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The Market: J. M. Steele

Book: The Market
Author: J. M. Steele
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

The Market by J. M. Steele (a pseudonym for two New York entertainment industry professionals) is a young adult fiction title due out in April of 2008. It's about Kate Winthrop, who discovers late during her senior year that some people from her class have an underground "market" on the web. They rank the girls from the class, and bid on them like stocks. Shocked by the whole enterprise, Kate is particularly horrified to learn that, out of 140 girls in the class, she ranks 71st. Her best friend Dev, however, pulls her out of a morass of mortification by convincing her that the situation is an opportunity. They, with the reluctant assistance of a third friend, Callie, decide to take on the market. The plan is to buy in (an investment costs $500), and then win the $25,000 year-end pool by dramatically raising Kate's market value. In the process of her six-week makeover, Kate encounters ethical dilemmas, conflicts with Dev and Callie, and romantic entanglements with two best friends, Will and Jack.

In many ways, this is your standard makeover/quest for popularity novel. The authors know this. They poke fun at themselves by having Kate watch movies like Can't Buy Me Love and Sixteen Candles. They have Callie predicting the inevitable problems, as a voice for the experienced reader. They poke fun further by having Kate's mother be even more popularity-obsessed than she is, in a parallel quest to be accepted at a snooty local country club. (Just in case the reader might not see the parallel on her own, the gatekeeper of the club is the mother of the number one most popular girl in the high school market.)

What makes the book work, for me (in addition to my admitted fondness for this genre), is that many of Kate's internal musings are things I have thought about myself, almost word for word. I've mentioned in other reviews the fact that I think that high school makeover/popularity novels speak to some near-universal longing. To be more cool. To be more popular. To get a do-over. My family once contemplated moving to Arizona, because a doctor said that it would be good for my lung problems. I used to fantasize not about being in Arizona, but about going back to Massachusetts, tanned and fit and mysterious from my time away. The authors behind J. M. Steele - they get that. 100%. Here are some examples:

"So how does a girl busy herself for an hour when she has no one to talk to at a party? Well...

She makes no less than three trips to the bathroom, where she leans against the sink and waits until someone knocks.

She studies the tomes on the bookshelves with an intensity bordering on religious.

She keeps moving and makes at least three "laps" around the house, wearing a perplexed expression that suggests she's searching for someone specific who just has to be in the next room." (Chapter 1)

Come on. Admit it. You've done at least some of those things. Probably recently. I still do some of those things at business functions.

"How many people were judging me on a daily basis--breaking down what I was wearing, who I was talking to, how I was behaving? It didn't matter really. There was no escaping it. Maybe once I got to Brown I could change into someone different, someone cool, someone sought after, someone different. Perhaps once I got to a place where my history as a social nonentity wasn't so well-documented, I could shed my old skin, but until then, it was imply better to lay low. (Chapter 6)

Again, admit it. Weren't you excited about starting over in college? Last example:

"The Latebloomer friend: it's a phenomenon that often occurs late in senior year when silly social guards are dropped and a friendship that had been heretofore impossible to imagine blooms in the spring sun... Had the euphoria of actually earning our degrees exploded all the imaginary social barriers we had placed between ourselves and our fellow classmates?" (Chapter 30)

I know that I've experienced that phenomenon, both in high school and again in college. There are other quotes that also hit home for me, but I'm not including them here because they reveal a bit too much information.

So what else made this book stand out for me? Having two boys involved instead of one kept me guessing (though Kate is admittedly slow to catch on to something important). I'm happy that the book has no secret crush on a best friend. The whole stock market thing is horrifying, but it's also an interesting device, codifying rankings that are already, invisibly in place in most high schools. It's even very mildly educational. I like that Kate works in a bookstore, and is friends with the much-older owner of the store. The Market is matter-of-fact about certain realities of high school life (misleading one's parents about social activities, and the presence of beer at parties, for instance), without glorifying those aspects.

All in all, I quite enjoyed The Market. I recommend it for teens, especially those approaching senior year, for adults who are still looking for that "do-over", and for anyone who enjoys teen movies about makeovers.

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Publication Date: April 2008
Source of Book: Uncorrected galley received at NCTE. Note that quotes are from the galley, and may not be exactly reflected in the final printed book.
About the author: According to the publisher website, "J.M. Steele is the pseudonym for two New York entertainment industry professionals, neither of whom aced the SAT’s. They are at work on their next book The Late Bloomer. Both authors live in New Jersey."

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.