The Daughters of celebs face high school

The Daughters by Joanna Philbin; published by Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010; 275 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reader copy) provided for free by the publisher.

BFFs.  In Manhattan.  The daughters of the rich and famous.  They have a privileged life and that makes high school a whole different scene.  Or so you’d think.  Lizzie Summers is the ugly-duckling daughter of a supermodel.  Carina Jurgensen is the sole heir of a billionaire, multimedia mogul.  Hudson Jones is the daughter of a pop music icon but she wants to make her own kind of music.  Even with so much privilege surrounding them, these three best friends struggle with identity, self-expression and the school social hierarchy.  In this, the first book in a new series, Lizzie stumbles out of her ugly duckling pinfeathers and into the plumage of a beautiful swan.

I was skeptical when I picked up this book.  Joanna Philbin is the daughter of talk show host Regis Philbin.  But does life-experience make her an author?  Well, in the case of this book (and its subsequent sequels), I think it helped.  She has the insider’s point of view of the glamorous side of these teens, as well as having lived in the shadows of a famous parent.  Those qualities helped her form the plot, but did not prepare her for writing.  That’s a gift she has developed on her own.  Is this literature, in terms of writing of an “artistic” quality?  Hmm, not in my opinion.  Some of the dialogue seemed contrived and often the descriptions seemed pasted in during a late draft of the book.  However, it is a good read.

What makes it a good read?  Well, Philbin has a gift for showing without telling, for pulling the reader into the room as a fly on the wall making astute observations. For example, she does a remarkable job of showing us the fierceness with which these girls protect their friendship (and The Rules that all daughters–even strangers–must follow).  They are completely supportive of one another, feeling happy with another’s successes and feeling sad when things fall apart.  Their lack of jealousy is a lesson many freshmen in high school could use.  Aside from their friendship, Philbin’s ability to pull us into the life of the Manhattan elite let’s us experience what many teens dream about.  I can remember overhearing a gaggle of eighth grade girls talking about their aspirations during commencement last week.  Overwhelmingly, they want to be supermodels, writers and pop stars.  Well, The Daughters gives them a chance to live vicariously like their heroes, or at least the children of their heroes.  Is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Nope.  And Philbin paints that reality just as vividly as she treats the friendships.

This review is based on an ARC (advanced reader copy) because I was unable to check it out of any local libraries: It’s been off the shelves since it’s debut in May.  The book buzz is working!  Now, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got an ARC of the sequel that I’m just about to crack open….

5P     3Q     Grade Level: 7-10

Cover art:  The three amigos stand out in color, under an umbrella showing us how united they are, walking down a line-art street.  Definitely a fun, read-this-book-on-the-beach cover.  Girls will eat it up.

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Peace, Love and Baby Ducks

Peace, Love and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle; published by Dutton Books, a member of Penguin Group, New York, 2009; 289 pages.

Carly is a child of privilege and wealth.  She abhors it.  Instead of a summer job at the local country club, Carly works hard in Tennessee; seriously physical labor.  When she returns to her affluent Atlanta home, with her dashiki and Jesus sandals, she is shocked to see her little sister (Anna) has developed, as in turned “hot.”  All the boys are now drawn to Anna, and even Carly’s friends seem to be drawn to Anna.  Enter a new boy, old friends, and a fairly dysfunctional family, and Carly’s sophomore year at the private Christian school promises to be memorable.

This coming of age story finds Carly struggling with her identity, a kind of cognitive dissonance between what she has, what she wants and what’s “real” for her.  Lauren Myracle has created a character that could be the girl next door: income aside, most girls struggle with defining themselves, like Carly.  Her unique tastes in clothes and music help us to know her.  Not everyone will make the same choices as Carly, but knowing that they can make choices and that it’s okay to stick up for who you are, make this book a valuable addition to the realistic fiction must-read lists.

Taking a cue from the title, Myracle has divided the book into sections: Peace; Love; and Baby Ducks.  Themes of what it means to be an individual, sibling rivalry, and where to draw the line in friendship are explored in each.  Screened images head each chapter: either a peace sign, heart or rubber duckies, depending on the section.  Cute touch, but not the reason I like this book.  Lauren Myracle is gifted with a teen tongue as she writes like teens talk (well, the teens in my book club; or sitting at Starbucks, like, talking; or hanging at my house with my own adolescents).  This gift makes her books accessible to teens as an easy read; her ability to realistically address coming of age issues is icing on the cake.  I don’t think boys will be flocking to read this one; but girls with a wide variety of reading preferences should enjoy the book.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 7-10

Cover Art: The cute images of a peace sign, heart and trio of rubber duckies replace the words on the cover.  The graphic designs, on a white background, will most definitely appeal to the intended audience.  Blocks of color (red and white) with reverse type and the trio of ducks adorn the spine, helping the book stand out in the stacks.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)

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