The first guest post is by Lauren (no relation to Conrad), who dared to read Lauren Conrad’s er, um, “book” when I couldn’t. Check out her phenomenal take on pop culture at her blog, The Unprofessional Critic.
I’ll admit–I have a soft spot for season 1 of The Hills. I even bought it on DVD after my second go-round at the bar exam–at a used-record store where I could feel the judgmental hipster stares from the clerks. Sure, it was slightly boring, but looking back, it was so . . . innocent. Lauren was a cute Everygirl who’d just happened to land a dream internship. Her roommate Heidi was slightly idiotic but meant well. Her coworker Whitney was sweet and professional. Even wonky-eyed Audrina was kinda funny in small doses, especially when she dated male models who said things like, “This salad’s like a party.” Remember when Lauren’s biggest worries were whether grizzled boss Lisa Love would yell at her, or whether her ex-new-boyfriend Jason would screw up–again? Man, those were the days.
Then season 2 happened, and all innocence was lost. Like a J.J. Abrams smoke monster, a flesh-colored bearded manboypig descended and chaos ensued. Heidi morphed into a 97% plastic robot who made awful YouTube music videos. There were fake pregnancy scares, way more nightclubs with dubbed dialogue, shiny-faced sisters, and pervy greasers with two names. Though there were highlights–four words: Kelly “Power Bitch” Cutrone–The Hills became such a meta-farce of shallow L.A. stereotypes, so much so that even its original star couldn’t take it anymore. Whether Laguna Beach alum Kristin Cavallari will inject some much-needed lifeblood into the franchise remains to be seen.
So what’s a reality-show princess with no degree, a shaky resume and a defunct onscreen career to do? Easy–“write” a young adult novel! Hell, Stephenie Meyer did it and now she totes has a movie franchise starring an actress who could do way better and an uberdreamy girlyman! Who sparkles, dammit!
Does L.A. Candy live up to its shiny happy YA predecessors? I decided to investigate by requesting the tome for my birthday–I figure it’s okay because I’m not the one spending money on it. Behold, my recap of Lauren Conrad’s literary masterpiece, L.A. Candy:
I don’t hate the cover. It’s kind of cute. I’m especially digging the photo on the back:
She’s serious, y’all. Because “authors” don’t smile. They think pensive thoughts on how to properly disguise their own experiences so they won’t get sued. (What, you were expecting a tell-all? Ha! LC’s the literary equivalent of a cocktease. You’re in for some blue balls, reader.)
Here’s the skinny (literally, all the characters are perfect size whatevers): Jane Roberts is a wannabe event planner with perpetual wide-eyed amazement at her new home, Los Angeles. She’s moved from Santa Barbara with her bestie Scarlett, a low-maintenance hottie with a high IQ who’s attending college. Real college–USC. (This is where the “fiction” part comes in. I love how Scarlett is so clearly not based on any Hills girl. Lauren’s an “author,” you know.) Jane is taking time off before university to intern for Fiona Chen, a top event planner who happened to attend college with Jane’s mom. A chance meeting at a club thrusts Jane and Scarlett into the spotlight, as two of four protagonists in a new reality show. L.A. Candy is described as a “PG version of Sex and the City, only in L.A.” by their producer Trevor. The other two “stars” are Madison, a spoiled heiress/famewhore who’s played job-hop and has really bleached hair (I SMELL A DIG AT HEIDI, WHAT ABOUT YOU????) and Gaby, a junior publicist who according to Scarlett, never says anything interesting (guess Lauren couldn’t get away with calling the character Spadrina). (Note: at first I referred to Gaby as Gigi. Less than 8 hours after I finished the book. That’s just how memorable Aud–I mean, Gaby is.) Jane relishes her new fame–which leads to free clothes, a promotion at work, and a gorgeous apartment–while Scarlett is less than thrilled to be filmed during class and doesn’t like Gaby and Madison.
But O Noes! Jane has BOY TROUBLE! Before landing the show, she met superhottie actor Braden (because the name “Chody” was already taken). He gives her a stuffed puppy! Because she could never have a real one! (FINE, I thought that was a little bit sweet.) But Braden has a slutty on-again-off-again lover named Willow. We know she is a terrible person because she only shows up to make out with Braden right when Jane is making goo-goo eyes at him.
Then Jane attracts the attention of Jesse (“Flenser,” if you will), the son of two B-list celebs, who’s more than willing to have their dates filmed but totally still likes her for her. Right? However, Jesse gets drunk (never mind that there’s underage drinking all through this book–apparently getting a little sloshed at your twenty-first birthday party makes you an ASSHOLE!) and flirts with some bimbos, driving Jane back into the arms of Braden, who happens to be Jesse’s roommate! (!!!!!!) A few paparazzi photos, a tipoff by a certain famewhore with really bleached hair (whom Lauren was not permitted to call “Meidi”) who is now in cahoots with Flenser/Jesse, and suddenly Jane might not be America’s Sweetheart anymore. THE HORROR!
