Monday, May 25, 2009

Plan B

Plan B
Author: Jenny O'Connell
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/MTV
Release Date: March, 2006

Vanessa Carlisle is a planner, and the next year of her life has been plotted to the last second. Finish senior year at private high school Cabot Academy. Get acceptance into Yale. Spend the summer traveling around Europe with her best friend, Taylor. Then head to Yale, where she'll join her boyfriend, Patrick, who already attends as a freshman. She's dotted every i and crossed every T.

What Vanessa doesn't plan for, however, is learning that she has a half-brother who not only is coming to live with them and attend Cabot High, but just so happens to be a bad-boy TV star. Reed Vaughn has gotten into trouble one time too many, and his mother sends him to Chicago to gain some new perspective. Which means Vanessa must go from only child to sharing the spotlight with a Hollywood star.

From the outset, Vanessa resents Reed. She doesn't want him to come, she knows she isn't going to like him, and she determines she's not going to let his presence change one thing about her life. However, she soon finds that her carefully laid plans start to unravel.

The premise of this book - finding out you have a brother who happens to be a famous TV star - really drew me in. I couldn't wait to see how Vanessa handled the sudden fame, dealing with starstruck friends, and maybe even learning that Reed was just a normal teenage guy deep down.
However, Reed remained pretty much a background character throughout the entire story. We never get to know much about him or how he feels about moving to Chicago or what he thinks about being a star. In fact, Reed comes across as a pretty decent guy, and I felt rather sorry for him when nearly every guy at Cabot treats him like a threat and the only friend he seems to make is the one girl at school who doesn't own a television.

Too, Vanessa's immediate and inexplicable hatred toward Reed is never fully explained or justified. From the minute she learns about Reed, she determines that he will be nothing but a problem for her. She treats him rudely at best and is outright disloyal and cruel at other times. However, I never found Reed's behaviour towards Vanessa to be anything deserving of such hostility. In truth, she often comes across as a spoiled brat, far more of a diva than Reed. I can't say that I ever liked Vanessa or felt sorry for her situation because I never fully understood her problems to begin with.

A big part of the story focused on Vanessa's attempts to continue her relationship with boyfriend Patrick, who was attending Yale as a freshman. Unfortunately, every twist and turn this storyline followed was completely predictable.

Vanessa's journey throughout the story involves her ability to accept that sometimes things don't always go according to plan, and sometimes that opens doors for things to be better. While learning to live with an unexpected sibling requires Vanessa to adapt, I'm not sure that Reed was the catalyst to her changes. Over the course of the story, she experiences troubles with Patrick that had nothing to do with Reed. Ultimately, Vanessa fights against accepting Reed as a part of her life, and I would argue that she only barely concedes to this situation. She doesn't change because she's learned anything from Reed. She changes because she realizes she has no other choice. Ultimately, her Grand Plan is only affected slightly.

One question I had after reading the story was why O'Connell chose to make Reed a famous TV star rather than just a normal guy who comes to live with Vanessa and her parents. Reed's fame added nothing to the story. Granted, he was immediately accepted at Cabot High because of his status. But because this aspect of Reed was never fully explored - the situation never examined from his point of view - and it never truly affected Vanessa in any direct way, I still don't know why O'Connell chose this particular direction. It left me feeling as if a great opportunity was missed.

This is the second book written by O'Connell that involved Chicago as a setting, with Boston playing a strong secondary role. (The first was The Book of Luke.) I know from the information given about O'Connell that she currently lives in Boston, thus I can see her focus on that area. While the Chicago portions of the book are written as if O'Connell has done thorough research, I do wonder if she's ever actually lived here. Something about her sense of setting is a bit forced, as if she's relying on guidebooks rather than her own experience. I could be wrong about this.

O'Connell's saving grace is her ability to tell a story cleanly. Her voice is easy to read, and while her characters frustrated me, they were well written. The dialogue is natural and the narrative well paced. I only wish she'd do better in executing these wonderful premises that are promised on the back cover copy. With her books, I always feel like I've ordered a hot fudge sundae only to get served a fruit yogurt cup instead.

Rating: Held My Attention
Status of Series: This is a stand-alone title

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