's going to be a bumpy ride...

Jeane Smith's a blogger, a dreamer, a dare-to-dreamer, a jumble sale queen, CEO of her own lifestyle brand and has half a million followers on twitter.

Michael Lee's a star of school, stage and playing field. A golden boy in a Jack Wills hoodie.

They have nothing in common but a pair of cheating exes. So why can't they stop snogging?
 
Adorkable is one of those sneaky synopsis stories. You know the type – take the familiar formula, tweek it a little bit, lull unsuspecting readers with a promise of something formulistic and fluffy and then BAM! Falcon punch straight in the feels!

 

It’s shocking what it can do to a hardened cynic.

 

From the description, you’ll think you’re in for another one of those Opposites Attract type comedies, possibly with a few dashes of John Green-esque quirkiness and the obligatory rebellion against convention, where both sides learn a lesson about how the other is actually better than they expected and yadda yadda yadda. To an extent, you would be correct – all of these elements are present – but this story has the benefit of actually starring real people.

 

Michael and Jeane do have a pair of cheating exes in common, but the pair of cheating exes, instead of being mustache-twirly and sneaky and generally evil-slutty, Barney and Scarlett (yes, seriously, her name is Scarlett) are portrayed as painfully shy and painfully normal people who had societal expectations stacked against them. Both thought they were lucky to be with Michael and Jeane respectively, and that they ought to be grateful, and that changing the status quo would be wrong. They both found confidence and happiness when they jumped the barriers and their rebellion, so to speak, wasn’t followed by a societal lashing out.

 

How rare is that? Seriously, how rare is it that a pair of cheating exes in books or movies are portrayed as something more than handy foils to bring the main characters together?

 

Likewise, Sarra Manning doesn’t shy from making Jeane and Michael a pair of judgemental teenagers. Michael is obviously baffled at Jeane’s point-blank refusal to act “normal”, but Jeane isn’t a sainted social revolutionary either. This is one of those books where you actually get the point of view of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it’s not a pretty one. Jeane prides herself on her accomplishments, her individuality and her ability to defy expectation, but she also missed the memo that individuality =/= going against the current. She doesn’t make an effort to become friends with her schoolmates, but decries them all as haters; her teacher almost strong-arms her into apologising when she’s wrong; and she’s very hard to discourage once she’s got her mind on something.

 

The MPDG demystified, if you will.

 

And yet, Michael isn’t some dweeby nerd with no self-esteem either. Jeane might show him the life, MPDG style, but he’s not lacking in self-confidence, nor is he one to take her shit when she’s obviously wrong. He admits his mistakes and gives Jeane space when she needs it; he calls her out, but doesn’t guilt-trip her when she eventually comes around to accepting her blame; also, he’s not one to mope when things don’t go according to plan, takes responsibility, respects his parents… basically, he’s my new fictional crush.

 

I may be over-exaggerating, but really, let’s talk about Manic Pixie Dream Girl narratives for a second. In literature and film, they’re either played straight (dweeby nerdy man being taught joie-de-vivre from the aforementioned girl) or demystified (your Paper Towns and Looking for Alaskas, where the girls are stripped of their magic and left to the dweeby nerdy man to be pitied and looked down on.) How many books or movies can you list where the female characters are portrayed as humans (like Green’s Alaska) but also treated as such by the other characters?

 

The problem with both common MPDG narratives is that both of them objectify the girls in question. We don’t have books written from their points of view, at least not in popular YA. The guys who love them view them either as this unreachable thing or as pets, both of which deprive the girls of any relatable traits or capacity for human interaction.

 

Let me say this once, people: WOMEN ARE NOT ALIENS!

 

Thank God this book realises this too. Jeane may be portrayed as full of hot air, but Michael doesn’t treat her like a pet. He’s mad at her and forgives her, she’s mad at him and forgives him, they like each other and hate things about each other, without having either define their relationship. They’re not each other’s Perfect Partner, or Ideal Half; nobody has to give up their individuality or become dependent on the other; they’re two people who navigate a relationship.

 

And when I say navigate a relationship, HOLLA if you want a good, realistic portrayal of sexuality in fiction! Holla again, because this book has it. (I read this on the train. I wonder if the guy standing next to me thought why I was grinning like a split melon during a certain scene. Kudos, Sarra Manning, kudos!)

 

….

 

….

 

…..

 

What? I’m done. Why are you still here?

 

It’s on Amazon. And The Works. And Waterstones. And your local independent, as far as I know.

 

Do you need me to say it more clearly?

 

GO READ IT!
 
This review also appears on The Book Lantern.