Then there’s a cliffhanger for book two (this is supposed to be a trilogy. Yes, I wanted to kill myself when I found out Lauren Conrad had a three-book deal). Sound familiar? I wanted the final paragraph to be all Sweet Valley: Will Jane survive the paparazzi shakedown? What’s Mei–Madison got up her sleeve? Will Scarlett flunk out? Who the hell is the other chick, again? Find out in L.A. Candy #2: Two-Boy Season, brought to you by “author” Lauren “Liz Wakefield” Conrad.
Oh, and in case any of y’all were missing Whitney (because she added SO MUCH to The Hills and gave MTV the gift of a spinoff less compelling than my dirty laundry), have no fear! Three-quarters into the book, Jane JUST HAPPENS to get a new coworker named Hannah, “a tall, slim girl with a slick, honey-blond ponytail and intelligent brown eyes.” Shitney even gets her own outfit description, Claudia Kishi-style: “navy, high-waisted pants, a white silk blouse and a single strand of long pearls . . . conservative, but pretty.” The worst part of all this? Jane ACTUALLY BELIEVES she’s just getting a young, pretty new coworker and it has NOTHING TO DO with the reality show she’s spent three-quarters of a book filming. Yeah.
Methinks Ms. Conrad read some Sweet Valley High and Baby-Sitters Club before penning her first novel. All in the name of quality YA research, of course. Hell, with her celebrity connections, she could probably hook up a drinking party with the ghosties. (Actually, I’d love to get drunk with the SVH and BSC ghosties. Wouldn’t you? You know that Peter Lerangis totally has dirt on Ann M. Martin.) Case(s) in point:
* The very first sentence: “Jane Roberts leaned against her dresser, studying the way her white silk nightie looked against her sun-kissed skin. Her loose blond curls cascaded softly over her shoulders as she pretended not to be interested in the guy in her bed.” All that’s missing are eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean.
* Jane’s description of her BFF/roomie Scarlett: “a rebel with off-the-charts SAT scores who never hesitated to say what was on her mind. And despite the fact that she refused to brush her hair or wear anything fancier than jeans, she was still gorgeous.” So that first sentence has shades of Kristy Thomas, while the second is stripped down Claudia Kishi. I really wish the following sentence had been, “On anyone else the uncombed hair and jeans would look crazy, but on Scarlett it looked cool.”
* Where would a crappy YA novel be without size-ism? While shopping on Melrose, Jane and Scarlett encounter the assistant to Someone Important. When the sales clerk says they’ll get the dress in a size four, “[t]he guy gasped. ‘A four? Eeeeek! Don’t ever, ever let her hear you say that! She’s a two. Write that down–two, two, two!” Shades of “perfect size six” in SVH (or four, if you’re reading the updated ones).
* Braden and Jane are very Todd and Liz, only with alcohol. They’re boring, they both kind of cheat on their respective lov-ahs, and Jane’s never actually naked. And Braden won’t appear on L.A. Candy, because as a struggling actor, being on a reality show would make it harder for him to get parts. Is that really true anymore? Anyway, integrity blah blah blah YAWN.
* Shades of Liz Wakefield: Jane has no barrettes, but she definitely has sanctimony. She’s totally judgy of Scarlett’s dating habits, because of course Jane herself is still getting over the guy she lost her V card to. And the last chapter, when the shit hits the fan and Jane finds out that compromising pics of her have been released to the paps? The book might as well have had this illustration:
(I like to think of the man-arm as the threatening paparazzi, or possibly an amorous Jesse. Or maybe even Scarlett.) You know that frozen pancakes can’t be far behind.
One last annoying thing: the freaking text-speak. I can understand a BFF or two, but do people really think WTF? Or OMG? Yes, I have been known to say these things on occasion, but what goes on in my mind is spelled-out words. Maybe I’m horribly out of touch with today’s youth. This does not bode well for my YA writing career. Oh hell, the fact that LAUREN CONRAD has a freaking three-book deal does not bode well for my YA writing career.
I’ll say this: the writing is no more horrendous than an SVH novel. Lauren Conrad is insisting that she wrote the book herself, sans ghostwriter, and I’m actually inclined to believe her. (Of course, I also think there’s a fine line between “I wrote this with no ghostie” and “I wrote this by myself, but it was heavily doctored by my editor.”) Just like Lauren herself, this book isn’t terrible. And that’s pretty much how Lauren got so popular: by not being terrible.
BTW (aaagh! text-speak!), if you want to read a really excellent YA book about a regular girl on a reality show, try The Real Real by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (authors of The Nanny Diaries). Fleshed-out, funny characters, and a far more compelling look at what it’s really like to have your life filmed for the world to see. Good stuff.